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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Month of Templates: A Nonfiction Book Pitch

Welcome back to the month of templates. This one is for those of you with a nonfiction book to pitch. While you'll need a book proposal to actually sell your book, you open the door with a query you send to an agent or editor (if you're contacting publishers directly). Here's one that's included in Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money; my comments are in orange:

Dear Ms. Harper:

I’ve heard good things about you from fellow ASJA member Tina Tessina and am writing to query you about a nonfiction book proposal you may be interested in: [Always open with an "in," if you have one. Otherwise I suggest mentioning a book that the agent or editor has repped or published to let her or him know that you've done your homework. The majority of writers don't even bother!]

Falling in love is the easy part—it’s the day-to-day challenges that really put a relationship to the test. But while maintaining a strong, loving bond is difficult for even the most committed couples, those in long-distance relationships face an even greater challenge. [This is a brief description of the book's concept.]

According to recent statistics, at least 1 million Americans currently have commuter marriages and maintain two separate households. Millions more—including the more than 1,300,000 men and women in the U.S. armed services—face extended time away from each other because of jobs that require frequent travel. And every fall as students leave to attend college and graduate school, hundreds of thousands of dating and engaged couples face the prospect of long-distance love as well. [I've described the audience for the book, using relevant stats. Remember, you have to have an audience of eager readers who will buy your book!]

Any couple faced with a long-distance relationship faces a multitude of concerns. Will distance threaten their relationship? How will they maintain intimacy? What kind of financial burden will it cause? How will it affect the couple’s future? Is infidelity more likely? What if children are involved? How do they know if this is the right decision? How will they cope with the inevitable stress of being apart? [This gives an idea of the kinds of issues my readers face.]

My book, Make the Heart Grow Fonder: How to Survive—and Thrive in—Your Long-Distance Relationship, will answer all of the questions and concerns that these couples face. Heart will include the experiences of hundreds of long-distance relationship “veterans” as well as expert advice from psychologists and relationship experts. The book will also feature quizzes and activities for couples to use to determine whether a long-distance relationship is a healthy option for their relationship as well as ways to cope with loneliness and separation, tips on dealing with the financial burden these relationships can cause, and advice for parents who want to maintain a close relationship with their children regardless of physical distance. Heart will also look at the reasons for the growing trend in long-distance relationships and report on recent research on the factors that influence the success and stability of such relationships. [More detail about the book and what it will include.]

This down-to-earth, anecdote-filled book will be both a source of strength and encouragement as well as a wealth of practical information for the millions of people facing this increasingly common challenge. As a fulltime journalist and a veteran of three long-distance relationships, I can bring a unique perspective to this timely subject. [Here's where I fumble the ball a bit. Yes, I'm uniquelyl qualified, but I should have mentioned that I'd already written hundreds of articles for national magazines--evidence of my "platform."]

I hope you’ll be interested reviewing my book proposal for Heart—please let me know if I may send it to you immediately. Thank you very much for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon. [Pretty typical close.]

Very truly yours,
Kelly James-Enger

While this book didn't end up selling, this pitch letter did get me my first agent. You can use a similar format to approach an agent or editor with your own nonfiction book idea. Just make sure you have your book proposal ready to go a future post, I'll talk more about teh elements of a successful one.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. When can one tell if a letter is too long? I always wonder if longer letters get brushed aside.

  2. Hi, E-J--
    I always aim for a page; if you can't condense to one page, you may be rambling a bit. My $0.02.