Writing a query letter for a nonfiction book can be challenging because, unlike when you’re querying fiction, there’s no tried-and-true formula for writing a nonfiction query letter.
That said, if you break down the perfect nonfiction query letter into its component parts, you’ll be able to understand what works—and what doesn’t work—so you can write a great query letter quickly and easily.
Why Write a Query Letter
The purpose of a query letter is to get a literary agent or editor at a publishing company to read your manuscript, review your book proposal, or read your submitted sample chapters.
Different publishers have different submission guidelines. Some require you write a full book proposal while others only ask you only submit a few sample chapters, and still others may require you to submit your full and completed manuscript for review.
But no matter what your addressee’s submission guidelines are, you’ll still need to write a great query letter to get them to open your email and review your submission in the first place.
How to Write a Nonfiction Query Letter
Some publishers and literary agents will provide clear instructions on their submissions guidelines page, letting you know exactly what to include in your query letter. If that’s the case, make sure you read and follow their guidelines as precisely as you can. If you don’t, your chances of getting a book deal with them fall to zero in most cases.
But if they don’t have clear guidelines for writing a query letter posted on their website, you’re free to improvise, but there are still a few key elements every nonfiction query letter should include. We recommend you follow these guidelines to help you write a professional query letter that sure to grab literary agents’ and publishers’ attention.
Know Your Market
The first thing you need to do before writing your query letter is to research the market for your book. Follow our free guide to book market research and go through that process before attempting to query agents or publishers.
The biggest mistake authors make with the querying process is to start contacting agents and publishers with little to no understanding of their chosen market, who their target reader is, and what kind of marketing plan they need. If you’re not willing to do this basic research, agents and publishers will simply assume you don’t know what you’re doing. And that means they’re very unlikely to actually read your manuscript, or even your book proposal.
Once you’ve done your market research, it’s time to start drafting your query letter template.
Sample Query Letters for Nonfiction
To begin drafting your query letter template, you should start by researching and reading some successful query letters.
A “successful” query letter is a query letter that got somebody (hopefully you!) a book deal. If you model your query letter based on the best elements of successful query letters, you’ll have a much better shot of getting the agent’s or editor’s attention.
When you’re drafting your query letter, make sure you’re modeling successful query letters from authors with books in your market or genre. Modeling your query letter for a business book based on the query letter for a memoir may very well lead you astray.
The more successful query letters you read, the easier it will be to write a professional query letter.
Query Letter Checklist
Here’s a quick checklist you can use to maximize your chances of success with the querying process:
- Do book market research and find at least 5 comparable bestselling book titles
- Write your query letter template based on your analysis of successful query letters in your market or genre
- Have a fellow author or editor edit and proofread your query letter template
- Customize your query letter based on the literary agent or publisher’s submission guidelines
- Customize the greeting for your query letter to address the agent or editor you think would be the best fit for your project
- Make sure you properly attach your book proposal, manuscript, or sample chapters to the email (unless their submission guidelines instruct you to do something different)
- Proofread and reread your query letter twice before hitting Send
Submit Your Nonfiction Query Letter
Think you’ve got a great nonfiction book that will delight, educate, or entertain readers?
If so, we recommend you review the submission guidelines for TCK Publishing and submit your manuscript for review. Our nonfiction editors will get back to you within 14-21 days.
TCK Publishing is a traditional publishing company that offers 50% royalties, a fast publishing timeline, and ongoing marketing support.
If you liked this post, here are some other articles you might love:
- How to Write Popular Nonfiction: Making the Shift from Academic to Popular Writing
- How To Write A Nonfiction Book
- How to Write a Pilot Story: Crafting Compelling Lead Magnets for Fiction and Nonfiction
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.