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

 

 

From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 3

The third of the six words in the new model for becoming a successful writer is communication.

3. Communication

Communities

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.” If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person.

Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you must do alone. Create communities of fans, writers, mentors, and other professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, technology, reviews, and cover quotes. Reciprocate as well as you can. Relationships are media. The more people you know, the farther you’ll go.

Platform

You have to have a platform, which is your continuing visibility with book buyers and  your communities, online and off, on your subject or the kind of novel you’re writing. Test-marketing your book enables you to build a platform and an ever-growing legion of fans who will buy whatever you create.

Test-Marketing

Publishers test-market their books with the first printing. But there are more ways to test-market your book than ever: a blog, other social media, podcasting, video, media interviews, articles, print-on-demand books, and speaking. Test-marketing your book in as many ways as you can enables you to

  • prove it works
  • get testimonials you can use to sell and promote your work
  • maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which for most  nonfiction, is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for it

Promotion

Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”

“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book. If editors have to choose between two publishable novels, and one includes a promotion plan, that writer has an edge. A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of the things you will do to promote your book, and when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Chicken Souperman Jack Canfield says: “A book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%. If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to spend nine times more effort building your platform and promoting your book than you do writing it.

There are more ways than ever for you to promote books for free. Good books fail all the time. Promotion makes the difference. Editors also take the platforms and  promotion plans of novelists into consideration when acquiring.

Next: the fourth word in the model: contentpreneuring.

The goal of the blog  is to help you understand what you need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, and questions most 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 / 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

 

 

 

From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 1

 The blog and my books have discussed why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But writers need a new model for building a career. They have to reinvent themselves, first as content providers, then as contentpreneurs.

I’ve discussed parts of the model in previous posts, but have added to them and created a framework for them with six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a separate post, because each includes several elements.  All are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

There are a dozen reasons why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But at a time of technology-driven transformation, writers need a new model for build a writing career.

I’ve discussed parts of it in previous posts, but have added to them unified them in six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a post, because each has several elements. All of them are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

When the brilliant Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch first read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, he said: “I want to publish this book more than I want to breathe.” How much do you want to write and promote your book? Your passion for doing both will help you triumph over obstacles.

Reading

After passion comes reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked, “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, read as many novels as you can. Become an expert on the kind of book you want to write, and analyze what makes them work. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, subject, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

Creativity

How can you make you and your book stand out in the explosion of books, authors, and media? Creativity: the secret sauce that only you can bring to every aspect of your work. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

* Coming up with ideas: The French premier Georges Pompidou once said: “Conception is much more fun than delivery.“ Life and the media are inexhaustible sources of ideas.

A New Yorker cartoon shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever. If you practice niche craft by creating an idea that lends itself to a series of books you are passionate about writing and promoting, you may be able to build a career with it.

A publisher will buy your idea in one of two forms: For a memoir or a first novel, you usually need a complete manuscript. But most nonfiction is easier to write, sell and promote. And publishers buy most nonfiction from proposals with an introduction about the book and the author, an outline, and usually one sample chapter.

* Research: finding the information you need to write your book. Hemingway believed that you should know ten times as much about your subject as you put into your book. The more you learn, the more you can earn, and technology helps you do research faster and more easily than ever.

* A workstyle: the time, place, and writing tools that work best for you. Kahlil Gibran once wrote: “Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” If you want to be a successful writer, you have to pay your dues to the muse by making writing a daily ritual. Push yourself with an attainable goal for the number of pages you crank out a day and a deadline for finishing your projects. Even a page a day is a book a year.

Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing succinctly: throw up and clean up.  Decide whether it’s better to outline your book or write your manuscript, then massage it until it’s ready to submit. The Indian statesman Nehru once noted that “All my major works have been written in prison. I would recommend prison not only to aspiring writers but aspiring politicians, too.” There’s only one right way for you to write, and that’s in whatever way enables you to produce your best work.

* Writing: which is a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Don’t be guilty of premature submission. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.”

There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” No amount of marketing can make a book that doesn’t deliver sell. If you don’t want rodents and readers criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

Craft leaps off the page instantly.  Agents and editors weed through thousands of submissions a year, so they only read far enough to make a decision. Every word you write, starting with the first word of your query letter, must motivate them to read the next word.

