Last week I posted I'd be answering your questions to help you gain clarity with where you are in your process. Based on the volume of questions, I think Q&A with The Lit Coach will now be a monthly feature on the blog.
"I'm in the middle of writing a proposal for my first nonfiction book. Should I send a query to agents/publishers or should I go ahead with sending the proposal instead? If I have not published anything before, what kind of information should I include in my author bio?"
TLC: I'm going to focus on your last question first because I have a feeling you may have more work to do before you start searching for the right agent or editor. "Every author starts somewhere" is something I hear often. While this is true, your prospective agent or editor is going to want to see some kind of publishing track record. Even if it's a blog with a strong following, put it down and don't forget to tell them how many subscribers you have (to impress an agent, your subscription list should be over 100, minimum).
If you have yet to publish anything, yet to secure a strong following...all of which goes into a sturdy platform (for more info on this read my former blogshop with publisher, Glenn Yeffeth), take a step back and assess the readiness of yourself as an author and your proposal as a saleable product. Agents rarely acquire an author with just "a neat idea." You must have some kind of publishing track record...articles, your own blog or blog contributions, contributions to e-zines...you publishing material that's akin to the general message of your proposal...something with your signature voice. Then you'll really have something impressive to show an agent!
That said, your "About the Author" section isn't just about what you've published...it's about YOU! While there's no need to give them your resume, an agent or publisher will want to know what kind of person you are...a little about what makes you tick. Many authors are uncomfortable talking about themselves. You don't need to fill your bio with hyperbole, just the facts with a little flavor. Imagine your life as a book...what would your book jacket read?
Now, to answer your first question: Once you've developed a stronger platform, I would strongly suggest you first research agents who have a track record of getting work like yours published. Query them and only send them the proposal if they request it. Most agents will have strict guidelines of how they like to receive your work - stick to these guidelines. Most editors don't take submissions from unagented writers, so save yourself the postage and time. Focus on finding the right agent first. E-queries seem to be the best way to communicate, but don't send attachments. Send a simple, one page query letting the agent know who you are, what your book is about and what unique qualities you have that make you the perfect person to write this book. There are several great books on the market that show you how to do this; check out Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye by Katharine Sands and Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents by Rick Frishman to help get you started. Another great resource is Chuck Sambuchino's blog Guide to Literary Agents.
Good luck, Ameena!
"I've just this summer really made a commitment to myself to write everyday and take my work seriously with the intent of publishing. I know I have to wait until I have a completed work to submit it to publishers and agents, but is there anything I can be doing in the meantime to make contacts or otherwise make that process go more smoothly?"
TLC: Great question, Emily! Once you decide to make a career out of what you're passionate about, it seems like you just can't move fast enough to make it happen....today! When I carried my first child, I couldn't wait for him to arrive and start bonding! I couldn't wait to be a mother. But I needed to grow into motherhood by learning everything there was to learn about my baby's first year - thank God for the classic book, What To Expect When You're Expecting! Had I not done my research about everything from taking an infant's temperature to what to do when a baby chokes, I wouldn't have handled those situations with the clarity and confidence I did. Speaking to other mothers also shed a light on the first year, removing much of the anxiety new mothers sometimes feel. Plus, I needed those 9 months to prepare myself emotionally for this new adventure, not to mention savoring the experience of forming a child! (I was fortunate to have three very easy pregnancies - thank you genetics!)
Consider this time your gestational period as an author. You need this time to develop your craft by writing as often as possible, researching what you don't know and connecting to other writers in your area or online. Scout out your local paper for literary events in your city and plan on attending. Many educational events are happening online! SheWrites, a quickly growing writer's collective website, offers educational forums (for a fee), where you can learn about the process of publishing and get your questions answered from agents and other writers. If you haven't already, find some writers you can learn from and propose starting a writer's workshop, where you come together a few times a month to read and critique each other's work.
While it's too soon to formally introduce your work to an agent or editor, connect with authors who are open to sharing what they know about the business. You'll learn a lot from their path to publication. Keep all this info in mind as you're completing your work. When the time is right for you to reach out to agents, you'll be so well prepared you may impress a few! Agents like to work with authors who are at least familiar with how the process works. I highly suggest you read Putting Your Passion Into Print - the What to Expect for authors!
And finally, remember, writing and the whole process of finding an agent or publisher takes time. You'll get there as long as you remain patient, persistent and professional.
Thanks for your question and good luck, Emily!
"I am writing a book with a friend and the research shows the angle of the book's topic is quite original. The topic itself, personalities, has been written about numerous times though. We are writing our book in a humorous and conversational way and do not want it to get bogged down in psychology babble.
Should we include some notable books on personalities in our competitive analysis?"
Anna St. George
TLC: You want your Competitive Analysis to contain a healthy amount of titles (at least 5) that your book would be shelved next to on the book shelf (or pop up on Amazon). If the titles you're thinking about have been published currently (within the last 20 years), definitely include them. If after thorough research your CA is still light on titles, you may want to include those "psycho babble" books and be clear how your book is different and ultimately more compelling in its own way. Always shine a light on the need for your book by showing how other books fail to offer your unique take. Helpful hint: Always mind your manners when writing your Competitive Analysis and never put down another author's work as inferior to yours.
Thanks, Anna. I wish you lots of success!
I hope this Q&A session offers some clarity for you. If you have questions you'd like answered on Q&A with The Lit Coach, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a fruitful day, writers!