Success Story Interview - Michael Onesi

An Interview with Michael Onesi (YukonMike on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.


QT: How long have you been writing?
Michael Onesi:
I’ve always enjoyed writing but I didn't take it seriously until I started volunteering for my university newspaper. I loved it so much that when I graduated from business school, I turned around and enrolled into my school’s journalism program.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Michael Onesi:
Only about six weeks. The book was very easy to do – it’s a collection of the best reviews from the Four Word Film Review website ( I was on the site for three years as a contributor so I already knew most of the reviews I wanted in the book. It only took a month for my co-editor (the website’s founder) and me to compile 2,000 reviews.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Michael Onesi:
I felt like giving up when I saw how much work goes into doing a non-fiction book proposal.

At first my co-editor and I thought about going straight to self publishing and trying to sell the book through the website. But a friend in the publishing world told me that would hurt our chances of finding a real publisher so I decided to make the effort and spent six weeks doing research. It was harder to write the book proposal than the actual book. But when you write a non-fiction book, a solid proposal is essential.
QT: Is this your first book?
Michael Onesi:
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Michael Onesi:
Yes, I took journalism at university and have been a newspaper editor, reporter and columnist for more than 10 years.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Michael Onesi:
I found an agent after only three weeks. There were four agents interested and two offered representation. One was from Sanford J. Greenburger. I knew nothing about the publishing world so I googled the agency to see who it represents. (I wanted to make sure it wasn’t some scam agency.) The first client that popped up was Dan Brown. This is the agency that sold The Da Vinci Code. When I read that, I started to freak out. I couldn’t believe these people wanted my book.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Michael Onesi:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Michael Onesi:
I researched agents and tried to find ones who successfully sold other movie books or said they were interested books about pop culture and humor.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Michael Onesi:
Slightly. I liked my query letter so I didn’t think I had to change it very much. But I would try to add a line to show that I did my research, such as “… and my book would appeal to the same publishers who were interested in (insert name of a movie book the agent recently sold).”
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Michael Onesi:
Do a lot of research on how to write a query letter and book proposal. No agent will ever read your novel – even if it is brilliant – if you write a bad query letter.

When I first started, I sent out four query letters before doing any research. I now realize these letters were absolutely awful.

And do some basic research on the agent – don’t send a pop culture book to an agent who only likes romance and historical fiction. You are wasting your time and theirs.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Michael Onesi:
Yes, here it is:

Query Letter:

Journalists hail Four-Word Film Reviews as “brilliant” (The Associated Press), “clever” (Los Angeles Times) and “insanely addictive” (Miami Herald). Now, 2,000 of the smartest and funniest mini-critiques from this popular website ( are in a new book called Four-Word Film Reviews: The Ultimate Movie Guide For People With Short Attention Spans. It is a refreshing spin on a genre of criticism that has taken itself far too seriously for far too long.

In a market flooded with straight-forward film review guides and long works of cinematic criticism, this book stands apart because – as you can guess by the title – all the reviews are funny and four words or less. How do you sum up a film so quickly? Like this: “Not super, not bad,” for Superbad; “Heath Ledger’s clowning glory,” for The Dark Knight; “Icy Dead People,” for Titanic; “Downey surprisingly well cast,” for Iron Man; “Gory, gory hallelujah!” for The Passion of the Christ; “Rock. Enroll,” for School of Rock; and “Four? Yes. Fantastic? No,” for The Fantastic Four.

The book is edited by Benj Clews, the Four-Word Film Reviews website creator who owns the copyright on all the reviews, and myself, Michael Onesi, a newspaper editor/columnist and a major contributor to

Harper Perennial has a surprise New York Times bestseller with Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs From Writers Famous and Obscure by Larry Smith (a book also based on a website). If six-word memoirs can be a hit, four-word film reviews can too. (Here is a link to an August 2008 Time magazine article about Six-Word Memoirs and the Four-Word Film Reviews website:,9171,1834674,00.html )

If you are interested, contact me at (e-mail) or [my phone number] and I can send you a book proposal and a manuscript. Thank you for your consideration and I’ll end this e-mail with four words – please be our agent.