Query, Proposal, Agent


Sample Query Letter

“John Lehman is a sales and marketing visionary. The techniques he offered generated dramatic results for the W. R. Grace division where I was in charge of advertising. And, particularly with regard to an important new product he helped us introduce, our sales increased 400% in five years.”                        

                                                                               –Rick Benda, The Upjohn Company


September 25, 2009


«FirstName» «LastName»



«City», «State» «PostalCode»


Dear «FirstName» «LastName»,


I am impressed by what I’ve read about your commitment to authors and your experience with business/how-to books. I have a manuscript that I believe will be a strong trade paperback because of its unique appeal to a new generation of business people.

Based upon John Lehman’s 20 years as a sales coach and advertising agency executive, Everything Is Changing is the first book to apply zentreprenering to practical sales and marketing, an area of business that is critical to achieving success but troubling to many because the “us versus them” mentality most often associated with it is inconsistent with the values of their personal lives.

Lehman discovered this approach while developing marketing, sales training, public relations and advertising for WR Grace, Dow Chemical Co., Oscar Mayer Food Corp and Ohio Medical. He used it successfully for law partnerships, accounting and engineering firms, real estate companies, as well as for hundreds of other businesses and professionals offering specialized services and products. It is a way people can, not only increase their business, but also find a new sense of personal fulfillment through the process

Whether lawyers, engineers, designers or even publishers, to be successful today people must do their job well and also bring in new business. Most find that challenge difficult. Ways of establishing good business relationships are learned skills that aren’t taught, yet suddenly we find our success or failure depend upon them.  People who pick up a book or audiocassette program on sales and apply some of its techniques often feel guilty (even if they’re successful). They’re embarrassed that they have to become manipulative and that their ability with financial planning or solving engineering problems or providing creative layout-design doesn’t “sell itself.”

Everything Is Changing offers a different approach. It redefines traditional business roles, opens up the buying/decision making process, shows how to establish a more meaningful rapport and how to let go of the stifling fear and uncertainty that sabotage results. Like Elements of Style this is designed as a slim book with practical examples and applications, built on a psychologically-sound re-orientation of the reader to assure lasting results. We spend much of our life at work here’s how to enjoy it more. The book will be appealing to large corporations, financial and insurance organizations, real estate companies, professional organizations as well as to secondary schools, trade schools and college marketing programs.

I would like to send you fifty pages and a detailed table of contents in the hopes you might consider helping get it published. I write an occasional business column for a Madison newspaper and have had pieces in both In Business, and in Corporate Report Wisconsin, our statewide business magazines. As a publisher (Rosebud, the fourth largest literary magazine in the U.S.) and workshop leader I give presentations at conferences across country and have had extensive experience generating publicity.

I appreciate your interest.


John Lehman



How You Can Find an Agent


Literary agents are listed in the Literary Market Place, the directory of the publishing industry, which is available at most libraries. You may also ask for recommendations from editors, writing instructors or other writers (you can also send $2 and a self-addressed, stamped  envelope to: Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc., 10 Astor Place, Third Floor, New York, NY 10003). To contact an agent, write a brief letter describing your work and listing your prior publications (if any). You must include a stamped self-addressed envelope for reply. You may approach several agents at the same time. Submit material only if and when an agent asks you to do so, and agents expect you to inform them when you are submitting to more than one agent simultaneously. Send neatly typed, double-spaced unbound manuscripts and include sufficient postage or a stamped, self-addressed mailer for return of your manuscript. Always retain a copy of your manuscript.


Before agreeing to be represented by an agent, you should feel free to discuss such matters as the nature and scope of the agent’s responsibilities, the agent’s compensation, the expenses for which the agent will be reimbursed, etc. and to inquire about the agency’s size, client list and areas of specialization.


Proposal Development


Editors are deluged with submissions. They’re vexed by—and inclined to reject—proposals that a) Don’t sell them on the book in the first few paragraphs, b) Don’t anticipate and answer basic questions or allay obvious concerns, c) Aren’t ready to go to their pub board or editorial superiors, d) Require them to do work the author should have done, e) Raise any doubts about the author’s commitment to the project or ability and resolve to deliver a well-written manuscript on schedule in proper order.


Occasionally, an idea is so compelling it can overcome a weak proposal. Even in those rare cases, the negative impression left by a poor proposal hurts the author. The editor will hesitate to give the author the benefit of the doubt when there’s a problem, will read the manuscript with a more critical eye when it’s delivered and will be less inclined to drum up in-house enthusiasm for the project. The process of writing a good proposal is as important to you as the finished product is to the editor. Writing a strong proposal forces you to think out what you want to say, how you’re going to research the book, how to organize the material and, most importantly, to decide if the subject really holds your interest.  To deliver a good proposal, an author must think deeply about the needs of the book’s audience, which is exactly what determines whether the book succeeds after publication. Finally, a clear and comprehensive proposal is your best insurance against rejection by a fickle publishing house. Grounds can always be found for rejecting manuscripts based on vague proposals. A manuscript that reflects a clear proposal is tough to reject without breaching the contract. Agents are handicapped without a strong proposal. They decide which houses and editors your book will appeal to on the basis of your proposal. It tells them how to “position” your book and how to answer questions or refute objections.


A proposal is a sales document. Your job is to convince the editor that by acquiring your book he or she will: a) certainly make money for the house, b) look smart and professional in the eyes of his/her boss, co-workers and the industry, c)  have a pleasant experience working with you. Grab the editor by the lapels, by using the book’s most compelling justification—from the publisher’s perspective—right up front, in an introductory paragraph or the concept section. Often this is a statement about the size of the market or the need for your book.