There’s a cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a writer and saying: “I’m afraid chapter five moves a bit too slowly, although the pop-up gorilla does help a little.” You can’t rely on a pop-up gorilla to keep agents and editors reading your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you. But writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last revision counts, that final reckoning when you must resolve the tension between thought and feeling and make every word count.

The quintessential virtue of salable prose is that it keeps readers turning the pages. If you can keep your readers turning the pages, it doesn’t make any difference what you write about. The fate of your book hinges on the response of its first group of readers. Word of mouse that goes viral is the best promotion your book can have. But it starts with your words. So write as if your future depends on it; your future as a writer does.

* Sharing. The great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leap, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback. Consider hiring a freelance editor. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure your work is 100% before submitting it.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen share every cup of chicken soup with 40 readers who grade the stories on a scale of one to ten. They only use the 9 and a 1/2s and 10s. So join or start a writing group that meets online or off to critique each other’s work.

Next: the second C word–clarity.

I write the blog to help you understand what you need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, questions, and corrections 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

 

From Author to Contentpreneur: A New Model for Becoming a Successful Author in the Digital Age

Here is an updated compilation of five previous posts.

Now is the best time ever to be a writer, and what follows is a new model for what it will take for you to build a successful writing career in the digital age. Every part of the model is essential. You need to use the whole model to succeed.

Passion

Writing begins with a boundless enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, communicating about your work, and serving your readers.

Reading

Writing starts with reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked: “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, you should read as many novels as you can, and read like a writer. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

Models

Reading will also enable you to choose books and authors to use as models for your books and career. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand what your book is instantly.

Goals

It’s been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them. One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it.

A Plan

Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, you can figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Read about how authors of books like yours succeeded and ask them for advice.

Discipline

You must have goals for what you want to accomplish every workday and the discipline to make sure you accomplish them. William Faulkner once said: “I write when the spirit moves, and I make sure it moves every day.” Even a page a day is a book a year. Balance your goals, and choose the most productive way for you to spend your time. Take care of the minutes, hours, and days, and the years will take care of themselves.

Creativity

How can you make you and your work stand out in the growing explosion of books and authors? Creativity. In a world awash with media, creativity is essential for making you and your work memorable. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, it’s not enough to think outside the box, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

Service

To succeed, you have to serve, not sell. There are more ways to serve your readers than ever, and the better you serve them, the better they’ll serve you.

Faith

You must have faith in yourself, your idea, your book, and your ability to make it succeed and build a career.

Courage

To face a blank screen and dare to believe you have something worth writing takes courage. To persevere despite rejections from publishers and the media, negative responses from readers and critics, and perhaps poor sales, takes courage. Overcoming obstacles takes courage. But you have more than enough courage to meet the challenges that await you. All you have to do is summon it, and the harder your struggle, the sweeter your success.

Knowledge

Writers need to know more about more areas of expertise than ever. Besides the things on this list, 

  • You have to have a positive but realistic perspective about publishing that balances the challenges and opportunities. The information at www.larsenpomada.com will help you.
  • If you want an agent, you have to know what they do, and how to find, contact, and work with them.
  • You have to know about using technology, especially social media. You don’t have to be a techie, but you do have to maximize the tremendous power of technology to help you.

However, you are blessed with more free resources than ever to learn what you need to know without leaving your desk.

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

1. Coming up with an idea—There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever before. If you create an idea that lends itself to a series of books that you are passionate about writing and promoting, you can carve a career out of it.

2. Research–finding the information you need to write your book.

3. A workstyle–choosing the time, place, and tools that enable you to produce your best work. Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing in two verbs: throw up and clean up. You have to decide whether it’s more effective for you to outline your book or go ahead and write your manuscript, and then massage it until it’s ready.

4. Writing–a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.” There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” If you don’t want rodents criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

5. Sharing–the great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leaps, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you, but writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last draft counts. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback.

This section on craft is adapted from a chapter about developing your craft in my book How to Get a Literary Agent.

Test-Marketing

There are more ways to test-market your book than ever. Test-marketing your book gives you the chance to prove it works and to get testimonials yu can use to sell and promote your work.

