Q. I have this really great nonfiction book idea. Now what?
A. The well-worn path to publication goes like this: You check the competition to see if anyone has published anything too much like yours. (www.Amazon.com) You develop your concept into a proposal that is clear and marketable. A proposal is the document that literary agents must use to present your book to a publisher. (For help writing that, click here.) Next, you offer your masterpiece to agents who meet two criteria: they HAVE sold and ARE currently selling books like yours. For instance, this agency rejects at least 50 fiction queries a month just because we never, ever handle fiction. If you get an agent interested, we’ll take it from there, guiding you the rest of the way.
Q. Can I send my idea straight to the publishers?
A. Yes and no. The tiny mom-and-pop publishers may or may not look at your submission if you send it in. But the big houses most certainly will NOT, due to time and legal issues. Agents are the gatekeepers of the publishing industry. We serve publishers by screening out the junk and the wackos. We serve authors by getting your stuff read by the best publishers for it, and then helping you get the best possible deal. So many times, authors get confused. They complain they tried to sell their self-help book to a publisher who turned out to only do business books, or their illustrated children’s book to someone who does adult health books. It’s hard for you to know who does what and why. Agents work for their 15% commission – and are worth every penny. That’s why every best selling author has representation.
Q. I researched lots of literary agents. You look like exactly the right firm for me. Why do you keep rejecting my idea?
A. We reject hundreds of projects every single month! The deluge of content that established agencies like ours get would make you think we don’t have time to pay attention. In real life, cream rises to the top. We conscientiously consider every nonfiction idea that comes our way, using a specific, well-honed screening process. If we’re turning you down, it means that in our opinion, your book is highly unlikely to sell for much money. Most of the time, that’s because you do not have an adequate platform – a “fan base” of people who love your work. (For information on getting a fan base/building your proposal, click here.) Since all reputable agents work on 100% straight commission, we can’t take careless risks. Your platform will be the #1 thing that convinces a publisher to acquire your book.
Q. You’re missing the big picture. If you just get me a good publisher, I just know my book will be a best seller!
A. If we had a nickel for every time an author whose book never sold told us that! Here’s the stark reality of American publishing at this time in history: if you as an author don’t have a platform for your topic (such as media exposure, lots of speaking engagements, huge internet presence, major corporation behind you, previous book sold a lot of copies, etc.) your chances of getting a good deal with a major publisher are microscopic. Publishers do not take risks anymore on unproven, unknown authors. We strongly recommend you build your platform and THEN sell your book. If you want real-time, intense, fast help building your platform faster, click here to find out how to arrange a consultation with agent Wendy Keller.
Q. Why don’t you sell fiction, Christian, juvenile, illustrated, poetry, true crime and other categories of books? My stuff is really, really good! You should be more open-minded!
A. An agency nurtures and cultivates extremely valuable relationships with key editors. Our senior agent Wendy Keller has been “doing lunch” with important New York editors since 1989. The editors we work with specialize in the same kinds of books we sell. Asking a nonfiction agent to represent a children’s book or fiction is sort of like asking your dentist to take a look at your ingrown toenail. Same job title, but totally different specialties.
Q. How can an author from outside the USA become successful inside the USA?
A. The American publishing market is the largest in the world. If you have a presence already in the USA and you can make your manuscript available in English AND if you can commit to spending at least 6 months in the USA timed around the release of your book so you can do appropriate promotion, we may be able to help you. If you do NOT have a platform in the USA, we CAN help you begin to build one. Click here to begin. Note: we can read your first draft in Spanish, French or Italian, but you’ll need at least some of it translated into English before we can sell it.
Q. How do I query your agency?
A. So many authors get nervous and write dreadful query letters, even when their book has merit. A lot of forward-thinking agencies like ours have adopted a new model – digital query forms. This allows you to just concisely answer the questions we really need the answers to before we can decide if we want to look at your material. Click here to query us. It’s easy!
PS – Never send any agent an unsolicited manuscript by email or surface mail. If publishing is a game, this is one of the cardinal rules.
Q. What’s a proposal? The book is done. Why do I need to write a proposal now?
A. A proposal is the tool agents use to sell books to publishers. It is a specific, honed, well-written marketing document that proves to the publisher that you have the right credentials, your book is needed and timely, and that there are lots of people who will buy it once it is printed. Publishers are in business to publish books that will earn a profit. To find out the best, fastest way to write a proposal, click here.
Q. How can I prove you’re a real agent, not one of those scam fly-by-nights they warned me about at the writer’s conference I attended?
A. Click here to see our sold list. Write down the titles of any five books you see there. Then go to the bookstore and look at (or preferably BUY) each one. Read the Acknowledgements page. That’s where almost every one of our dear, respected clients praises how instrumental we were in their success. Also, note that this agency will never ask you for money to read your work or represent you. On the contrary, if your book is good, we’ll soon be sending money to you!
Q. You make the saucy remark that you don’t handle “books by incarcerated persons, channeled by dead people or first person medical memoirs.” Why?
A. You may not like the truth, but every query we’ve ever gotten from an inmate tells in explicit, graphic detail the crime they claim they did not commit. Seems a little fishy, doesn’t it? We get queries every year allegedly directly from or channeled by Mother Teresa, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or the newest dead celebrity. And as for medical memoirs, the endless flood of books on how a person overcame cancer/mental illness/muscular dystrophy/HIV or whatever add up to about 25% of everything we get offered in a month. (That’s a LOT of books!) It’s our humble opinion that just writing these has already served a great purpose by allowing the author to process on paper all the tragic stuff that has occurred. We recommend an excellent subsidy publisher: www.GreenleafBookGroup.com to assist you in getting this sort of book published. If you sell more than 5,000 copies in less than a year, please contact us again and we’ll be interested then. Promise.
Q. Why is getting an agent so hard?
A. If you were to go back and read between the lines, you’d see that all agents are always hungry and hunting for good stuff. It’s rare that any agency finds something wonderful, and you’d be surprised how fiercely we all fight for anything good that comes to us simultaneously. If you have credentials on your topic, a good idea and a large, growing platform, we’ll be thrilled to talk to you. Otherwise, you’re right: it IS hard to get the agency’s attention. Consider reframing the way you look at publishing. Like the intentionally misquoted military recruitment slogan our founder Wendy Keller always tells new authors…
Publishing is not just an adventure…it’s a job!