Parts of the Proposal


CONCEPT: 50,000 new titles are published in the U.S. every year. What can you say to distinguish this title from the other 49,999? Whether it’s called a “sales handle,” “the hook” or “the keynote,” every book needs a pithy (25 words or less) description that tells the target reader why to buy your book. If you can work the handle into the title, great. If not, begin the concept section with it.


The best approach is to begin with 2-3 paragraphs defining your audiences and stating why they will by your book. Then describe in 2-3 paragraphs what your book will do and how it will do it, as if you were writing flap copy. If they are crucial sales points, mention special features (illustrations, charts, etc.). Remember the question in the editor’s head is: “Will it sell?”


MARKET: Flesh out whatever you said in your introductory paragraphs or the concept section about WHO will buy your book,  WHY they will buy it,


WHERE  they are likely to buy it and HOW they can be informed about its existence. You can define your market by common interests or problems, membership in association, magazines or analogous books read, job requirements, etc. Be specific and quantitative. Be realistic. Explain specifically how you book uniquely meets the needs of the market.


COMPETITION: Identify the books closest to yours, but, above all, show how your will better meet the needs of the target market. Include title, author, publisher, year of publication, current price and, if you have solid information, sales figures. Do not overwhelm the editor with a list of every book eve published on the subject, but make sure you cover all titles the editor might be familiar with. Check Books in Print, your editor will. Also talk to your local public librarian or the buyer at a well-stocked, independent book store.


THE BOOK: This should amplify the concept section. Cover organization, structure, themes, key elements, newsworthy information, conclusions and features in one or two pages.


METHODOLOGY: This section is optional, depending upon the nature and complexity of the book. The more ambitious the project, the greater the need to convince the editor you’ve carefully thought out how you’re going to research and write the book. If you’re writing a biography, explain here how you will gain access to private papers or whom you will interview. If the book requires maps, where will they come from? If it’s an entry-based reference book, what are your criteria for selection?


CHAPTER SUMMARY: Unless you’re writing a reference book, the bulk of your proposal will be an annotated chapter-by-chapter summary. Make each chapter title as enticing as possible. Begin the annotation with a specific anecdote, story or statement that illustrates or sums up the theme of the chapter. This should be followed by no more than one or two brief paragraphs explaining what the chapter will cover or what questions it will answer. It should be clear to the reader not only what the chapter contains but also how it advances the story and fits into the whole. If your book is a reference book the equivalent to a chapter summary is a tentative headword or entry list.


AUTHOR’S QUALIFICATIONS: This section is in the proposal solely to answer the two questions every editor thinks about when considering a submission: Should I risk my company’s money on this writer? What are the author’s special credentials to write this particular book? Focus your biography on answering those two questions, keeping this section under a page and on target. Unless your book is a personal story, write this in the third person. Tee best way to address the risk issue is to prove you’re a tested writer: list your published works with the name of the publisher, year and sales figures (if they’re good). Review extracts or awards also reassure the editor.  Explain what makes you an authority on this subject. Why should readers trust what you have to say on this topic? Family status and personal details should be excluded unless they are germane to the book’s topic.


DELIVERY: This brief section says when and how the manuscript will be delivered. Most publishers want delivery within 12 months of contract unless the book is unusually long or requires a great deal of research. But never promise what you can’t deliver, at the very least, your editor will be embarrassed by the delay, at worst, y9our contract will be canceled and repayment of the advance demanded.


SAMPEL CHAPTER: Almost all proposals should include one or two complete and polished sample chapters. Make your sample chapter(s) as representative of the whole book as possible. Bear in mind, however, that it’s often a mistake to reveal that the entire manuscript has been written. Some editors are then tempted to postpone a decision by asking to read the whole manuscript. Others use it as an excuse to offer less money (Well, why does he or she need such a big advance when the work’s already done?”).


                                        –New England Publishing Associates


A Publishing/Marketing Plan


Every book or article you read on the subject of publishing will tell you that the very first thing you must do is draw up a marketing plan for your project. 90% of all new authors and publishers skip this step, write, print, and bind their book and then find out what to do next. This is a good way to wind up with a splendid library of volumes in your cellar, attic or garage consisting of one (unsold) title.


In a marketing plan, the following questions have to be answered:

  1. Who will buy this book?
  2. How will I let these potential customers know this book exists?
  3. Where will they find this book and buy it?
  4. How will I make this book available in these sales outlets?

A marketing plan is relatively useless unless it is very detailed and very specific. To each of the questions above there are seductively simple and general answers but they will not help you. Detailed answers will not all come at once but rather over time and in a continuing and developing process of information gathering and research. But you need to start with as many specifics and as much detail as you can muster.


A Writer’s Guide to Book Publishing by Richard Balkin
Paper: $12.95, A Plume Book, Penguin Books USA, Third Edition 1994, ISBN 0-452-279021-9
For the writer seeking to work with a publisher in a conventional author/commercial publisher relationship. You will learn everything you need to know about approaching a publisher, preparing a manuscript, negotiating a contract, design and production, editors and agents, copyrights, subsidiary, rights, and marketing.


The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom & Marilyn Ross
Paper: $18.99, Writers Digest Books, Third Edition 1994, ISBN 0-89879-646-6
For individuals seeking to publish their own or other authors’ work and for entrepreneurs seeking to establish a small press as a home/business enterprise.

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