Thursday, April 22, 2010


Today we have our first Thursday guest blogger: Michelle McLean. Please visit her blog to learn more about her. She is a wonderful person but also a great writer who has a really fun blog.

This post is about her Non-Fiction submission. I personally have no experience with this kind of thing so I’m not going to add much. I will point out that Michelle would like to direct us all to two posts that she has shared with the world that contain some great advice about the Non-Fiction submission process and proposals:

How to Write a Non Fiction Query

How to Write a Non Fiction Proposal

Her agent, Krista Goering has agreed to share some of her correspondence with us. I’m sure you’re all used to this by now but if not Michelle’s thoughts are in blue and if I do have anything to add it will be in red.

I did learn one thing from her just in our correspondence. A NF proposal is not the same as a query – not even close in fact. It’s basically a sample of the book and can be huge. Michelle’s was 70 pages.

I had been referring to this term incorrectly, thinking a proposal essentially was the same as a query, and I think I probably even did it on the blog. So thanks Michelle for sharing your knowledge with me and curing me of that one bit of ignorance.

Her thoughts and query:

Just like in a fiction query, you need a hook. But you also need to clearly state what the book is about. With fiction, sometimes you might leave out some details in order to entice your audience into wanting to read more. But with non-fiction, they need to know what your book is about in order for them to want more.

Makes sense.

Dear Ms. Goering,

According to the United States Census, there are over 71 million grade school and college students in this county. Each one of these students will be required to take several language arts classes over the course of their educational career. During these courses, students are expected to complete various writing assignments, which include essays of all types, research papers, and the writing of poetry. Yet for many, these assignments are overwhelming and confusing. These assignments prove especially challenging for the four to six percent of students who have learning disabilities.

This first paragraph lets the agent know how large my market is – 71 million students, all of whom will have to take at least one English class. Because there is such a large market for my book, it’s a major selling point, so I put it up front and center. This also states why my market needs my book – because writing assignments are confusing for many.

Michelle makes writing Non-Fiction look easy! I’m sure it’s not but she’s obviously quite good at it. Some of this obviously applies to Fiction queries a little bit. No one NEEDS Fiction, but laying out your audience in a clever way can certainly help.

While there are many textbooks and guidebooks designed to help students and other writers with these types of assignments, the books available generally focus on only one type of writing style (either essays, papers, or poetry - not all of the above) or are so in-depth and complex the average student or writer has a hard time understanding exactly what they need to do.

This shows that I am aware of my competition and points out what is wrong with what is already out there…setting things up for the next paragraph where I state why my book is better than what is currently available.

Michelle does a great job here of pointing out some her competition’s flaws; without disparaging anyone specifically.

My proposed book, FROM PAPERS TO POETRY: A HANDBOOK FOR WRITING EVERYTHING FROM ANALYTICAL ESSAYS TO THE VILLANELLE, solves this problem by giving students and writers a fun, user-friendly narrative guide that walks the reader through every step of the most common types of essays, papers, and poetic forms. Unlike the other books out there, my book is both easy enough for junior high school students and those with learning disabilities to understand while still being thorough enough to help college students and freelance writers.

Tells exactly what my book is and what it includes and again mentions the market. Side note: my book has since been renamed Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers and will be published by Career Press in Jan 2011. The poetry part of the book has been expanded into its own book.

Good for you Michelle!

In addition to my personal experience of helping acquaintances both with and without learning disabilities through these types of writing assignments, I hold a BS in History and a MA in English. Over the long course of my education, I honed my writing skills, with exceptional results, and obtained my Master’s with a GPA of 3.96. My publications currently include several essays that appear in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I also maintain a blog, Author Michelle McLean, where I share my knowledge with aspiring writers and students.

I would have turned the title of Michelle's blog into a link here, but it made her letter look funny and I didn't want to ruin the tight professionalism she has going that seems very important with this kind of letter.

Please be sure to click the link to her blog at the beginning or end of the post.

I am committed to building my internet presence and educational networking so that I may help market this book to the best of my ability. I have my blog and website in place where I can promote the book, I will continue to submit other material for various publications, and will promote the book in any publications in which I appear.

This is the weakest part of the query – I have an almost non-existent platform (and platform is huge in NF. It can make or break your deal). I have the degrees and the experience, but not the professional background. So I made the most of what I did have, trying to sound very confident and wanted to assure whoever was interested that I was committed to doing as much as I could in order to make up for my lack of platform.

I have no knowledge or experience regarding this part whatsoever, so don’t listen to me. However I thought Michelle did a great job of highlighting the positive and the important thing is that it worked.

If you are interested, I would be happy to send you my completed proposal and sample chapters. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Michelle McLean
(address, phone, and email contact info)

I sent this letter to 12 agents and received 3 requests. After reading my query, Krista Goering, my soon-to-be agent, sent this:

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your patience while I reviewed your query. Sounds interesting. Please send your book proposal with sample chapters as an attachment in Word to this email address:


To which I responded:

Dear Krista,

Thank you for your interest in my proposed book FROM PAPERS TO POETRY. I have attached my proposal and three sample chapters to this email. I look forward to hearing from you.


