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How To Write A Query Letter For A Biography, History, Or Popular Science Book | Writer’s Relief

If you’ve written a biography, history, or popular science book, your query letter will face challenges that a query for a novel or memoir will not. As with most query letters, the two most important factors are your book blurb (the description of your book) and your author bio. But for popular science, history, biography, and books of that nature, the query letter experts at Writer’s Relief know you must also demonstrate the credentials that establish you as an expert (or forthcoming expert) in your field, and it should wow agents with the promise of a “never been done this way before” premise.

Your Book Premise: Key Elements To Summarizing And Selling Your Book Idea

Typically, nonfiction books are sent to literary agents via a book proposal. Occasionally, a writer will complete the manuscript first, but most of the time, what you’re actually pitching is a formal and extensive proposal for a book, as opposed to the book itself.

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Here are some of the key points you’ll want to highlight when writing your 150-200 word book summary in your query:

Introduce your book idea with a dazzling new perspective. In the first lines of your query blurb, the “same old” won’t do. Consider your angle: What makes your book different? Appealing? Tease those elements out in your introductory line.

Say you’ve written a biography of Thomas Jefferson. You’ve got to say why your book is so different from the many existing biographies that people have already read.

Example: My book THE PIRATE PARADE, researched over my many years as a scholar at School Name Here, proves that our third president, Thomas Jefferson, not only engaged with pirates on the Barbary Coast, he became one!

The staying power (or trendiness) of your subject. There are oodles of biographies on Thomas Jefferson–and that’s great! The subject is timeless, and in this case, any savvy literary agent will know it without your having to drive the point home. But if your subject is a little more off the beaten path, you might need to make a case for its popularity—just don’t overdo it! The more it seems like you’re struggling to prove your case, the less likely you’ll get an agent’s interest.

Example: Tea gets a bad rap for being as uncool as the teapot cozies knit by grandma. But the true story of tea is one of war, sex, spies, illicit affairs, conspiracy, and intrigue. THE TEA REVOLUTION is the tell-all book that the one billion tea drinkers of America have been waiting for.

What are your talking points? In your query book blurb, tease out the elements that are the most media-friendly, the most surprising, the most pivotal.

Is there an emotional element? If you’re writing in history or biography in particular, see if you can focus your summary to incite a strong emotional response in the reader. Show us underdogs and heroes, orphans and soldiers, people willing to take or risk it all.

Your Author Bio

For any nonfiction subjects, you’re going to need to have a strong bio. Agents (and publishers, and readers), simply won’t take your research and writing seriously if you can’t show that you are a trusted source of information. Without a background that demonstrates your nonfiction is both timely and accurate, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a publisher who is willing to tout you as an expert.

To develop the kind of track record that’s going to convince an agent or publisher to put faith in you as an expert, consider doing some (or all) of the following:

  • Pen feature articles on your subject or related subjects.
  • Start a blog (the more you can boast about its popularity, the better).
  • Write for other people’s blogs and online newspapers (you might not get paid in dollars, but you’ll get paid in reputation).
  • Go to school (get a degree, and—if appropriate—give lectures and papers on your subject).
  • Consider publishing in the literary journal market (literary magazines sometimes feature narrative nonfiction essays on various subjects that have wide appeal).
  • Connect with the media (radio and TV appearances help give you some street cred).


QUESTION: What was the last biography, popular science, or history book that you read?

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