Pitch for Fiction/Nonfiction – is it ambidextrous?

In a word: yes. I had a question from an author in one of the seminars I was giving over the weekend – “I’ve Written ‘The End’ – Pass Me the Maalox.” I was talking about query letters and the question came up whether the pitch in a query letter was the same for nonfiction as it is for fiction.

You bet your ever-lovin’ quill it is. All the elements are the same. As I talk about in my seminars – and in Tackle Box – your pitch consists of three elements:

The ABCs of pitchdom:

A) Intro the characters – most importantly what makes us empathize with him/her/them?

B) Intro dilemma – what does protagonist stand to lose (close to protag’s heart)

C) Present teasers or resolutions

Now of course it depends on the type of nonfiction you’ve written, but you still have “characters,” you still have a “dilemma” [which would be the driving force for why your nonfiction story is marketable], and you still have “teasers for resolution.”

Example:

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be the Amazon is a 75,000 word journey about how author, editor Lynn Price spent seventeen bug-filled days in the Peruvian Amazon with a medical team – all in the name of research for her next novel. After taking an “Amazon shower,” which consisted of spraying Deet from head to toe, and finding a giant spider in her Wellingtons, the confirmed city girl wrote this in her diary: Writing schmiting…what the hell was I thinking?

Despite the heat and humidity that made her lungs feel like a swimming pool, Lynn punched her way through the fear of being the main course at a piranha banquet, nonstop mosquitoes the size of small imports, and air conditioning that consisted of a non-existent breeze, to look deeply into the eyes of the villagers she’d come to help. It was their soft hola’s and grateful gracias that touched her heart as the medical team set up their clinics to give aid to a forgotten people. She may have come in search of a story, but she left with an experience of a lifetime.

I introduced the “character,” I introduced the “conflict,” and presented some “teasers to the resolution.” If those elements are missing from your nonfiction query, then it’s pretty hard for me to determine whether your literary boat will float. And Cosmic Muffin knows that thar be piranhas waiting at the bottom of the river if your boat sinks, so take care.

And yes, Mom, this story will wait until after I complete the book that took me to the damned Amazon in the first place.

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