Summer School-How To Write Your Peace Corps Book, FINAL Lesson # 10

“Publishing is a fundamentally unpredictable business. Often
the only way to find out what will sell or not
is by publishing the book.”
– James O’Shea Wade, editor

In this final lesson we will talk about:

  • The Marketplace
  • You and the Marketplace
  • Your Query Letter
  • Publish Now

The Marketplace

The type of writing we have been talking about these last ten weeks is “new journalism.” It – as you recall – was developed in the 1960s, but was labeled by TomsearchWolfe in his anthology, The New Journalism, published in 1973. New journalism dethroned the novel as the number one literary genre. At that time a long list of best-selling books were published including In Cold Blood (1965) by Truman Capote, The Armies of the Night (1968) by Norman Mailer, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) by Hunter S. Thompson; and most recently, The Devil in the White City (2004) by Erik Larson. The list goes on.

Now we have English professors labeling things. We have talked about “creative non-fiction” ourselves but there is also “literary nonfiction” and so on. Don’t drive yourself nuts with all this nomenclature.

Several years ago there was an article in Poets & Writers Magazine by Michael Depp on new journalism and the state of non-fiction publishing. Interestingurl comments that apply to what you are writing were made by writers and editors about creative non-fiction. Susan Orleans, author of The Orchid Thief (1998) and a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker,” is quoted, “The desire for storytelling and for those stories to be true and to tell them in a full and eloquent way – that’s going to continue and keep growing and changing for the better. And I think the audience is going to remain there and really grow.”

Charlie Conrad, an executive editor at Doubleday, supports this opinion. “Story-driven nonfiction is extraordinarily successful and there’s a huge market for it now. I think it’s partly because when you’re publishing a nonfiction book, especially one that’s story driven as opposed to didactic or scholarly, you can target the market in an easier way.”

You and the Marketplace

Your Angle in the Marketplace

Look for an angle, something new and special and original. Most agents (even as early as 1964) had seen too many badly written Peace Corps books, and back then I thought we would never see another Peace Corps book published. I was wrong. In fact, the best Peace Corps books were published after I had come to that conclusion – which just shows how much I know.

However, I do know that agents and editors and publishers are NOT interested in the Peace Corps, the workings of the agency. They are, however, interested in you. What did you see? What did you experience? What happened to you? What do you think? That is the information you need to convey. That is your angle.

When is your book ready for the Marketplace

How can you be sure you really have done enough revising? To make this decision, use vitality and time as your guidelines. You shouldn’t let yourself get so involved in revising that your writing begins to lose its vitality. Too much revision can make you lose your objectivity about your book, and what you have written will begin to bore you. It is time to move on when you begin to feel that you’ve lost your emotional drive and mental energy, that you’re just going over the same stuff again and again, making routine fixes, patching things up with a word here or a paragraph there.

Your Query E-mail

Your e-mail) to an agent – and I believe all writers need an agent for their commercial book, not self-published or academic press – is basically very simple and very important. A query e-mail is a combination sales pitch and summary in the form of a conventional, single-spaced business letter. Write your e-mail in a conversational tone, as if you’re talking with the person. Feel free to mention any writing credits you have, but do not, under any circumstances, list marginal credits such as your high school literary review.

A good query e-mail will have:

  • an interesting lead,
  • a summary of the book,
  • a brief author’s biography,
  • a closing line asking for a response from the agent.

In your e-mail (first and foremost) mention what is very special about you and your book. For example:

“I was with the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers ever to serve overseas.”

“I was evacuated out of two African countries while serving as a volunteer.”

“I lived in on an island so small that I could walk across it in three minutes.”

“I was shot at, captured, and escaped while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America.”

“I broke the Iron Curtain by serving in the Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia.”

You get the idea?

When you look up agents on the web, you’ll see that they will want a sample of your book, perhaps as much as 30 pages or a couple chapters.

You can write all the agents at the same time, if you wish, and don’t expect to hear anything overnight. A good agent receives between 35 and 50 manuscripts a week, so figure on hearing within three months.