A Platform

Your platform is your continuing visibility with book buyers, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing. Building your platform by test-marketing your book enables you to maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which, for most  nonfiction, is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for your book.

Communities

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.” If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person. Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you have to do alone. Create communities of fans, writers, and other publishing professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, using technology, and getting reviews and cover quotes.

Promotion

Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”

“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book.  Novelists are also as well. A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of what you will do to promote your book, including, when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Chicken souperman Jack Canfield says a book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%. If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to spend nine times more effort promoting your book than you do writing it. But there are more ways to promote your book at less cost than ever with just your fingertips.

Contentpreneuring

You have to be a contentpreneur.

  • Your content has to be scalable from a tweet to a book, and your promotion from a one-line pitch to a one-hour radio interview.
  • You have to make your laptop and your smartphone your office and be able to work and to respond to your communities wherever you are.
  • You have to keep writing and publishing a steady stream of work for free and for fees that maximizes your pleasure, income, and visibility.
  • You have to focus on writing work that you can re-purpose in as many forms, media, and countries as you can.
  • There’s a cartoon showing two guys sitting in a bar talking, and one of them is saying to the other: “Since I started freelancing full time, I’ve made quite a few sales…my house, my car, my furniture.”

If you don’t want to be like him, you have to take entrepreneurial responsibility for the promotion and sales of your book.

  • You also have to be resourceful in figuring out how to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.
  • You have to build a community of professionals and virtual assistants with whom you can collaborate to create new products and services.

Commitment

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing a man and a woman, sitting on a couch talking, and the man is saying: “Look, I’m not talking about a lifetime commitment. I’m talking about marriage.”

Being a successful author requires a lifetime commitment, and I hope that you will commit yourself to becoming the best writer you can be, not just for yourself, but for all of us.

Patience

Marketing guru Seth Godin says that the best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out, because it may take that long to build a platform,  create the strongest promotion plan for your book, and have the ability to carry it out.

You have to have patience to take the long view as well as the short view in writing and promoting your books, and building your career. You can’t look at your career as one book but ten or twenty—each new book being better and more lucrative than the previous one.

Love

To be the best writer and author you can be, you must love the process. You have to believe that using this model is what you were born to do. You have to

  • love to read and write
  • write out of love for serving your readers
  • love the challenges of devoting yourself to becoming a better writer and communicator about your work

The love you send into the world through your work and your relationships with your readers will come back to you many times over and provide a profoundly satisfying life, regardless of how much income you earn doing it.

The Best Piece of Advice
Add luck to this list, and your books will be failproof. After forty-four years in the business, I’m convinced that every part of this list is essential. I may have left something out—and please tell me if I have–but you will need all of what’s here to succeed. I end the model with the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer:

“If anything can stop you from becoming a writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.”

A Bonus

You can adapt this model for other professions and in your personal life. 

My partner Elizabeth Pomada and I do a presentation about the model.

From Passion to Patience: A Web-Based Model for Becoming a Successful Author, Part IV

Promotion

Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”

“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book.  Novelists are also as well. A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of what you will do to promote your book, including, when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen says a book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%. If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to expend nine times more effort promoting your book than you do writing it. But there are more ways to promote your book at less cost than ever with just your fingertips.

Contentpreneuring

You have to be a contentpreneur.

  • Your content has to be scalable from a tweet to a book, and your promotion from a one-line pitch to a one-hour radio interview.
  • You have to make your laptop and your smartphone your office and be able to work and to respond to your communities wherever you are.
  • You have to keep writing and publishing a steady stream of work for free and for fees that maximizes your pleasure, income, and visibility.
  • You have to focus on writing work that you can re-purpose in as many forms, media, and countries as you can.
  • There’s a cartoon showing two guys sitting in a bar talking, and one of them is saying to the other: “Since I started freelancing full time, I’ve made quite a few sales…my house, my car, my furniture.”

If you don’t want to be like him, you have to take entrepreneurial responsibility for the promotion and sales of your book.

  • You also have to be resourceful in figuring out how to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.
  • You have to build a community of professionals and virtual assistants with whom you can collaborate to create new products and services.

In the last part of “From Passion to Patience” are commitment, patience, love, and the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / 415-673-0939 / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, CA 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU