A Nonfiction Writer’s Audition for Our Agency

Every word in a nonfiction proposal has to be right. The sample chapter has to be as enjoyable to read as it is informative. The proposal has to generate as much excitement as possible
in as few words as possible. But even that may be a small part of the challenge for arousing the interest of agents.

Here is what I email to new nonfiction writers who want to submit a proposal to our agency. I hope it gives you a perspective on what it takes to excite New York publishers about books from new writers:

A book is like an iceberg: Writing is 10%; marketing is 90%. –Chicken Souperman Jack Canfield

Many thanks for writing about your book. Somebody is going to publish it. Out of necessity, our goal is to sell books to New York houses, and they want writers with a platform and a strong promotion plan. So the challenge is to maximize the value of your book before you sell it. Because it’s harder for publishers to launch new authors, publishers want authors who are ready to launch themselves. As agent Rita Rosenkranz says, publishers aren’t buying promise, they’re buying proof. Because we can usually tell from a platform and a plan if we can help a writer, that’s where we like to start.

The plan in your proposal will follow “The Author’s Platform,” a list in descending order of impressiveness of what you have done and are doing, online and off–including numbers when
possible–to give yourself and the subject of your book continuing visibility with potential book buyers. A plan shows how you will use your platform to sell books. Editors won’t believe a plan unless it makes sense based on what the author is already doing.

Your plan starts under the subhead “Promotion” and begins like this: “To promote the book, the author will:…” This is followed by a bulleted list of what you will do, online and off, in
descending order of impressiveness, and when appropriate, how many of them. Begin each part of the list with a verb.

Numbers are very important to publishers. For example, having a blog and writing “Will give talks” won’t help. Publishers will want to know how many people read your blog and how many talks you’ll give and to how many people, which, again, has to be based on what you’re already doing.

If one of your goals is being published by a New York house, you’re welcome to email me just your title followed by your platform and promotion plan, written
as I’ve suggested, in the body of a letter, not as an attachment,
followed by your query letter, whenever they’re ready. Regard your ability to follow these suggestions is a compatability test. Please call me at 415-673-0939, Monday to Thursday, 11 AM-4 PM, California time, if you have questions.

If you haven’t already done so already, please check the helpful information www.larsenpomada.com. My book, How to Write a Book Proposal has more information about promotion and building a platform.

If I can’t help you as an agent now, our site describes how I may be able to help you as a consultant.

Hope we can help.

Mike Larsen

 

If your goal is to be bpublished by a small or midsized house outside of New York, you may not need this ammunition to sell your book, and these publishers buy books directly from writers.  But it’s important for you to find books and authors to use as models for your literary and financial goals. Go for it!

I write the blog to help us both understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing. Rants, comments, questions, corrections, and ideas for posts greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

 

 

7 Easy Ways to Get Rejected Fast Online

Elizabeth once received a query letter addressed to “Gentlemen.” When she returned it, she wrote: “I am no gentleman.”

When it comes to query letters, how you write is as important as what you write. Thanks to the Internet, it’s faster and easier to query more agents than ever. However, your query letter must not give agents a single reason not to want to see your work. Here are easy seven ways to get an instant rejection or no response from an online query:

1. Include tell-tale signs of a multiple submission.

Beginning with “Dear Reader” or “Dear Publisher,” or including the list of the agents to whom you are sending the query letter will not endear you to prospective agents.

The Solution: Query as many agents as you wish simultaneously, but personalize your letters.

2. Include an attachment.

Because of viruses, agents won’t open attachments from strangers.

The Solution: Send what their guidelines request in the body of your email.

3. Write to the wrong agency. 

Our agency receives queries for poetry and screenplays, which we don’t handle.

The Solution: Research what agencies want and how to contact them before querying them.

4. Write to the wrong agent.

I only do nonfiction but receive fiction queries often.

The Solution: Find agents who represent the kind of book you write. Read their blogs. Follow them on Twitter. Friend them on Facebook. You’ll have a much better idea if they’re the right agent for you.

5. Waste an agent’s time.

Telling agents why you’re writing or providing information they don’t need annoys them because it wastes their time.

The Solution: Use three or four paragraphs to describe the hook, the book, and the cook on one page:

  • why book buyers will care about your book
  • what it is, the model(s) for it, how long it is or will be, and what you will submit
  • who you are: track record, credentials, and the strongest parts of your platform and promotion plan

If you have a specific reason for contacting a particular agent, such as a recommendation or other books they’ve sold, start your letter with a sentence about that.

