Editors Blog

Successful Queries: Agent Michelle Wolfson and ‘Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon’

I’m re-posting this Successful Query
in honor of the book reaching the
NYT best-seller list this week.
Congrats to Michelle and Mark.

 

——–

This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents.  In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked. 

The first installment of this series is with agent Michelle Wolfson (Wolfson Literary), and her client, Mark Di Vincenzo, and his book, Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There.

Dear Ms. Wolfson,

Have you ever wanted to know the best day of the week to buy groceries or go out to dinner? Have you ever wondered about the best time of day to send an email or ask for a raise?  What about the best time of day to schedule a surgery or a haircut? What’s the best day of the week to avoid lines at the Louvre? What’s the best day of the month to make an offer on a house? What’s the best time of day to ask someone out on a date?

My book, Timing is Everything: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There, has the answers to these questions and hundreds more.

As a long-time print journalist, I’ve been privy to readership surveys that show people can’t get enough of newspaper and magazine stories about the best time to buy or do things. This book puts several hundreds of questions and answers in one place — a succinct, large-print reference book that readers will feel like they need to own. Why? Because it will save them time and money, and it will give them valuable information about issues related to health, education, travel, the workplace and more. In short, it will make them smarter, so they can make better decisions. 

Best of all, the information in this book is relevant to anyone, whether they live in Virginia or the Virgin Islands, Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine. In fact, much of the book will find an audience in Europe, Australia and Latin America.

I‘ve worked as a journalist since 1984 and have made a name for myself as someone who exposes wrongs, such as rampant abuses at mental hospitals and decades of neglect by government agencies that monitor the environment.  I’ve won numerous awards, competing against reporters from The Washington Post, The Washington Times, the Associated Press, the Richmond-Times Dispatch and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot. In 1999, the Virginia Press Association created an award for the best news writing portfolio in the state – the closest thing Virginia had to a reporter-of-the-year award. I won it that year and then again in 2000. The next year I beat out reporters from The Charlotte Observer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to win the Southern Environmental Law Center’s first-place journalism award. I then became metro editor at a 100,000-circulation newspaper in Newport News, Va. Over the years, I’ve honed my long-form writing skills by doing magazine cover stories and writing short stories. During the summer of 2007, I left newspapering to pursue book projects and long-form journalism.

I saw your name on a list of top literary agents for self-help books, and I read on your Web site that you’re interested in books that offer practical advice. Timing Is Everything offers plenty of that. Please let me know if you’d like to read my proposal.

Sincerely,
Mark Di Vincenzo  

 

Commentary from Michelle:

This query caught my attention and I requested it less than 3 hours after I received it.  I’m pleased to say that Mark became my client and his book, with the new title Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That, and Go There will be coming out from Harper Collins in October.

I loved the opening to Mark’s query.  I tend to prefer it when authors jump right into the heart of their book, the exception being if we’ve met at a conference or have some other personal connection.  Otherwise, it’s safe to assume I know you are looking for representation and I like to get down to business.

Mark chose clever questions for the opening of the query.  All of those questions are in fact relevant to my life—with groceries, dinner, e-mail, and a raise—and yet I don’t have a definitive answer to them.  Then the next paragraph he got a little more offbeat and unusual with questions regarding surgery, the Louvre, buying a house and dating.  This showed a quirkier side to the book and also the range of topics it was going to cover.  So I knew right away there was going to be a mix of useful and quirky information on a broad range of topics. 

The next sentence was great.  By starting with “As a long-time print journalist,” Mark immediately established his credibility for writing on this topic.  While I needed more—which he provided later—this was great to know right away that he had experience researching topics.  And the second half of that sentence helped show that there is a market for this book.  This established the need for such a book.

And what do you know? Mark had the solution!  A book that answers that need.   And he does, in the rest of that paragraph.  I think he could have shortened it a drop maybe to “…hundreds of questions and answers with valuable information about issues related to…”  I would also be careful not to be too specific about how you envision the final book, and this is something I am always changing with authors in their proposals, since if editors see it differently, you may turn them off by having such a rigid format already described.  Why large print?  Who knows.  I would not put that in a query.

Mark’s next paragraph is interesting because I like it if an author can describe his target audience.  However, when most authors say their audience is everyone, as many do, I pretty much automatically reject it.  And even as I type this, a query comes in for a YA vampire novel that will, “find a market in most reading ages, similar to the first couple Harry Potter books.” But Mark’s book really does have broad market appeal and he made his point based on a regional basis rather than age, although I think it cuts both ways in this particular case.  But keep in mind this is a reference book—and facts are facts and they really do apply to all people.

Mark’s bio paragraph is a little on the long side but offers a lot of good information.  Again, I think a journalist is the perfect background for this kind of book since being an expert on any one thing wouldn’t help; you really need to be an expert in researching information and delivering it in an entertaining readable fashion. Overall, I felt I gleaned enough information to feel confident that we could present Mark’s platform in an impressive enough manner to find a publisher.

I liked Mark’s final paragraph, of course, since it’s all about me!  Seriously though, it is nice when I feel like an author has sought me out specifically and thinks we would be a good fit.  Here I am saying Mark is going to be doing a research heavy book and he has taken the time to research agents as well and has personalized his query with a little flattery thrown in.  Always a nice touch.

Of course, now that I’m looking at the query with an eye towards critiquing the query itself, I will comment on the little nitpicky things that I notice, but wouldn’t necessarily stop me from requesting something.  Since I just mentioned personalization, I’ll say that on closer inspection, I noticed that the “Dear Ms. Wolfson,” is in a different font than the rest of the query.  Now I don’t expect you to send me an exclusive query; in fact, I hate them since I then feel pressured to respond right away when that’s not how I generally work if I’m not interested.  But you could at least make me feel like you’ve typed it out just for me, and a different font calls attention to a writer’s admirable, yet meant to be secret, time-saving methods.


 

 

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