Apr 02 2009

What do you think about this nonfiction query? (Draft 3)

Published by at 1:32 pm under Getting Published,Writing a Query

I’m pitching a nonfiction book about how to write superhero stories. What do you think?


The spectacular success of several superhero movies over the past five years shows that there is tremendous demand for superhero stories. My book will tap this interest by teaching young authors how to write and sell their own superhero novel or comic book.

My target audience is superhero aficionados with an interest in writing. Typically, these tend to be males between 16 and 25 years old. As a 21-year-old male myself, I’m well-suited to write for this audience in a way that they can relate to.

My main qualification to write this book is that my past writings on this subject have attracted hundreds of thousands of readers. Over the past two years, I’ve written several hundred articles about how to write and sell a superhero story on my writing advice website, Superhero Nation. I’ve examined general elements, such as characterization and pacing, but I focus on storytelling elements that a superhero writer couldn’t find anywhere else. For example, why is it easier to write a story about a hero that is vulnerable to fire rather than something like Kryptonite? (A mundane weakness is more intuitive for readers and easier for a villain to take advantage of). Details like these are critically important to a prospective superhero writer but would not be addressed in any other kind of writing guide.

I may draw on a review of SN here. For example, io9 calls us “your very own guide to becoming the next Stan Lee.”

Important Details About the Author

1.  I run a superhero writing advice site that has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. My advice about how to write superhero novels and comic books is clearly marketable and credible.

2. As a 21 year-old male, it’s easy for me to write for and relate to my target audience.

3. I have three years of experience writing for college newspapers. This experience writing informative news articles for college students will help me write a how-to book for a similar audience. My frank and no-nonsense style of writing is well-suited for younger readers.

4. I am writing a superhero comedy of my own. Along the way, I’ve made most of the mistakes typical of young superhero authors. I use my writing experience to market my work in a self-effacing way. For example, my website’s tagline is “I’ve made every writing mistake so you don’t have to.”

5. I’m currently a student at the University of Notre Dame, but I plan to take a semester-long leave of absence to edit for a comic book publisher. I will graduate with a BA in Political Science next May.

6. I have interned with a prominent think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. I have a strong background in international relations and data analysis. My ability to analyze data will help me write a nonfiction book. What makes a superhero story successful? If a reader thinks that my answers to that question will be insightful, he will want to buy this book.


My target audience is comic book fans with an interest in writing. They tend to be males between 16-25 years old. They have a very narrow focus: how to write superhero stories. Nothing else matters. However, the books that compete against me tend to focus on extraneous details that won’t help someone write. For example, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics spends 12 pages on a chapter titled “What are Comics?” Similarly, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel has a lengthy section titled “What’s a Graphic Novel?” With all due respect, readers in this field already know what a comic book is. They want to write one. When a reader glances through the table of contents, he will probably feel that a definition of a comic book is patronizing and unnecessary.

In contrast, my table of contents is designed to make readers see that this is a detailed and practical writing guide. I want my readers to think “I’m working on that. This book will really help me.” For example, these are a few of the sections I plan to include in the subchapter on villains.

  • How to Write Satisfying Villains: A Checklist
  • Villainous Plots that Fit Your Story
  • How Evil is Too Evil?

These articles will appeal to readers because they are specific and useful for any superhero writer. Additionally, they will make my table of contents look intriguing. In contrast, most of my competitors have vague tables of contents. For example, the table of contents of The DC Guide lists a section titled “Characterization” but doesn’t provide any details to convince readers to keep going. That’s not a very interesting or compelling way to organize the information. In contrast, my book will provide specific details about why readers should buy the book. If a reader wonders what I’ve included in my checklist about satisfying villains, he will probably keep reading.

Competing Books
The most comparable how-to book is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Graphic Novel. It was written by Nat Gertler and published by Alpha in 2004. Even though it is notably long at about 350 pages, it has been successful. Amazon ranks it among the top 60,000 bestselling books.

My book will distinguish itself for three main reasons. First, my book will appeal to authors that are writing a superhero novel or need help deciding between a superhero novel and a comic book. As far as I can tell, there are no books on the market currently aimed at superhero novelists. Second, my book will focus more on writing. Idiot’s Guide spends about 120 pages on content for artists. My book is aimed exclusively at writers and will distinguish itself with the level of detail it can provide about the writing process. My book will include some visual components, but it will only include visual components that matter to a writer. For example, a comic book writer has to create a script that separates each page into panels, so my book will include a subsection that provides strategies about how to do so. Third, my guide book is completely focused on superhero stories and will have content that is geared to the unique needs of a superhero writer. Idiot’s Guide is not aimed at superhero writers, so my book will seem more applicable to them.

