Querying, Proposals, and Agents

As promised, I’ll say a bit about the process of getting an agent when you’re writing non-fiction. For fiction querying, check out Chandler’s blog (in my sidebar).

So, first thing’s first: an idea. After you have an idea, develop it. Come up with the layout and structure of your book, what you’ll be talking about and think long and hard about a few areas: your market and your qualifications. If you know those two things and your idea (and I mean well-researched, well thought out, etc.) then it’s time to draft a query letter.

This should cover those three things I just mentioned with a strong intro sentence and your most important area of the three coming first. For much more on this I recommend The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published . It’s very informative (go to www.thezenofsouthpark.com to purchase this now) and will give you all the details you need. Make sure that dozens of people read and edit your very well-written query letter. One mistake and what kind of writer are you? Why would someone take a chance publishing your book? Change, revise and edit. You have this one page to make a great impression on every agent out there.

But before you send it, you should have done two other things: a proposal and a sample chapter. The proposal is a 10-15 page project that details your idea in full with a table of contents. There are also sections about your market (in detail), the publicity and promotion potential, you as an author and your qualifications, and a detailed chapter summary. And then there’s the sample chapter. That’s right, you should have written one of the proposed chapters (preferably the first) so that the agents know you can write, that you will write and so they can see the viability of the whole book.

The nice thing about nonfiction proposals is that, unlike fiction, you don’t have to write the whole book before it’s sold. The idea is that agents will ask you for a proposal and sample chapter after they read your query letter and you will be able to send them what you have. Fortunately, if no one thinks the idea is viable (and though they could be wrong 100 agent recommendations probably tells you that you’re doing something wrong or that the market for the book doesn’t exist) you won’t have written the whole book. That would have sucked. Once you get an agent, though, keep writing because although you don’t have a publisher yet (now that’s the agent’s job) it means the idea is workable and someone is actively trying to sell it.

One thing that is super important is following the rules. When you read a book about this subject do what it says. They’re professionals and they know. I have a great agent and as wonderful as my book idea may or may not be, I followed the rules of getting an agent and they like that – had I not followed the rules I definitely wouldn’t have an agent, no matter how great the idea. Sure, if you’re a seasoned writer you can probably bend them a bit, but if you’re striking out on your first writing adventure then do what you’re supposed to do if you want to be published.

Do you have an agent and was the process different? Do you want to share any advice with people looking for agents? Any questions about this process?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read more about the writing process.