Tag: literary agent

Book Proposal Workshop Woes

A professional spends time and money on education. It’s no different for me as an author. I’ve spend money on conferences, retreats, online classes, books and most recently a workshop. This particular workshop claims to show me the best way to write a book proposal.

Fiction writers don’t generally have to write proposals. As the instructor of my workshop—literary agent Wendy Keller—is fond of saying, a book proposal is like a nonfiction book’s business plan. Because a nonfiction book is selling knowledge and the publisher who puts it out there wants to be sure the plan is sound (meaning has a good hope of making money).

This spring, I attended an online writing conference and one of the sessions advertised this workshop. Of course, like any good marketing campaign, it made it sound like there was a decent chance any sound proposals would be snapped up by the agency presenting the course.

Or not.

But what’s $199 among friends? Or would that be agent and possible future author client?

Or maybe, it’s a six-session course that gives feedback on every part of the proposal. By the time I finish, the whole proposal will have been seen by this agent and multiple editors. It should be as close to perfect as I can make it.

After that, I’ll be able to actually shop my nonfiction book Through the Valley of Shadows to my top agency choices. It might have the chance to be sold.

And this is one of my writing projects for 2020.

If only I wasn’t in the middle of writing first drafts and revising beta drafts and working eight-hour days teaching freshmen about refugees and imperialism.

If wishes were pennies, I’d be rich.

The Sessions

The first two webinars were horrible. Not because the information shared wasn’t good, but the first one had such horrible audio quality that it gave me a headache. The second one, the slides that the presenter shared weren’t actually shown. Not helpful if you’re trying to take notes.

After that, it wasn’t too bad. There was a combination of ideas and encouragement, but I didn’t feel encouraged.

Seriously. She basically said if you didn’t have a platform, her agency wouldn’t pick you up. And if you self-published your book, you were only hurting yourself. Unless you had a ready-made clientele.

I got the message…but not the T-shirt

Yes, she did give the framework necessary for writing a proposal. She had a few unique tips I hadn’t heard elsewhere, but in reality, there wasn’t much here.

Unless the idea that I “fabricate” speaking dates (nine to twelve months in the future) is to be considered an excellent piece of advice for a Christian author. (I wish I was joking.)

The Homework

The assignments were directly related to the lessons. The coursework divided the proposal into parts and each lesson covered one of these. The corresponding homework involved writing that part.

One of the pieces of the proposal that I hadn’t completed before was the comparative analysis. This involves reading as money books similar to the one you’re writing as possible. Our first week we had to find these books in the top 150,000 on Amazon.

During the following six weeks, we were supposed to read these six to eight books.

Yeah. Right.

A re-enactment of one of my THREE TBR piles before they collapsed

I read two books per week, but I didn’t want to read six books on the topic of grief. Not when the skies were gray and I had writing to do.

So, I’m still working on the last two of those books. Because I need to have read the by the time I send my proposal out. I can hope that the books will STILL be on the Amazon charts at that point.

The End Result

At the end, I had every piece of this proposal written. All except the final piece—Marketing Plan, also the second most important section of the document—had been read and reviewed by professional editors. I’d had the opportunity to rewrite each section according to the recommendations from said editors.

The entire proposal had final input from an editor. After implementing these suggestions, I would have the best book proposal I could possible write.

What I didn’t have was an agent.

But then again, did I truly expect the road to be easy? It hasn’t been this far.

And no matter what this agent says, if I don’t sell this book to a publisher, I’ll create an online course for it. I’ll get it out to people because I believe it has a needful message.

I know it’s helped me in the aftermath of grief, and I believe God can use it to help others find hope and healing, too.

What is something you’ve signed up for that didn’t have the expected outcome?

Road to Published – Finding an Agent

In the new publishing paradigm, some authors seek editors at small houses instead of an agent. If you want to walk the traditional path (like me), the best idea is still to find an agent to represent you.

Even though the number of agents is high, finding the perfect fit for you and your work takes research and time.

Lots of time. At least six months to a year.

The traditional path is traditionally – slow. Up to three years to see your book in print after you’ve hired an agent. No, I’m not kidding.

Again, this is why many authors cut out the middle man and go straight to editors. Which is fine if you don’t want to be published with one of the big houses. All of these don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, although most of them have imprints that might look at unagented work.

Databases

Fortunately, there are several databases of literary agent listings. Some are provided online which is very convenient. Others can be found in printed guides that are updated annually.

The most well-know listing of literary agents is from the Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest each year. They also have an online database, accessible with paid membership.

This Literary Agent Directory was also helpful. However, I didn’t enter my information. It says access is free, but I don’t know that for sure.

Make sure you don’t shoot in the dark. Read up on any agent before you query them. What do you need to know?

  • Are they accepting new clients?
  • Do they represent your genre?
  • What authors do they represent? Similar to you or not?
  • What are their specific guidelines for submissions?

This final one is important because if you narrow your list down with the other questions and then fail to follow these “rules,” your query will find its way into the trash – rather than the slush pile

Perfecting your Query

If you’re like most writers I know, writing query letters doesn’t top your list of favorite things. Seriously. I would rather go to the dentist.

Never fear! There is a formula for writing an excellent query letter. Do I guarantee it will get you noticed?

Sorry, no.

Query letters should be short and specific.

  • First paragraph includes your logline, title, genre and word count.
  • Second paragraph embellishes the major plot points of the main story line, naming your protagonist and possible the antagonist, but probably not any other characters
  • Third paragraph might be why you chose this agency – or why you are qualified to write this story
  • Final paragraph lists publishing credits or awards that relate to the genre/form you’re submitting
  • Use a professional tone, but keeping it conversational appeals to many agents who want to know you would be someone they could work with

Send queries in batches. Many authors recommend sending to ten agencies at a time. No need to tell them you are querying others, but if you get a request for the full manuscript from more than one agent, you should divulge that to both parties.

Keep Track

All these submissions! How will I ever keep them straight?

I have a handy Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of what manuscripts I’ve submitted. There are also online databases that will help you organize this information.

I had access to the Writer’s Digest Agent Database when I took a class from them. However, that expires unless you become a VIP member by paying a fee.

These are the columns on my spreadsheet: Agent/Editor/Publisher, Contact email, contact Phone, manuscript title, date queried, and date returned.

There is also a “days” column that automatically keeps a running total of how long your submission has been circulating. It’s interesting to note that the agents on my list have taken much longer to respond than the publishers.

I recently added another column: “Results.” This way I can note whether they asked for more pages, rejected or accepted my work.

Here are some links to databases or information to build your own:

Once you send out that first batch of query letters, get to work on your next writing project.

This is what writer’s do. Chewing your fingernails and checking your email every hour won’t get the next story down on paper.

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