Another similar work is Writing for Comics with Peter David. It was published by Impact in 2006. Amazon ranks it among the top 50,000 bestselling books.

Writing for Comics is stylistically unusual because the backcover markets it as “half how-to, half personal memoir” and it isn’t very long. It only has about 175 pages and those tend to have many illustrations. My book will compete by offering a much more comprehensive, detailed look at how to write superhero stories. Since my book will be longer and more detailed, prospective readers will probably find it to be a better value. That is an important consideration, given that my target reader (a male between 16-25 years old) tends to be very cost-conscious. Finally, as noted above, my book will appeal to superhero novelists in a way that Writing for Comics does not.

Similar Concepts in Other Genres

I’d also like to draw your attention to two fiction books that suggest that my book has the potential to succeed: Things White People Like and Eragon.
Things White People Like is a comedic book based on a successful website. The author posted about half of the book’s content on his website as a teaser. That promotional strategy proved successful; the book was a bestseller even though prospective readers could find half of the content for free online. Similarly, I have published approximately half of my book’s content online. A publisher may be concerned that readers would be reluctant to pay for a book that is half-available online, but I would argue that TWPL’s success suggests that giving away a large portion of my book’s content is a rational marketing strategy that will improve sales.

Eragon is a high fantasy novel that is very similar to Lord of the Rings. Its main selling-point is that the author was only 15 years old when he wrote it. Even though critics panned Eragon, it became a national bestseller and eventually a major motion picture. Teen readers were mostly willing to look past major problems with the story because they related with the author.

I understand that publishers may be wary about buying a manuscript—particularly a nonfiction manuscript—from a 21-year-old that lacks credentials in his field. But the example of Eragon suggests that audiences value relatability. I cannot compete with Peter David on experience. But I can compete with him on quality and beat him on relatability. By virtue of being inexperienced and young, I can provide more insight into the problems that young and inexperienced superhero authors face. The success of my website indicates that young readers will value well-written and relatable advice even though I haven’t spent years in the comic book industry.

Marketing and Promotional Opportunities
1. My book can be marketed and sold through my writing website, Superhero Nation. I have a highly loyal audience. According to Google Analytics, 200,000 readers have viewed my website at least once. 7000 readers have visited my website at least 25 times. 4000 readers have visited at least 100 times. Someone that enjoys my writing enough to visit my blog 100 times could probably be convinced to buy the book, particularly when I drop teasers about the half of the book that will be comprised of exclusive content.

2. My book can be sold through comic book stores. Comic book stores usually stock some superhero-themed novels, but I’ve never seen one sell a how-to guide on comic books. My book seems like a natural fit for a comic book store.

3. My book has international appeal. Over 30% of the visitors to my site come from outside the US. Canada, the UK and Australia make up the bulk of my international traffic. Additionally, international audiences have shown tremendous interest in superhero stories in general. For example, The Dark Knight sold half a billion dollars worth of tickets overseas.

4. I can market the book by lecturing on campuses. College campuses are an excellent place to find comic book fans. Many colleges are within driving distance of my home, so it would be fairly easy for me to set up a series of entertaining and informative lectures. I could speak about topics such as careers in writing, the comic book industry and how to write superhero stories.

5. I have a fairly strong background in political science and academia. Fortunately, many other policy wonks are comic book fans, too. In particular, I’d like to send copies to Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, John Podhoretz of National Review and Adam Howard of The Nation. These authors are fairly young intellectuals that have written about superhero stories for their publications.

6. I launched my blog and started writing this book when I was 18. This will help me publicize and market the book. Many newspapers run human interest stories about young authors. Arguably, it will seem even more newsworthy that a young author decided to write a how-to guide. My youthfulness will also help me market the book; I’m intimately familiar with all the problems that a young and inexperienced author faces.

I’ll include a newspaper article or two to sample these sorts of articles. This one is fairly representative.

7. My book can be marketed and sold at comic book conventions like Comic-Con. [I’ll introduce some statistics about how many people attended Comic-Con and some of the smaller conventions closer to home. I’ll indicate how much it costs to run a shoe-string marketing effort at either sort of venue.]