6. Write badly.

Misspellings, grammatical errors, poor word choice, faulty sentence structure; agents see these mistakes every day. An agent maxim: If you can’t write a letter, you couldn’t write a book. As agent Katherine Sands says, the writing about your writing is as important as the writing itself.

The Solution: Do as many drafts as it takes to make it irresistible and get feedback on it from writers who can provide it. The only time to approach agents is when you have something ready to sell.

7. Not proofreading your letter.

Agents endure letters with obvious mistakes that prove that the writers had never proofread them. Because agents only read far enough to make a decision, one mistake in the first line may be as far as they go.

The Solution: You will see different things on the screen, in hard copy, and hearing it aloud. Do all three steps to ensure the words are right, and have at least one other reader to catch what you miss.

Just by avoiding these pitfalls, you are far more likely to get your work read. The tougher the business gets, the more eager agents are to find new writers. So follow these suggestions and query away!

Previous posts have more about query letters. If you have a letter you’d like to share, please do.

Comments, questions, and rants welcome.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 /  San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU /

 

 

Easier Than a Bank Loan: 4 Steps to Getting a Literary Agent

It’s been said that getting an agent is like getting a bank loan: you can only get one if you can prove that you don’t need it. But agents want and need to find new writers. Here are four simple steps to getting the agent you need:

1. The only time to contact agents is when your network of knowledgeable readers assures you that you have something ready to sell. So keep revising the manuscript for your novel or the proposal for a nonfiction book until it’s as close to perfect as you can make it.

2. Research agents online and off through directories, blogs, websites, social media, and directories. Follow their submission guidelines. Write an irresistible, personalized, one-page query letter about the why, what, and who of your book: the hook, the book, and the cook. Contact as many agents as you wish simultaneously, but mention that you’re doing it.

3. If you’re mailing your work, and you don’t want the material back, include a stamped-self-addressed  #10 business envelope to be sure to get a response. If you don’t, you may lose the chance to get feedback and assume you will only hear back if an agent is interested.

4. Look at the challenge of finding an agent as arranging a working marriage that has personal and professional aspects to it. You want an agent you’ll enjoy working with, and who can and wants to do the job. Meet interested agents to test the chemistry for your relationship.Choose the best agent for you, based on passion, personality, performance, and experience.

Finding an agent (or publisher) is like hitchhiking. If you’re out there on the road long enough, someone will stop for you. Just learn what you can to increase the chances that  you’ll rnjoy the ride. Then celebrate finding an agent who has the taste and intelligence to loan you the time it takes to help you make your book ready to market and sell it. It’s taken our agency as little as four phone calls and as long as ten years to sell a book, but it’s one loan you don’t have to repay. Happy hunting!

17 agents will take pitches at “Speed Dating for Agents” at the Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference  / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors / Free feedback on your work / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / Open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21  / Free MP3s at sfwriters.info / New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

A Mythical Agent’s Christmas Wish

Dear Santa:

I know I only deserve coal this year, but is there any way you could send me a perfect author for Christmas? A perfect author is a mythical creature who

  • is attractive, passionate, has a sense of humor, and is a pleasure to be with.
  • is an expert on books by all significant authors of related books.
  • comes up with irresistible ideas and titles.
  • writes out of love for craft and readers, and sees income as validating the books’ value.
  • writes the last draft first in a distinctive, addictive voice.
  • has a network of readers to provide feedback.
  • stays up to date on books, publishing, promotion, and technology.
  • serves a huge, ever-growing community of fans and helpful professionals.
  • has great connections to the events, authors, organizations, opinion-makers in the field and the world of writing.
  • obtains quotes from people who don’t give them.
  • uses technology for promotion, getting feedback, sharing, and learning.
  • provides a promotion plan that assures success.
  • regularly turns out word-of-mouth and -mouse bestsellers, each better and more profitable than the previous one.
  • has a charismatic presence in person and in the media that imbues listeners with contagious passion.
  • promotes with grace and relentlessness.
  • is impeccably professional.
  • under-promises and over-delivers.
  • writes books that are sold in other forms, media, and countries.
  • anticipates shifts in readers’ tastes and interests, and satifies them.
  • always wonders how to do anything more creatively.
  • inspires the best efforts in an agent, editor, and publisher, and is faithful to them.
  • sells so well booksellers always have stock and never return it.
  • expresses gratitude so generously that people are always eager to help.
  • is dedicated to becoming a more effective author and finding new ways to serve readers better.
  • balances

            * writing and promotion

            * time spent online and off

            * personal and professional obligations.

  • accepts the inevitability of problems and solves them.
  • is such a paragron of virtue that Lady Luck bestows her blessings.

Many thanks for granting my wish. I promise to do whatever I can to be a good person and a perfect agent.

