Successful Queries: Agent Sammie Justesen and “Over-the-Counter Natural Cures”

UPDATE: Enjoy the query below. But just as a heads up,
know that agent Sammie Justesen closed her agency as
of 2013. Do not query her / Northern Lights Literary.


I’ve meant to start this new series on the blog for a while now, but am just now getting around to it.  It’s 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 second installment in this series is with agent Sammie Justesen (Northern Lights Literary Services, LLC) and her author Shane Ellison, for his book, Over-the-Counter Natural Cures.


Dear Sammie Justesen,

1. I appreciate your passion for selling. I thought you’d be interested in my work as a rogue drug chemist turned consumer health advocate.

2. Americans are under attack. Obesity, lethargy, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are a ghastly epidemic in our country. And all these serious health issues can be attributed to a lack of nutrients. How severe is this problem? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 90% of Americans are nutrient deficient. Armed with little more than “symptom masking drugs,” Western Medicine is powerless against the onslaught.

3. The Wal-Mart Cure: Ten Lifesaving Supplements for Under $10 will teach Americans how to easily and inexpensively avoid being nutrient deficient by using key nutritional supplements that are readily available on the shelves of Wal-Mart.

4. Americans spend $6 billion a year looking for the “right supplement,” often basing their health decisions on hype and false advertising. They use overpriced, ineffective, and even dangerous products and wonder, “What the hell am I supposed to take?” The Wal-Mart Cure reveals the answer and shows readers how to:
•    Replace prescription drugs with supplements
•    Ensure proper dose for best efficacy and safety
•    Choose the best time to administer (chrononutrition)
•    Avoid dangerous drug/supplement interactions
•    Combine nutritional supplements with healthy diet and lifestyle habits
Studies show that the proper use of nutritional supplements could save a whopping $3 billion in prescription drug costs annually. The Wal-Mart Cure will not only protect Americans from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or even cancer. It will also protect their bank accounts from Big Pharma.

5. Known to my readers as “The People’s Chemist,” I am an award-winning scientist and a prominent health professional with a master’s degree in organic chemistry. I write health advocacy articles ( that reach over 400,000 readers monthly. I have written Health Myths Exposed and The Hidden Truth About Cholesterol Lowering Drugs and co-authored 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health with Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Julian Whitaker.

6. The Wal-Mart Cure ­- a 6×9, nonfiction book with 11 chapters and nearly 60,000 words/200 pages – will be the first of a 3-part “People’s Chemist” series that will target not only Wal-Mart shoppers but millions of diabetics and athletes. To follow are The Wal-Mart Cure for Diabetics and The Wal-Mart Cure for Athletes.

7. My proposal is available upon request.

Shane Ellison, M.Sc.

Commentary From Sammie

Why I swallowed the hook:

This is a great letter, and Shane Ellison’s proposal lived up to the promise of his query.  I found a publisher for his project within six weeks.  Let’s dissect this winning letter one paragraph at a time:

Paragraph 1: Shane uses my name, instead of “Dear Agent.”  His opening salvo implies he’s familiar with my work, but he doesn’t go overboard and slather me with false compliments. I love the way he describes himself as “a rogue drug chemist turned consumer health advocate.”  This tells me he has a sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He writes with a confident voice that grabs me right away.

Paragraph 2: Shane outlines the problem his book will address, using valid statistics. Because I’m a nurse, the health topic interests me – and I know he did his homework to find my interests. I like his first sentence, “Americans are under attack.”

Paragraph 3: Shane introduces the title of his book and describes what it’s about in one sentence (a logline). His title is clever (though he wasn’t able to use it for legal reasons), and expresses what’s in the book. By the way, vague, boring titles are a turn-off.  I asked myself, “How is this book different than other books about health supplements?” The title answers that question: The Wal-Mart Cure shows us how to fine cheap, effective supplements at discount stores. Shane will tap into a market of consumers who don’t like to shop at expensive health food stores and want to get rid of their prescription drugs.

Paragraph 4: Shane elaborates on why his book is needed, then uses bullet points to summarize exactly how he’ll help readers.  Who doesn’t want to be healthier and save money at the same time?  But again I’m wondering – how will he sell this book against so much competition? 

Paragraph 5: Shane answers my question when he presents his qualifications. I’m thrilled to see he’s building a platform now (400,000 readers), instead of waiting until the book comes out.  These days, publishers expect authors to develop web sites, create blogs, and build a marketing base upfront.  When I read the titles of Shane’s previous books I checked online and found they were self published. This might have turned me off, but I saw how he used the books to gain an audience.   Even better – Shane has already branded himself as “The People’s Chemist.”  Good for him!  With that personal brand, he’s reaching out to folks who shop at discount stores and believe expensive prescription drugs are a rip-off.   Shane knows his audience.

Paragraph 6: In closing, Shane provides a word count for his book, although he forgot to mention when it will be finished.  The word count is within acceptable limits, which isn’t always the case with authors.  I’m glad to see Shane has two follow-up books in mind.

Closing: Shane remembers to ask for what he wants – he’d like to send me the proposal.  I’m relieved to know he has one, because some nonfiction writers get things backwards and send queries before writing their proposals.  Other writers sign off without telling me what they want.  I’ve actually had to contact people and ask, “Are you looking for representation, or just announcing your book?” 

Shane’s credentials are impressive, his letter is well organized, and his voice sounds confident. He’s out there branding himself and working on a platform instead of waiting for someone to sell the book for him.  His professional attitude tells me we’ll work well together.

Book Note: I sold Shane’s project to Peter Lynch at Sourcebooks. Watch for it in bookstores this fall (2009).  On a personal note, my husband and I are taking the supplements and getting great results from Shane’s book.


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