Manuscript Specifications

My manuscript will be about 65,000 words long. At 250 words per page, that would be 260 pages. That’s longer than most of my competitors, but about 100 pages shorter than my main competitor, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Graphic Novel.

As for graphics, I’d like two pages of black-and-white illustrations. It would be very difficult for me to explain different ways to lay out the panels on a comic book page without actually using sample pages to demonstrate.

I can have the manuscript ready within a month. I’ve already completed most of the content.

–Still in the works.

Sample Chapter
–Still in the works.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “What do you think about this nonfiction query? (Draft 3)”

  1. B. Macon 02 Apr 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Oh, before I forget… Here’s a breakdown of the major changes, in case you’re interested.

    1. I added a bit of material to explicitly address why a publisher should consider buying a nonfiction how-to guide from a 21 year-old. (Relatability, namely).

    2. I made it clearer that about half of the material is online and half will be exclusive to the book. I also threw in an example (Stuff White People Like) to argue that this is a sound way to market a book.

    3. In the promotional opportunities section, I added an item about comic book conventions like Comic-Con. Ack! I don’t know how I forgot those.

  2. scribblaron 02 Apr 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I left a large post last time. I won’t this time.

    I will point out that you mentioned the guy with the crappy book cover got his title wrong. You got your tag-line wrong; it isn’t “I’ve made…” its “We’ve made…”

    I can see why you’d change it, but a prospective agent who logs on won’t see that; they’ll think you got it wrong. And if you’re getting that wrong, what else are you getting wrong?

  3. B. Macon 02 Apr 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I decided to adapt the tagline because this book is entirely the effort of one person. Using “we’ve” instead of “I’ve” might have suggested that the book is actually a group effort. I suspect a publisher would be more hesitant to take on a group project because those are a bit more complicated.

  4. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2009 at 3:37 am

    This query is very good. How long do you think the finished one will be?

  5. B. Macon 03 Apr 2009 at 3:48 am

    Thanks. I anticipate that it’ll look something like this.
    –1.5 pages for the summary
    –1.5 pages for the author’s bio
    –2 pages for audience/competition
    –1.5 pages for marketing/promotion
    –.5 pages for manuscript specifications
    –3-4 pages for the annotated outline
    –5-10 pages for the sample chapter

    In all, I think it’ll be around 15-20 pages, but most of that will consist of the outline and sample chapter.

  6. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2009 at 4:01 am

    (Whistles) That’s a hell of a lot.

  7. B. Macon 03 Apr 2009 at 4:18 am

    I expect that mine will be a bit longer than most fiction queries.

    1) As a nonfiction author, I absolutely have to establish my authorial credibility. Publishers will have major concerns about buying a how-to guide from a 21 year-old. The author’s biography doesn’t matter much to a fiction writer. In some ways, that’s a good thing (everyone is qualified to write fiction), but your pay will be much lower because the competition is fierce.

    2) The agent reading this query probably won’t be very knowledgeable about comic books or the comic book industry. In contrast, if you write a query letter for a fantasy story a la Lord of the Rings, the agent will already have a good feel for your field. Fantasy is common enough that agents can specialize in it. In contrast, agents reading my query will be familiar with nonfiction (ideally with a specialty in how-to books), but they probably won’t know anything about superhero stories in particular. The same goes for publishers, I think.

    3) In general, I’d say that it’s more important for a nonfiction manuscript to delve into the specifics of who the audience is and what they will get out of the work. With fiction, I think it’d be more worthwhile to discuss your competition and how you will compete. Fiction writers generally face much more competition than writers in my field of nonfiction. For example, I couldn’t find a single book about how to write superhero novels. In contrast, if you’re writing a book like Eragon or LOTR, there are hundreds of competing novels. That makes it more important for you to stand out. If you’re on a bookshelf with 500 other fantasy titles, prospective readers cannot give each book five minutes to make its case. In contrast, a prospective reader for a how-to book about writing comic books will only have to evaluate five books. He’ll be a bit more patient.

  8. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2009 at 4:37 am

    I think I’ll have a bit of trouble establishing credibility with publishers, being so young and all. Of course, I won’t reveal my age until after my manuscript is accepted, but I think that they’d still be a bit wary. My plans are to get it published when I’m in my 20’s, then afterwards reveal my age and how old I was when I wrote it.

    Would you mind checking out my comments on the Villainous Forum and Plausible Origin Stories? Thanks.

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