Nonfiction Query Sample

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 10 2009

Regular blog readers probably remember the queries I posted in January (and if you missed them, check them out). Since they were all for fiction, one of my readers made a special request to include a nonfiction query, so here it is, a query by Cynthia Shapiro. Cynthia submitted this book to me in 2003 and I put her through hell. She would be the one to know for sure, but I think we went through something like 12 rounds of revisions on the proposal before I felt it was ready to send out. Ultimately, I thought Cynthia had the platform and a great idea, but needed a lot of extra oomph before publishers would think the same thing. In the end, it worked out well. We had multiple offers and ended up selling not only to St. Martin’s Press, but to a number of publishers throughout the world. Corporate Confidential is, in fact, a bestseller in Korea, and Cynthia’s follow-up title, What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here? is a timely and valuable resource for today’s tough job market. So, to give you insight on what catches an agent’s eye in nonfiction, here’s the letter that launched Cynthia’s career.

September 24, 2003

Ms. Jessica Faust
Bookends, LLC
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, New Jersey 07933

Ms. Faust,

My name is Cynthia Shapiro. I am a Human Resources and Career Strategy Consultant on the West Coast. My insider approach to career advice has been published in 44 newspapers including the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Newsday NY. My most recent interview for publication will be in an upcoming issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

Every day I field questions from frustrated and confused employees. I’ve seen too many with promising futures accidentally derail their hard-earned careers with easily avoidable mistakes. I know firsthand there is a better way to succeed and I feel passionately about sharing this information.

A few years ago, I realized the only way to help employees was to step out of the “corporate spin” and give them the truth companies can’t tell them. This insight forced me to make a difficult decision. I chose to leave my comfortable Vice President of Human Resources position, and “blow the whistle” on Corporate America.

I could no longer tolerate the duplicity of internal HR: appearing to be an employee advocate while protecting the company from the very same employees! Rather than helping people, I was required to withhold information from them that could have made a real difference in their career. I could not continue to practice a role I had begun to question. I chose to make a positive difference by giving working people the information they need.

I’ve put my future career and earnings on the line to deliver this powerful message. After almost five years of research, direct employee contact and executive level interviews, this message is now a 75,000-word manuscript titled: All the Right Moves.

A career advice book like no other, All the Right Moves reveals some of the most closely guarded corporate secrets affecting workers’ careers today. For the first time, the questions employees ask over and over, without getting a straight answer, are revealed – openly and honestly.

This book raises the bar for career guides and simply leaps over the “skills approach” other books preach. It’s like having your own personal employee advocate, telling you exactly the right moves to make at the right time, to achieve the greatest possible results. This timely gem of a book will change the way people behave at work by providing a clear track to recognition, advancement, higher pay, and greater job security.

I have included the proposal for All the Right Moves, and will be happy to send sample chapters at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to working with you on this exciting and provocative project.


Cynthia Shapiro, PHR
Phone number

Nonfiction is an interesting genre to critique since so much depends not on the blurb but on the author’s platform. In this case, Cynthia caught my attention immediately by using her platform right off the bat. I would caution her not to start the letter with “my name is,” but in the end those little things don’t matter if the bigger things are there. What I want to point out here is that platform and credentials are two very different things. Cynthia tells me what her credentials are, which is that she’s a human resources consultant, but her platform is that she’s been published in over 44 newspapers. That’s huge.

Cynthia’s second paragraph, which I know many of you will be happy to point out, is not the best written paragraph I’ve ever read. However, it has great energy and immediately sparks my interest. My thought is what are these mistakes and how scary it is that they are ruining entire careers. I also love in the paragraphs that follow that she identifies herself as a whistle-blower and, once again, it’s her voice and energy that really grab me. I think she could have made it easier on herself, and simpler to read, by combining paragraphs three and four. However, nonfiction writers are not necessarily “writers,” and editors and I know that. These are mistakes of finesse (and some grammar) that can be easily remedied. At this point, I’m not worried.

While I don’t mind the paragraph about putting her future career and earnings on hold, I would advise against including something like that. Agents hear all too frequently from authors with an overly inflated sense of what publishing one book can do for them (pay off a house or make them rich), and a sentence like this can scream overconfidence. Instead I think Cynthia would have been safe to simply delete that sentence and start with her years of research. She could then combine this with the paragraph that follows and give us insight into what the book is really about and how her previous paragraphs connect with the book.

I would also skip “a career book like no other,” because my response is that it better be. I don’t want to waste my time on any book that sounds like all the other books.

The rest is great.


12 responses to “Nonfiction Query Sample”

  1. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    No comment on the quality of the query, but I have to say that pinned down to a blurb on the back, I’d buy it. 🙂

    Strongest point for me: “give them the truth companies can’t tell them.”

    Anyone who’s worked in corporate America knows there’s a book of unwritten rules. The promise of finding it right there in your hands is pretty tempting. 🙂

  2. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Well, it certainly caught my interest and I’m not employed in corporate America! Even the second paragraph, which you question, comes across with the kind of intensity that tells me the author is passionate about her message–when that kind of passion comes through in a query, you just know it’s going to be there in the book.

  3. Avatar Sooki Scott says:

    Bravo for those who stand up for the little guy. Her platform and experience and career risk are added bonuses. I can see why you represented her.

    Confucius says; marriage is like game of poker. You start with pair and end with full house.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I agree with Kate Douglas. I’m not employed in corporate America either yet I want to read this book. In fact, I was so interested in the subject-matter that I failed to notice anything was wrong with the query. I’d buy it for my son, if nothing else.

  5. Avatar Vacuum Queen says:

    Interesting. I thought it was catchy too, but I drifted off to sleep in the middle due to many promises of delivery. I would buy this if it was a shorter blurb on the back of the book, with perhaps an example, not just a lofty catch phrase.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    in fact I’m conceding,i didn’t get anything to pick out.
    its professional query, no reason why a book deal wouldn’t be struck.

    But again we’re waiting for a fiction query!

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    A more recent example of a FICTION query letter would be preferable. Sorry, but a 2003 letter about corporate America seems a bit dated when so many are losing their jobs due to Bush’s 8 years of failed polcies.

    Word ver: AXEDnes No kidding!

  8. Avatar Schaz says:

    I’m not always a careful reader. I got the gist from your first sentence and jumped straight to the query letter. Good letter, I thought, but I wished she had explained how this book was different from/better than “Corporate Confidential”. (She used a different title in the query.) Then I ended up rereading your intro and finally realized this was the query for “Corporate Confidential” — which is a wonderful book that I recommend to everyone. How cool to read the original query for it! Her book has made a huge difference for my daughter’s career. Thanks for sharing the query!

  9. Avatar ms s. says:

    thanks for posting a NF query letter. yes, i’m still scratching my head and saying, “okay, and *why* don’t I have an agent yet?”

    but this helps. thank you. ms

  10. Avatar Tricia says:

    What I would love to see is a character-driven query. You’ve shown us plot-driven fiction and non-fiction such as this corporate tell-all, but what about a query that sells the characters. I am struggling over this and if you or your friendly bloggers know where I can view one I would greatly appreciate it.

  11. Avatar jenny'skids says:

    non-fiction queries don’t need a hook?