Sometimes an agent will ask for an essay to include with a manuscript submission. It's usually a short explanation of why this book, why now. I think the personal introduction has become more popular in these tough publishing times and it's utilized for both fiction and nonfiction. If done correctly, it can set up the book and trigger an editor's interest.
This is the essay I wrote for The Orchard:
I spent years dreaming about writing The Orchard, but I knew switching from genre writing, my only means of support, to memoir, would be a financial risk. I constantly talked about the project as something that would happen in the future, while worrying that the opportunity to write it might come too late, or might never come at all.
When I suddenly found myself with no deadline and no contract to fulfill, I made one of those big life decisions. If I sold my home in St. Paul and purchased a tiny cabin in the north woods, I might be able to live on the proceeds from the sale for two or three years. It was a huge gamble, but it would give me the solitude and freedom to write The Orchard.
I sold the house and began looking for a secluded place to write. In an odd twist, my real estate agent had a listing he thought I should see, but it was located nowhere near my search area. Another negative—it was located in farm country, a landscape and culture I’d avoided since moving from the farm. How could I possibly live in a farming area again? Ignorant of my history, the agent talked me into looking. Just looking.
The property was a prairie-style church built in the late 1800s in a now non-existent village called Perley Station. Perley Station was the brainchild of a lumber baron, philanthropist, and horticulturalist named John Perley. In 1905 the village burned to the ground, and the only thing left in the middle of fields, woodland, and prairie, was a church. And that church was selling for the price of a cabin in the north woods.
I still questioned whether I could immerse myself mentally and physically in a setting that brought back so many painful memories, but in the end I bought the church and moved to a remote and beautiful building in a town that no longer existed.
The church studio is surrounded by Perley Lilacs, courtesy of Mr. Perley’s horticultural skill.
In the backyard is an apple tree. As I write this, the tree is loaded with blooms, and I’m anticipating the apple pies I will bake this fall.
I like to imagine that the tree was planted by John Perley. I don’t know if this is truth, but I can say the tree is very old, and it doesn’t have many years left.
In this setting, surrounded by history and farm fields, an apple tree just beyond my window, I wrote The Orchard. The writing of the book, the farm fields that I walk past daily, noting what has been planted and how well the crops are doing, have led to a reclaiming of a life I left behind.