The 8-Minute Book Query (That Landed an Agent in 8 Minutes Flat)

by John Robert Marlow

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In the last post, I wrote about How I Got an Agent in 8 Minutes, Over the Christmas Holiday, Without Asking to be Represented. What follows is the nonfiction book query that made that happen.

A few comments and updates: the Self Editing Blog later ranked more like #1-3 on Google; its content is now (2019) being migrated here. The present website, which hosted just a few articles at the time of the query, has since morphed into the MYSAM (Make Your Story A Movie) blog. The number of writing- and adaptation-related articles I’ve written has expanded considerably. William Morris Endeavor has since shortened its name to WME. The original article cited toward the end (originally entitled Make Your Book a Movie: Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood) has since been slightly renamed and largely updated, so I’ve replaced the original link with the new one in the body of the query. The book opening presented below was later revised for the MYSAM book itself, which is now (2019) being posted free online (while I work on the second edition, to be published in 2020).

The book’s title also changed (at the suggestion of my editor at St. Martin’s) from Make Your Book a Movie to Make Your Story a Movie, which more accurately reflects the finished book’s inclusion of advice for storytellers in all media. I then changed the subtitle to match. Accordingly, the name of the website also changed from Make Your Book a Movie to Make Your Story a Movie (though the underlying url remains the same).

Lastly, because the book was nonfiction, my aim was to present a detailed query that very much indicated the direction any full-on book proposal would take. That took a bit of space. Had I been querying with, instead, a novel or other completed work of fiction—I would have sent a pitch sheet, which is considerably shorter and less densely written. Now,
to the query…

    Dear Agent X,

    Make Your Book a Movie
    Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood


    Humans have always been storytellers. Whether gathered around a campfire, painting on cave walls or, later, writing words on dead trees—it’s in our blood. A book is a noble undertaking, capable of reaching tens, even hundreds of thousands of people.

    But movies are the global campfires of our time. They reach millions, sometimes hundreds of millions of people, all over the world. On those few occasions where book sales reach this level, they do so with the aid of movies based on the books.

    For characters to truly come to life, for stories to touch the greatest number of people—that takes a movie. And every movie starts with a blueprint: the screenplay.

    This book will explain what Hollywood looks for in source material (stories to be adapted for film) and adapted screenplays, and how to think ahead by crafting your book or other story in a way that renders it more cinematic and, thus, more likely to attract film-side interest. For those with screenwriting aspirations, it will also offer advice on transforming your story (fiction or nonfiction) into a screenplay. (Booklist‘s review of my own first novel says, in part: “Reads like a big-budget summer blockbuster.”)


    None. Though hordes of published and would-be authors long to see their stories on the screen, publishers have addressed book authors and screenwriters as two entirely separate markets. Those few books dealing with adaptations are targeted at screenwriters. This seems a clear oversight of a strong, largely untapped market–one that I am uniquely positioned to address.


    I’m a Macmillan-published novelist. My adapted screenplays have twice been honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same organization that awards the Oscars), and have drawn mention in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times.

    I have a wide variety of film industry contacts, some of whom have earned billions at the box office. Their experience and quotes can
    back up most of the points I’ll make in this book.

    My Self Editing Blog ( hovers between #1 and #10 on Google under search term “self editing.” It ranks higher than “Revision and Self Editing” (published by Writer’s Digest Books), and usually just below the amazon page for “Self Editing for Fiction Writers” (the classic in this field for some 30 years). The blog ties into my Make Your Book a Movie website, which offers adaptation services.

    I have articles on this and similar topics already published and scheduled through 2012 in writers’ magazines and Writer’s Digest
    annual books, including the 2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market, which reaches a highly targeted and receptive audience—many of whom are likely to purchase the proposed book.


    “Adaptations are super-hot right now,” says Christopher Lockhart, Story Editor at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, the largest of the Hollywood super-agencies. “The thirst for original material is not what it was,” adds Ryan Condal, whose first script recently sold for $500,000. He continues: “Probably 99% of the active projects in Hollywood are adaptations of one kind or another.” (Source: personal interviews.) That situation will not change before this book sees print.


    This book will be, in part, an expansion of the subject matter covered by my recent article:

    Make Your Book a Movie: Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood


    If this seems right for you, please shoot me an email, and we’ll take it from there.

    Thank you for your time.

    John Marlow


Crafting a nonfiction book query is not like doing the same for a work of fiction. You’ll rarely get by with a cool concept and a writing sample. Because of that, the nonfiction query is likely to be longer and/or more densely written. But, still—keep it to a page.

You still need to show you can write, so consider including a very brief sample, preferably an introduction to the topic that can be used as your query’s lead.

Define your market; who is likely to buy this book, and why?

Show the reader that you understand the world he/she works in—where a good book is not enough. If your book is not the first on its subject, take pains to differentiate it from the competition (if any). And don’t just say there is no competition without being ready to back that up—because if you’re wrong, the first impression you make is “sloppy researcher.”

If you have some type of relevant experience or platform (awareness-building presence), online or elsewhere, bring it up. Publishers by and large do almost nothing to promote the vast majority of those books for which they’ve not paid huge advances; an author platform indicates that the author is ready, willing—and able—to effectively promote the book to potential buyers.

If timing is a factor—your book is particularly relevant right now, or soon will be—explain. Keep in mind that it will most likely be one to two years (after purchase) before your book is published. If your subject matter demands that your book hit the market right now, forget about traditional publishers and do it yourself. Or, if you still want to give them a shot, have everything in place to do it yourself, get that query out there (preferably through an agent), and if no one’s willing to fast-track the book—do it yourself, and do it fast (most likely as ebook and print-on-demand). Major publishers can (and very occasionally do) speed books into print in as little as two weeks. The catch is, they have to be totally convinced they’re going to make an awful lot of money very quickly (and that they’ll make little or nothing if they delay) to do it.

If you can link to relevant online writing samples, do; this provides a way for the reader to gauge your competence and style, without bloating the query to unmanageable proportions. This doesn’t mean put your whole book online and link to it, as no one wants to buy something that’s already free.

Remember: agents and publishers don’t care what you want them to do for you; they care what you can do for them. Build your query with that in mind. Address their concerns: target market, competition, platform, timing, writing ability.

I’ll post the actual book proposal—which was used to sell the book to the publisher—at a later date.



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