A Book Proposal You’ll be Proud to Present

Looks boring, right? But this is what you might see on the desk of an agent or book editor: a stack of book proposals.

Most people don’t think much about the appearance of a book proposal. They think that what’s important is the content.

Well yes, but believe it or not, agents and editors want your non-fiction book proposal to look a certain way. If you present something else, you run the risk of appearing unprofessional. Folders, binders, ribbons, and [Read more…]

5 Things Literary Agents Say When They Mean No

Snagging a literary agent for your book proposal takes nerves of steel. You might have to send a query out to many agents, while telling yourself that it only takes one who’s excited about your book.

Most agents accept only one or two percent of the queries and book proposals they read. They spend a lot of time saying no. The problem is that they don’t have time to tell you why they don’t like your book idea or you, and often their responses don’t shed any light. On top of that, you’re not supposed to ask for clarification when you do get a response, because once they’ve said no, it’s no.

Possibly the most stressful thing of all is how long literary agents take to answer. Many take a month to six weeks to write two sentences back about [Read more…]

5 Tips for When a Literary Agent Calls

I had just started working with a food blogger on a book proposal when she got a call from a literary agent, who said he might be able to get her a book deal.

That’s exciting, but how do you know if it’s true, or if this person has the right credentials?

Literary agents, just for review, represent writers. Once you write a book proposal, they find a publisher and negotiate the book contract .

My client had a long talk with the agent and he seems like a good match. I checked him out too. Now, what if you get the call? Here are 5 tips to increase your chances of working with a worthwhile literary agent and getting a book deal:

1. Listen politely and do not commit. Sure, you’re honored and humbled (my two favorite blogger terms to make fun of), but you probably don’t know this person, so you don’t yet know if you want the agent to represent you. Maybe you haven’t even thought about writing a book. Thank the agent, seem interested, and say you’ll get back in touch soon.

2. Ask the agent if he or she represents food-based books. You want an agent who has expertise in your area. If you forgot to ask during the call, check the agency’s website to see if he or she has represented cookbooks, food memoir, reference books or guidebooks — whatever type of book you want to write. If your search comes up [Read more…]

Reality Check on a Book Proposal

imagesSometimes things happen for the best. Such was the case a few days ago, when a woman emailed me to say she had worked with two book coaches but was only 60 percent satisfied with her book proposal and wanted another coach. She had found me through a Google search.

I was skeptical. Why on earth should she need a third coach? Was this a bad sign? Plus, I don’t usually find clients this way. Intrigued, I  asked to see  the proposal.

I saw what was wrong immediately: 1. Part of any good book proposal is stating the business case. These two coaches had let her write a whole proposal without contemplating the book’s chances for commercial success. 2. Her idea was too broad and needed more focus to differentiate it. 3. She named only best-sellers as her competition, so why would anyone choose a book from an unknown? 4. She had not created a platform (her ability to identify and develop readers who would spend the money for her book) to attract agents and editors.

Worst of all, she had spent so much time and money, only to get to this state. What bothered me most was the realization that, even though she had hired professional book coaches, she would still be part of the 97 percent rejection rate. Momentarily, I considered the possibility that coaches don’t matter. Dismissed that. Then I felt more charitable towards the coaches. Was it partly because she wouldn’t hear their message?

I said I would only work with her if she would be willing to focus her book more sharply and do serious back-up work to create a platform. I said it that way because I just can’t take on a client whose book idea won’t succeed.

She replied that she would choose someone else. It was a relief. She was not ready to do the work required to be part of the 3 percent who succeed.

Finding an Agent for Your Book

In my last post, I wrote about book proposals and why they fail. But hey, maybe you just wrote a good one for a cookbook, memoir, reference book, travel guide, etc. And you’re ready to send it to a literary agent or editor at a publishing house. Where do you get the right list of names?

One of the best way to find agents is by referral, or by looking in the acknowledgments of books by authors you like. Also look in the Food & Lifestyle and Cookbook categories in  Agent Search.

A blog by the editors of Writer’s Digest magazine, on the Guide to Literary Agents website, holds many keys to successful querying. Guest bloggers tell success stories of how they got their agents and the blog profiles agents too. The editors post real query letters that have led publishers to buy books, then post commentary about what worked and why. Thanks to Jane Underwood at the Writing Salon for passing on this terrific resource.

Book Proposals that Don't Deliver

Traca Savadogo of Seattle Tall Poppy sent me a Wall St. Journal story about business plans that don’t deliver, and wondered if I saw parallels to book proposals. Indeed I did.images-1

Here is the newspaper’s top 5 points of flawed business plans. They translate well to the same reasons book proposals end up in the trash:
1. Writers are smitten with the elegance of their technology. The corollary is  writers who are so in love with the subject of their book they don’t bother to explain why it needs to be published in the first place, and who would care
2. The writer isn’t sure what the initial target market is. Even worse  are book proposals writers who say “everyone” will buy the book. “Everyone” is not a market. It’s better to have a smaller, identifiable market than a vague large one.
3. The numbers look good on paper. Book proposals don’t contain numbers. But they do need to be believable. Agents and editors can see right through hype, such as saying the book is destined to become an immediate bestseller.
4. The team doesn’t have hands-on experience. The author lacks sufficient qualifications to write on the subject of the book.
5. The writer can’t find anything but good things to say about the opportunity, instead of acknowledging some weaknesses. It’s best to address any fears or doubts that might come up in the mind of the reader, instead of leaving him or her to wonder.

I’ll take a realistic and specific proposal every time that’s easy on the hype, and one that answers and slays any concerns that come up.