Monday, January 28, 2008

The Agent Submission Process, Nonfiction

I never intended this to be a series of posts, let alone a three-part series. Amazing how things can take on a life of their own. I was asked if I could show what my pitch might look like for nonfiction and how much I would stress the platform, etc. Keep in mind this would be a pitch for non-narrative nonfiction. A narrative nonfiction piece, like a memoir, would be pitched more like a piece of fiction.

So here we go (and you’re really stretching my creativity with these).

My short pitch first:

Dear Lenny:

Spring is finally here. I hope you were able to get some skiing in before the thaw began.

I’m really excited to be querying you today about an amazing new book by Mama Love, the premier authority on crazy brides and their equally controlling mothers. In addition to a web site that receives over 1 million unique hits a week, Mama Love has been featured in, among other things, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Today Show and on Howard Stern.

I would love to send you Mama Love’s newest book, Mama Love’s Guide to Surviving the Bride, a book that goes well beyond any other bridal book by discussing, in Mama Love’s folksy style, everything a bride needs to know about love, sex, flowers, and even unfaithful men.

I’m putting a tight turnaround time on this exciting new project. I have no doubt that Mama Love fans will go out in droves to buy the first book by the expert on weddings.

As soon as I hear from you I’ll be happy to email the proposal out.



Query with proposal attachment:


I’m thrilled to hear from you and get Mama Love’s proposal into your hands. As I already told you, receives nearly 1 million unique visitors each month and has become internationally known as the mother of the bride. In addition to an incredible web presence, Mama Love also receives constant press in such outlets as The Today Show, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and Playboy.

After years of doling out advice through her web site, Mama Love has finally decided to put her words of wisdom into a book.

Mama Love’s Guide to Surviving the Bride goes well beyond other bridal books and gives the real scoop on what it takes to really survive this thing we call a wedding. Using her own brand of folksy wisdom, combined with straightforward—but it might hurt—honesty, Mama Love says it like it is and she’s a force to be reckoned with. Just like in her web site, Mama Love will advise brides on everything from sex on the wedding night to the dance with her father. She’ll give tips on dealing with drunk guests, rowdy guests, rude guests, and those you just didn’t want to invite in the first place. And lastly, Mama Love will do it with a caring wisdom that will make every bride want to send her an invitation to the wedding.

Attached you will find the proposal as well as a fabulous list of press information for Mama Love.

I can’t wait to hear what you think of Mama Love and her advice. I am asking all publishers to respond to me with initial interest by February 12.



In this case I did something a little different. Because I think this particular project is a hot commodity, I’ve put a “respond by” date on the material. This means that I expect all interested publishers to get back to me by a certain date with their interest. There are a couple of reasons why I do this, and there are reasons why I don’t do it with every submission I send out. I only put an RSVP on a proposal when I think it’s a truly hot commodity, something I suspect multiple publishers will express interest in, and I want editors to know that I know this is a hot commodity. I am cautious, however, to limit my RSVPs. Editors know when they’re being scammed, and no one appreciates an agent who feels the need to auction or RSVP every book simply because they think it’s the best way to get through submissions quickly. In addition, a quick response isn’t always the best response. Sometimes having a book that an editor likes, but doesn’t love, sit around for a while can benefit both author and editor. You never know when suddenly someone in-house asks for just that book or when a slot on the schedule opens up for just that type of book. If the book was rushed to rejection you’ve lost out. If the book was put into the “think about it” pile you might win in the end.

As you can see, my most important factor with this book was to stress the author’s platform. Wedding books are a dime a dozen (as are many nonfiction subjects), so what makes this book shine? The author. From there I lead into the book. How is this book different? I focused on those things I thought made it stand out—rude guests and sex talk. In all likelihood that editor is not even going to read past Mama Love’s platform. That’s enough to make him want to take a look. From there, though, the proposal is going to have to stand on its own.



Stacia said...

Thanks for these posts! Very interesting.

I would actually be interested in this book, and I've been married for almost eight years. :-)

Aimlesswriter said...

Great post. I know there are lots of bridal/mothering/parenting sites so I'm sure making anything stand out in this genre would be tough. Question: If things were published on the internet (www.mamalove) can you turn them into a book? I thought that was a no-no.
I have a suggestion for another blog topic. I was just reading how to write synopsis. I always tackled this by writing two or three sentances on each chapter. I'm not sure I'm doing this right.

Kristal Shaff said...

How many of you, besides me, actually looked up the website?


Anonymous said...

Re: "If things were published on the internet (www.mamalove) can you turn them into a book? I thought that was a no-no."


Back when I was just figuring out HTML, I came across numerous recommendations to limit the amount of text on a single web page, because people did not like having to scroll down – it was almost as if this "scrollophobia" was hard-wired into the human nervous system, the way some people talked about it. Flash forward: Now I've read here and there that more text is okay, because now people have become "accustomed" to scrolling.

And then I was reading that you shouldn't include links to your web site in a query letter/e-query, because agents are very busy people, they don't have time to peruse web sites, just put whatever you have to say in your query. An agent is going to be pitching your book, not your website, so a web site's kind of beside the point, ayway.

But more recently, I've been reading here and there how if an agent is interested, they will google you – so it's best to have a nice-looking web site for them to look at, if they do.

I think the more and more creativity people are pouring into their web pages (and I don't mean annoying wavy-gravy graphics and ugly wallpaper that looks like the real thing...ugly wallpaper), the more incentive there is to "bookmarket it" – with the website, think of it – your friend is getting married and you want to give her a fun gift. You really like the website – so what are you going to do, print the web address up on a little strip of paper, insert it into a single fortune cookie, put a tiny bow on the thing, and hand it to your friend? But if you give her the Mama Love’s Guide to Surviving the Bride, you're actually giving her something. Mama Love can create "special content not found on the web site," which can actually be a selling point for the book.

I guess the way I think of it is, it can work both ways – just as a website can contain loads of content not found in the original book/film/CD release, so can a book (and/or ebook) contain content not found in the original web site, that someone might be willing to pay for. One thing about getting a book you are really looking forward to reading, is the "finally got my hot little hands on it" factor – can you feel that way about "visiting" a web site??? Not so sure you can...??

**Yes, going off topic - I just had to say, posting on blogs is SO useful - I'm pulling together a bunch of short pieces on breast cancer, starting with my post here at Bookends about Hillary Clinton's tears. Today when I was being instructed on how to do a self-breast exam, the examiner said: "It's like that old Sesame Street game - one of these things is not like the others - that's what you're looking for." (i.e., "suspicious lumps.") I think of Susan Sontag's "Illness As Metaphor" - together with Sesame Street - an interesting - if terrifying - juxtaposition...**

Wanda B.

Anonymous said...


Fantastic post!

My agent recently submitted my proposal with a deadline. There seems to be almost no information available on the strategies of deadlines for submissions. I had to contact my agent for a specific explanation.

I'm thrilled that you've posted on this topic. Thanks!