Michelle McLean

To which she responded:

Michelle - Thanks for sending. Please allow me 3-6 weeks to review and get back to you. If you accept representation elsewhere, please let me know.

All my best,

And an hour or so later, I received this:

Hi Michelle - I couldn't wait to read your proposal -- and I found it beautifully done. If you're still looking for an agent to represent you, why don't we set up a phone call? My normal office hours are M-F 8-4 (I'm in the Central time zone). Let me know what might work for you.


And right about here is when I started screaming and my children came running to see what was wrong :)

Out of my submissions, she was my first choice, and after speaking with her, I knew I wanted to work with her. I withdrew my submissions from the other two agents and signed with her.

How's that for an agent getting excited about a writer's project? She certainly sounds passionate about this book.

Congratulations Michelle! It sounds to me like you have a very useful book here and I’m sure it will do well.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to see Michelle’s YA Fiction query.

Also please be sure to visit Michelle's blog and become a follower. She has a lot of great, informative posts and often shares some obscure but thoughtful quotes.

I realize this is a big change of pace but I found this really interesting as well as informative. I’ll probably never write any Non Fiction unless perhaps a memoir but even so this is great to know.

What do you all think?


The Alliterative Allomorph said...

This is fantastic! Hmm, this has now given me ideas. I write on a freelance basis for text books for teaching English as a foreign language. Hmmm ... I might just try and do something of my own one day! Excellent. I'm already a follower of Michelle. Good going! Congrats!

MissV said...

Congratulations! How exciting to hear back in an HOUR! By the way, I agree that a lot of books meant to help end up being way over the average user's ability to grasp.

Looking forward to the next query tomorrow! Thanks, Matt!

Bish Denham said...

This is great information! Congratulations to Michelle, good job Matt.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, and I thought writing queries were tricky. Thanks for posting this. I can't wait to read Michelle's query.

Emily White said...

This is great! I've been looking for a good example of a NF proposal. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Candyland said...

*Chills* Love how quickly the agent responded!!!

Eric said...

This is awesome. Thanks Matthew, for giving us a glimpse into this process. And congrats to Michelle. Getting an agent and a publication deal is awesome news. I've been following her blogs and I'm not surprised in the least.

Kristi Helvig said...

Matthew, thanks for sharing this wonderful success story. Congrats, Michelle!

Falen said...

i can't believe she responded in an hour.
I probably would have thrown up.
But in happiness! Happy vomit.

Kelly said...

Wow! I just came over to your blog from Jon's blog. Love it! I love that you share the proposal and the cool correspondence afterwards, too!!!!

Mary McDonald said...

This is so informative. Where were you and Michelle McLean 10 years ago when I wrote my first ever book? lol. It was how to get your child into commercials and modeling. Too bad my info is probably all out of date now.

Anyway, enjoyed the blog and learned a lot too. Thanks for sharing.

Slamdunk said...

I appreciate the diversity here by offering experiences with non-fiction as well.

Thanks for the tips.

Tracy said...

Matthew, I have to admit, like you -- I thought non-fiction proposals closely resembled a query letter. Darn good thing my book isn't non-fiction or I would have been screwed!

Go over to check out Michelle's blog now.

Tabitha said...

This was great! Thanks so much for sharing, Michelle. :) Looking forward to seeing the fiction query.

Christine Fonseca said...

Your just awesome Michelle! Thanks for this great post.

Talli Roland said...

Matthew and Michelle, thank you so much for sharing this! How great to see the whole process from start to finish.

Creepy Query Girl said...

You know, honestly I think most of this could definetly go towards a Fiction query. I often hear that agents like the 'cut to the chase'/professional query that clearly states what the books about and who it's written to enthuse. Good stuff!

KarenG said...

Matthew, thanks for your comment on my blog today! Who knows? You might be in my demographic. This is a fascinating interview!

Elana Johnson said...

Great information here! I'm bookmarking this for someone I know. Thanks Michelle and Matthew.

JustineDell said...

Holy Smoly! An hour after she sent the submission she got an offer? Crazy! Wouldn't that just be totally awesome? I would pee my ;-)

Congrats to you, Michelle. That must be one super stellar book!

Thanks for sharing another wonderful experience, Matt.


Michelle McLean said...

Thanks for all the kind comments :) And yes...I still bust into spontaneous bouts of SQUEEEE!!!! periodically LOL

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Wow, great post and congrats to Michelle. Looking forward to tomorrows post now:)

Mia said...

OOOOh thank you Matthew and Michelle for this! It's so interesting to see how non-fiction querying works!

Krista V. said...

Thanks for this, Michelle and Matthew. Glad you found an agent you adore.

Jen said...

Great information!!