You can look at the Writer’s Market – – for a list of agents. I suggest that you only contact agents who have addresses in or around New York City.

Publish Now

As you finish sections of your book, it is possible to get some of the material published. You can, of course, send me short essays (usually less than 3000 words) that I will consider for publication at the Peace Corps Writers site in the column, “A Writer Writes.” You might want to look at some of these columns to see what I like to publish. Marian Beil and I would be pleased to look at any of your essays for this column.


WorldView magazine, the quarterly publication of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), welcomes written submissions and photos covering people, events, or issues that impact communities where Peace Corps Volunteers serve or have served, as well as stories about how Peace Corps and the ethos of volunteerism continue to make a difference at home and around the world. In each issue, we feature articles by and about Peace Corps Volunteers, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and people who share the global values of the Peace Corps experience. Authors are not paid for their submissions, but receive a byline and copies of the issue. Stories are typically 750-1,000 words in length. Detailed submission guidelines for WorldView can be found at

Other possible markets are:

THE SUN. Founded in 1974, The Sun is a non-profit, ad-free monthly magazine that publishes an “eclectic mix of personal essays, fiction, interviews, poetry, and photographs.” They do not publish journalistic features, academic works, or opinion pieces. For submission guidelines, check their website at: and send them some of your prose.

Szirine is the online magazine of Charlene Caprio (Poland 1997-99). She invites Peace Corps writers to contribute to her online magazine on cultures and subcultures, Szirine, at Szirine’s mission is to bring to the English speaking world cultures and subcultures, and good writing that do not usually receive attention in mass media. Currently, Szirine is being viewed in over 20 countries, and their readership and writing staff continues to expand across borders. If you are interested in having your work considered for publication, click on “Submission Guidelines” on the home page. This is a terrific site and a great place to be published online.

The Writer’s Chronicle is an open forum for the debate and examination of current issues in contemporary letters and the teaching of creative writing. In the back of each issue is a list of grants and awards and where you might publish writing. Their address is:

Association of Writers & Writing Programs
Mail Stop 1E3
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030-4444

Poets & Writers Magazine is bimonthly and well worth receiving. They have a good list of places (magazines) looking for articles, essays, poetry, etc. Most of these publications do not pay and usually they have small audiences, but you can get your material published and begin to build your reputation. Go to and click on “Subscribe now.”

Remember, it is not how much you write everyday. It is about how little you write everyday. Put something down on paper or on your computer everyday. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be written down.

Self-publishing your book

The majority of us have to publish a self-published book because of the shifts in the book industry and the growth of Amazon and e-books. For this reason, Marian Beil and I created Peace Corps Writers Books several years ago. This valuable service is managed by Marian and if you email her, she will inform you of what Peace Corps Books can do for you, as well as give you valuable advice. Write Marian at:

Good luck and Keep Writing!


Go on and type in How To Write A Novel In 100 Days. You can watch (me!) free for an hour and see if there is anything new here that I have to say that might help you.

Buy, (if so inclined) either as a paperback book or an e-book, my book on writing, also called, How To Write A Novel in 100 Days. It is a Peace Corps Writers Book and available on Amazon.

Thank you for your time and I hope some of these suggestions help you finish your book. Keep writing!


Leave a comment
  • This is an achievement of the first order.
    The only thing is where were you? and this? 50 years ago?
    It took awhile!
    But it is here now.
    So cheers to writers.
    Thanks to you.
    Edward Mycue

  • John,

    Thanks again. As always this lesson has been enlightening. I’ll start rewriting next week and connect with Marian about the other resources available.



  • But just how do you get an agent? Most won’t even look at a sample of your work. The high end agencies all have disclaimers on their websites warning people not to send them anything or try to contact them in any way. And if you do send them something, they will track you down, burn down your house, kill all your pets, and sell your children into slavery.

  • Reilly,
    Well, you made me laugh me out loud. Maybe you should be looking at night time comedy..god knows peace corps could use a comedian!

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