You probably know by now that everyone’s route to agented bliss is different. Mine was especially bizarre, for many reasons (stories for another day), including that the content of my book didn’t exist yet.
Sure, I had a proposal. But I hadn’t embarked on the “year of friending” that the book I was pitching would cover. Considering the state of publishing these days, publishers aren’t eager to gamble on a story where they don’t know what will happen or how it will end. I knew editors and agents might all have the same concern about taking this book on: What if nothing interesting happens during the year?
So it was on me to create a compelling enough query to convince agents—and help them convince editors—that no matter how the book turned out, the story would be worth telling.
Here’s what I came up with, in its entirety and untouched, save for a few editor’s notes:
Subject: Query: Narrative Nonfiction, MWF Seeking BFF (note: I’m including my subject line because I thinking coming up with a phrase that will get someone to open an email is the hardest part. Please ignore the fact that my book is a memoir, not narrative nonfiction, which just goes to show how little I knew about this business)
Dear Ms. Schwartz,
I came across your name when I was researching agents who might best fit the book I’m pitching, and once I saw some of the titles that you represent at ICM, and that you are especially interested in fresh narrative non-fiction, I was eager to be in touch. My book is inspired by a forthcoming essay about friendship I wrote for Marie Claire [note: This essay got killed]– specifically about how difficult, and hilariously awkward, it is for women to try to make friends these days, especially when they are in a new city or have moved somewhere for a man. Can you “pick up” a friend at yoga class? In the bookstore? How can you ask a potential BFF out to coffee without seeming like you’re trying to get in her pants?
In the spirit of AJ Jacobs and Morgan Spurlock, MWF Seeking BFF will use the “project” framework—in this case 52 girl-dates and the real-life search for a new best friend—to explore the larger issue of friendship and its changing dynamics. By immersing myself in this search, I will become the case study. The get-togethers, as well as the circumstances that lead up to them and the aftermath of each, will provide funny, enlightening or surprising evidence of larger friendship truths: That as adults, actively trying to meet people for something other than dating is almost uniformly received with suspicion. That finding friends in a new city is an incredibly difficult task, especially because people are generally wary of friendliness. Start talking to a stranger and watch how quickly her body language begins to scream, “What do you want?”
“Friendship” is not usually an acceptable answer. [note: After embarking on my year, this was actually the opposite of what I learned, but it’s how I anticipated the project shaping up.]
Who knows what might happen? Over the course of the year I may meet my new best friend. I might meet a stalker. I could get hit on, or mistaken for hitting on someone else. I might—I probably will—meet someone I can’t stand, and have to sit through an evening listening to a woman recount stories of her cats. I may have to “break up” with a friend. Someone could become my friend only because she wants tickets to The Oprah Show, or a job, or a kidney. I’ll struggle with when it’s acceptable to reach out to a potential friend after the initial meeting, and whether it should be by email or phone or text or Facebook message, and how soon I can ask to get together again. I may hit it off with all the women I expected to hate and abhor the women who seem the most promising. Maybe I’ll find myself saying “Let’s be best friends forever” or “Please don’t ever call this number again” or “What do you mean you think I’m creepy?”
Any of this—all of this—could happen, and probably will.
I will supplement my own adventures with research and interviews, and weave the two into a seamless narrative.
I am a web producer and writer in Chicago. Before I moved to the midwest, I was an associate editor at O, The Oprah Magazine. In addition to O, I have written for publications including Marie Claire, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Teen Vogue, Outside, Fitness, More, Women’s Health, Chicago Magazine, San Francisco Magazine, Ocean Drive and Field and Stream. My interview with Katey Sagal, aka Peg Bundy, recently reached #1 on CNN.com’s list of most-viewed stories of the day. [note: This is still the most surprising fact of my career. I had no idea people cared so much about Peg Bundy.]
If you are interested, I would love to send you the full proposal for MWF Seeking BFF.
Thanks very much and I look forward to hearing from you.
In retrospect, I think this letter is way too long, but I do not exaggerate when I say I had no idea what I was doing. I put that together at work one day, after an agent I’d been introduced to sans query passed on my proposal. Regardless of its length, it landed me my lovely agent, Alison Schwartz at ICM.
So that’s my tale of querying a story that hadn’t been written. It’s an interesting challenge. Harder than pitching a novel, in that you can’t promise a certain conflict or ending, but easier in that you can hook ’em with what “might” happen, even if it doesn’t. [Spoiler alert! No one regaled me with stories of her cats. Which really is too bad. It would have made for a great scene.]
Any memoir writers out there? How would you pitch your unwritten story?