Wondering what I’m doing this summer? Here’s the story behind one project.
It all started in April, when I took a crash course in pitching an agent. I had registered for Books Alive! 2016, presented by the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a local conference with workshops, speakers, a book fair, and book signings. It also features the coveted Agent Speed Pitches.
I figured I would brush off a journalism fellowship proposal, make it into a book proposal, and convince an agent to love it in five minutes or less. Soon, I’d be on my way to a book deal.
It turns out I went about it all wrong.
It’s not hard to do what I did. To practice how not to pitch an agent, follow the simple steps below.
How Not to Pitch an Agent for Your Nonfiction Book
- With about six days to go before your nonfiction book proposal must be ready, discover that six days is a preposterously inadequate amount of time to write a book proposal.*
- Write a good query letter instead. While working, sing a little song about how the kindly agent will adore your query, swoop in, and help you write that pesky proposal.
- Do not use a single sentence from your query letter. Instead, turn what was once a book proposal and then became a query letter into a three-minute pitch.
- Practice the pitch on nonfiction writers, novelists, and your cat. At least one out of three will give constructive feedback. Treat the other two to a rendition of that song about your guardian agent.
- At 6:45 am on the day of the pitch sessions, as the Uber waits downstairs, decide to print your query letter after all. Clutch the letter close throughout the morning.
- Use the pitch on agents — the ones assigned to you for speed-pitch sessions as well as the one who magically asks you about your book while you sit around the lunch table. That last one will listen intently until you must both stop for the keynote by Bob Woodward.
- Note the questions the agents ask and suggestions they make about structure. Note also how said questions and suggestions are not at all consistent.
- Note also how, though the agents are all wonderful people, not one extended a cloud-soft wing to envelope you.
- Rejoice that several agents asked to see either a sample chapter or full book proposal.
- Realize this is better than a guardian agent. Also understand that you must produce a book proposal.
- Attempt to write a book proposal. Take more than six days to do it.
- Start now.
So there you have it. The Book Proposal (incorrect capitalization for Emphasis) is one of my projects. I look forward to posting updates.
*Why inadequate? Thanks to author friends Michael Chorost and Fran Hawthorne (plus online searching), I learned that a nonfiction book proposal comprises some 50 to 60 pages of details. It covers the content, author, and market. Sample chapters also go in there. As you can imagine, a normal human can’t do this overnight. If you’re interested in more information, here’s a great guide from Zimmerman Literary.