Erika Armstrong – This author success story is part of an article series about Query Letters that Worked on our Query Letter Blog. This particular story reveals how Erika Armstrong, a memoir author known as “The Chick in the Cockpit,” wrote a query letter and book proposal that got the attention of top literary agents… and then resulted in a book deal and TV interest.
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Erika Armstrong – Author Success Stories
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’re about to enter an area of known turbulence so please put on your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
That’s the opening line I used in Erika Armstrong’s final query letter that landed her a great agent and subsequent book deal. Out of the box, right? Did you know that you can (and you should) be creative when trying to create a great query letter opening or query letter hook? After all, if the opening line of your query letter isn’t interesting, why should book agents believe that your book is going to be interesting?
Hey, it’s how agents think.
Who is Erika Armstrong and what else can you learn
from her experience getting a literary agent and book deal?
Erika Armstrong is a woman airline pilot captain who spent fifteen years earning her wings to become the pilot of a commercial Boeing 727 airliner with Northwest Airlines, only to crash and burn after being arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. She was fully exonerated, but there’s a law that prevents anyone who’s arrested—even the falsely accused—from ever flying again. As with most female disaster stories, hers begins with “There was this guy…” But it’s a heart-wrenching tale that’s also funny, and it has a Hollywood ending.
That’s a little bit more of the agent query we wrote together
(changed here from first person to third person).
When Erika Armstrong scheduled a Query Letter Critique Call with me, I was ecstatic because she had a good story to tell and she was a good writer. I knew that I could help her get the attention of top literary agents if we simply took the time to improve her agent query and book proposal.
In addition to coming up with a great opening line and better book description, I helped Erika see that she’d categorized her book using the wrong book genres. She was calling it narrative nonfiction instead of memoir. Not the end of the world, but categorizing your book correctly goes a long way toward building trust with prospective literary agents.
You want them to believe you know what you’re doing,
even if you are “winging it” in some ways.
Another thing I did with Erika was communicate more of her credibility in her query letter and book proposal. For example, her original query letter draft didn’t say that hers was the first book written by a woman airline pilot captain in the modern day era. An important detail, don’t you think? But, before you snicker at the fact that she missed something valuable like that, let me assure you that every author I’ve ever coached has left critical pieces of information out of their pitch.
Sometimes it’s about them. Other times it’s about their book. And still other times it’s about their target market. Believe it or not, I actually have a checklist of 125 things that could potentially go into a query letter or book proposal to make it better. And a few more that should never go into a query letter or book proposal.
Every detail counts, so take your time.
Oh, I also made sure the style and tone of Erika’s query letter and book proposal were fun, because her book is funny. We communicated the themes that Erika’s book explores. We talked about her target market. And we included a meaty marketing section.
I know, I know.
How in the world do you fit all that information into one query letter and make sure it’s the appropriate query letter length?
Make your query letter a masterpiece, so you can experience
what Erika did (read about her journey in her own words below).
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Erika Armstrong – In Her Own Words
By Erika Armstrong
The following text is simply an excerpt of Erika’s more detailed success story – click her to see Erika Armstrong’s complete review about Mark Malatesta.
“I got a book deal! After I started sending out query letters I had 6 literary agents request my manuscript in a short amount of time, which is awesome. Then, within two weeks of my agent starting to pitch my story to publishers, we had an offer. I signed a book contract yesterday. A little while later my agent told me that a TV co-producer asked for more info about my book.
I had sent out queries before working with Mark and received zero responses. I didn’t hear from anyone—it was the sound of crickets. Even having a rejection would have been better than nothing. If they were going to give me specific feedback it would have been great, but nothing. I submitted several different kinds of queries and the last one I sent out was very formal. It was to the point and really didn’t have a lot of personality, just a dry summary. There wasn’t a lot of “voice.”
When Mark helped me rewrite my agent query and book proposal, we made it easy for agents to say: “Hey, this is what makes this book stand apart!” Mark works off the idea that you should give literary agents everything they need to be able to sell your book. Why make it hard for them? They’re busy and moving fast so they might not think of half of the things you could say in your query or book proposal. If you spell it out for them, then suddenly they go: “Oh!”
When I first found Mark online, I showed my husband his website and I was like: “What do you think about this guy? Does this look like a salesman or what?” Mark had success stories all over the place and invitations to work with him, but I understand it’s a necessary evil. You have to overwhelm the person sitting in front of the computer screen wondering what to do. It’s a huge chunk of money to work with Mark (it took me 1-½ years to save up to do it). That’s why he has to talk it up. There truly is no other way. And, it works. Mark used the same marketing strategies to help me stand out from the crowd.
If it weren’t for Mark I’d still be floundering, sending out queries. Writing the book is the easy part. Getting published after my book was written took three years, many tears, guidance from those in the know (like Mark!), and the focus of a Buddhist monk. But, if you believe in your project, wake up each morning with the thought that you’ll do one thing to keep it moving forward, you will eventually get there.”
Author of A Chick in the Cockpit
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Do What Erika Armstrong Did – Get a Literary Agent
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Erika Armstrong – Biography
Erika Armstrong is the chick in the cockpit. With twenty-five years in the aviation industry, Erika Armstrong has worked in every aspect of aviation and is the first modern woman airline captain of a commercial Boeing 727 to write a book about her experiences.
Erika Armstrong is currently an award winning staff writer for Colorado Serenity magazine and has 40,000 readers. Erika Armstrong is also a contributing writer for Mountain Connection, General Aviation magazine and former editor/writer for Air Line Pilot Association. Most uniquely, Erika Armstrong was an international corporate, airline, Red Cross and 24-hour air ambulance pilot/captain. Even though Erika Armstrong isn’t currently flying the heavy iron, she is entrenched in aviation. Erika Armstrong owns Leading Edge Aviation Consulting and is currently a flight coordinator for International Jet Aviation Services.
Adopted in Seattle but raised in Minnesota, Erika Armstrong’s early membership in the Minnesota 99s (International Women Pilots Association) jump-started her career. After meeting several women pilots who spent their lives complaining about discrimination, Erika Armstrong decided to handle every challenge with humor and perspective. This attitude and obsessive focus landed her in the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner by the age of thirty. Erika Armstrong also holds a type rating in CE-500 series aircraft and has extensive pilot training from Flight Safety, SimuFlite, NATCO, CAE, Pan Am and has flown 28 different types of aircraft.
To back experience with education, Erika Armstrong attended the University of Minnesota’s Journalism program as an undergraduate before being lured into the world of aviation. To round out her education, Erika Armstrong attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and has a B.A. degree in International Business, Economics and Culture with National Honor Society recognition from the University of Denver.
Erika Armstrong started the Divorce Club Warriors to provide a nonreligious forum for women dealing with divorce. Whether a woman is just thinking about divorce or has been divorced for years, this support group spans the spectrum of support needs. Erika Armstrong’s Hear4U Foundation is blended with this support group to provide free or low cost legal help and advice.
Living at 8,500 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Erika Armstrong can almost touch the airplanes she used to fly. The thin air and cloud touching provides inspiration at the keyboard. And, if she’s not out running her own business, belly dancing, kickboxing, organizing a Town Hall or board of director’s meeting, Erika Armstrong is writing at her house on the hill with her two girls, three dogs, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs and any other strays she finds along the way. Erika Armstrong always has a spare room for guests so just bring some good stories and a smile.
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Click here now to read another author success story about
Siobhan Cunningham in this article series called
Query Letters that Worked.