Yours Truly,

A Mythical Literary Agent

P.S. If you can’t make a perfect author, a unicorn would be nice. And with a unicorn, you don’t have to worry about returns.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

The Big Bang Theory of Writing, Publishing and Technology

The new frontier lies not beyond the planets, but within each one of us.

–Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Biodynamics

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.

–historian Arnold Toynbee

There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate….[We need parents who] elevate learning at the most important life skill.

–Thomas Friedman, New York Times (11/21)

Critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating effectively, and collaborating; all essential skills for writers as well as students. And if learning is the most important life skill, writers have to be perpetual students as well as teachers.

Technology’s Gifts to Writers

The ability to string words together that have the desired effect is a gift as well as a craft. Writing that delivers the value the author intended is a gift to readers worth more than what, if anything, they pay to read it. But technology is also giving priceless gifts to writers, among them the opportunities to

  • learn about anything on the Web instantly.
  • keep up to the minute on new developments.
  • write about more subjects. 
  • making your work immediately accessible to readers around the world.
  • find agents and publishers.
  • promote and profit from your work and your services in a grow number of ways.
  • communicate in the media your audience prefers.
  • collaborate with people around the world.
  • create and maintain communities of writers, fans, and people to help you.
  • accomplish these things without leaving your desk.

How to Thrive in a New Universe

The advent of technology was the Big Bang of a new universe that continues to voyage outward at an accelerating rate. Nobody’s in charge of it; no one knows where it’s going; and no one understands what it means. Publishing is a rapidly spinning planet in the media galaxy of that universe.

What does this mean to you as a writer? How can you plan a future that’s as full of uncertainty as it is opportunity? What do you need to do and have to thrive as a writer?

You need to

  • develop the crafts of writing, storytelling, and communicating online and off.
  • have literary, publishing, and financial goals that keep you passionate and motivated.
  • be a contentpreneur who keeps generating new work, balances commerce and creativity, is responsive to the markeplace, and takes responsibility for your success.
  • keep figuring out the fastest, most productive ways to use technology.
  • build the communities you need.
  • build your visibility while test-marketing your books.
  • promote your work and yourself.
  • stay committed to your future.

What an exciting time to be alive! Discover your future on the frontier of your unexplored potential. Find the stories and ideas that you must share with your unique voice, and give them to the world. And endowed with the gifts technology provides, you will thrive in this amazing new universe.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / Indie Publishing Contest / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / twitter: @SFWC /
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected]

Query Letters: The Hook, the Book & the Cook

A query letter should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to keep it interesting.

–Anon.

Agent Katharine Sands believes that the writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself. A query is a one-page letter, single-spaced, with a space between three or four indented paragraphs, and without sounding self-serving–it describes the why, what, and who: the hook, the book, and the cook:

  • The hook: whatever will best justify publishing your book

            * (Optional) a selling quote about your book (or a previous book) from someone whose name will give it credibility and/or salability. The quote could also be about you.

            * (Optional) the reason you’re writing the agent:

                        –the name of someone who suggested you contact the agent

                        –the book in which the author thanked the agent for selling that inspired you to write the letter

                        –where you heard the agent speak

                        –where you will hear the agent speak and hope to have the chance to discuss your book

            * Whatever will most excite agents about your book:

                        –the opening paragraph

                        –the most compelling fact or idea about your subject

                        –a statistic about the interest of people or the media in the subject or the number of potential readers

  • The book: the essence of your book:

            * A sentence with the title and the selling handle for the book, up to fifteen words that will convince booksellers to stock it. The models for it: one or two books, movies, or authors. “It’s Harry Potter meets Twilight.”

            * A one-sentence overview of your book, and if appropriate, what it will do for your readers

            * The book’s biggest market(s)

            * Its actual or estimated length

            * The length of your proposal and how many more pages of manuscript you have ready to send

            * (Optional) The names of people who have agreed to give a forward and cover quotes, if they’re impressive

            * (Optional) A link to illustrations, if they’re important

            * (Optional) Include the subjects or titles of the next two books, if you’re proposing a series

            * (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it

  • The cook: Why you’re the right person to write the book

            * Your promotion plan: the four or five most effective things you will do to promote your book online and off, with numbers if they’re impressive

            * Your platform: the most important things you have done and are doing to give yourself continuing visibility with potential readers, with numbers if they’re impressive: your online activities, published work with links to it, and media and speaking experience with links to audio and video

            * (Optional) Your credentials; experience in your field; or years of research; prizes, contests, and awards in your field

Include anything else that will convince agents to ask to see your proposal.

A fothcoming post will tell you how to speed up the query process.

 The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)