Successful Queries: Agent Chip MacGregor and 'Mind the Gap'

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This new 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 seventh installment in this series is with agent Chip MacGregor (MacGregor Literary) and his author, Roger Martin, for the inspirational nonfiction book, Mind the Gap. (At Chip's request, he has changed the name of the author in this letter, but the letter itself remains the same.)

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Dear Mr. MacGregor,

I enjoyed meeting you at the Atlanta conference last weekend. As I mentioned, I have read your blog faithfully for the past couple years, and you always seem to balance insight with humor. When I heard you were going to be at the Harriett Austin conference, I knew I had to attend. As a reminder, we chatted during the cocktail party, and explored how book on ancient spiritual practices might fit with CBA publishers’ recent interest in books tapping into Christian history. Per your request, I have enclosed a synopsis and first three sample chapters of Mind The Gap, a 50,000-word completed nonfiction book that was a finalist in the Southern California Writing Competition.

Jesus said we always live out what’s in our heart, so our actions reveal our character. Our lives are run by the deeply submerged governing ideas that are often very different from the things we claim to value or believe. In other words, there is a gap between what we want to do and what we actually do. Will power alone was never meant to carry the weight of right living—it’s too puny to defeat temptation or override the compulsions of a lifetime. By spending more time with Jesus in the Gospels, we overcome a key barrier in bridging the willing-doing gap -- we move away from the Jesus we thought we knew, and teachings we thought might be burdensome, to discover the Jesus actually portrayed in the Gospels. If we can learn to “mind the gap” – to give attention to changing our core idea systems and our related emotional dispositions, then our words and actions will eventually become more like Jesus, living more naturally from the inside out.

I am a professor at Baylor University, a busy conference speaker, and the author of four other nonfiction books in CBA. My most recent title, Seeing God with New Eyes, was a finalist for the ECPA Gold Medallion.

If you would like to see the completed manuscript, I can be reached at writer@myblog.com. Thanks very much for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

All the best,

Roger Martin

Commentary From Chip

OK, let’s explore this letter for a moment…

I think this letter is great. It came as an e-mail, and had the author’s name, address, phone, and email at the top AND bottom, so it was easy to find. Right near the top, he gave me context. (Can you imagine how many authors I’ve bumped into and had conversations with at conferences? Egad – I can’t be expected to remember them all. But he contacted me right away, gave me enough to jog my memory… and it didn’t hurt that he said something nice about my blog. I was glad he didn’t fawn, but everybody likes getting a compliment.)

The author (that’s not his real name) tells me fairly quickly the title, word count, and the fact that the book is complete. His title is intriguing, since I’ve lived in England and already have a context for the phrase “mind the gap.” There is a need for deeper spiritual books, and this one sounds interesting. The description he uses is fairly sound – though I’ll admit I would have liked to have seen it jazzed up just a bit.

Another thought: Roger is a university professor, and he sounds like it in his writing. There’s a formal quality to his words, and that no doubt reflects the tone of his book. I like that, since I see too many queries that are flat – why spend two years working on your book, then two minutes banging out a query? Let your query reflect your writing and voice.

I was very glad to see his credentials – that fact that he’s been a finalist for a prestigious religion-writing award certainly catches my eye. The whole thing might be a bit long, but in this case I enjoyed getting the extra information. This is a book I was quick to look at, and ended up signing the author as a client.

Want more on this subject?

  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • This is the seventh sample query in this series. See all the queries here for free!
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.

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