Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Four Tools to Have at Your Disposal

As I prepare to find a literary agent for my completed manuscript, I wanted to share some tips that I came across while reading How to Land (And Keep) A Literary Agent by Noah Lukeman.  Mr. Lukeman is an author who spent 13 years as a literary agent.  He still takes on new authors as an agent once in a while, but it is no longer his only way to make a living.

Below I'm sharing the four tools to have at your disposal that Mr. Lukeman suggests an author have ready before even starting to query literary agents.  Most literary agents don't want to wait months for an author to provide the four items below once the agent first makes their interest known.

Any text in quotes are directly from the book, How to Land (And Keep) A Literary Agent:

4 Tools to Have at Your Disposal

1.  One page synopsis.
"To be safe, you might want to have two versions ready, one single-spaced, and the other double spaced."
2.  An extended synopsis.
"This can be anywhere from 2-5 pages long.  This is where you will finally have the room to say everything you wanted about your plot, characters, subplot, settings, and whatever else you want to convey."
3.  A chapter outline.
"Many agents will ask for a chapter outline, so they can get a feeling for how the book will progress, chapter by chapter.  This usually consists of a one or two paragraph description for each chapter.  By its nature it is dry, but do your best to keep it lively.  This is an especially critical tool when querying with non-fiction." 
4.  A professional book proposal (used when submitting non-fiction), or the completed manuscript (when submitting fiction).

I'm submitting a fiction novel, so I just need to have my completed manuscript ready when an agent asks for it.  However, below I'm sharing what a book proposal consists of for those of you who may be going the non-fiction route.

The professional book proposal consists of:
The Non-Fiction Proposal
Unlike fiction, which requires a finished manuscript, non-fiction only requires a professional book proposal, which is far shorterbut which comprises many unique elements. Entire books have been devoted to the art of the non-fiction book proposal, and if you are writing non-fiction, you might want to consider browsing them. But here I will give you a brief overview of what a non-fiction book proposal entails, and how to make it stand out from the pack.
There are three major elements to the standard non-fiction proposal:
1) An Overview. This can be anywhere from 1-5 pages. It describes the overall concept of the book, and should do so in a way which is compelling. It is really part sales letter, as it must make the case for why the book should exist at all, why there is a market, and why you should be the one to write it. I have seen overviews as short as one paragraph and as long as 30 pages. Generally, they should average about two or three pages.
 2) A Chapter Outline. This can be anywhere from 3-10 pages. Essentially an annotated table of contents, it should offer a brief description (ranging from one paragraph to an entire page) of each chapter, broken down chapter by chapter. It should give a step by step plan for exactly how you will go about executing your concept, and give a feel of the overall structure and progression of the book. Generally, it ranges around 5 pages. Again, it should not simply be dry description but also should also make the case for your book as it goes.
3) A sample chapter. This can be anywhere from 10-30 pages. This is your actual writing sample, and shows agents and editors if you can actually write. It gives them a real feel for the tone and style of the book. Basically, it is your chance to prove that you can translate the dry summary of your chapter outline into vibrant, exciting writing. The logic is that if your sample chapter is well-written, the rest of the book will be, too; thus, a good sample chapter will make editors feel less fearful about paying you money up front for a book which hasn’t yet been written.
Sometimes authors include two or three sample chapters, although this isn’t always necessary. It can be helpful, though, if your book varies in tone and subject matter, or if you want to give editors a feel for the different sections. Remember, the sample chapter(s) you include should be the very best the book has to offer (they need not necessarily be the first, or last, or chronological chapters). Generally, a sample chapter ranges around 15 pages.
In addition to the three major elements described above, there are also smaller sections that tend to be included in most book proposals. These include: About the Author, The Competition, The Market (for the book), and Execution and Delivery Time. If you decide to include any of the above, they should range from one paragraph to one page. If you decide to include an Introduction or Foreword before the Sample Chapter, generally don't let it exceed 10 pages.
DO: Number every page consecutively, preferably in the upper right hand corner; include a header identifying what section you’re in (optional), preferably in the upper left hand corner; refer to your title in either ALL CAPS or italics.
 DO NOT: Number or put a header on the first page; put a line space between paragraphs; single space; insert a dedication or acknowledgments page; try to pitch or market your book with laudatory adjectives (just state impressive facts without pitching yourself in an obvious way).
There may be other miscellaneous flourishes, too, geared specifically for your project. For instance, if it’s a cookbook, you need to include recipes; if it’s a highly-illustrated coffee-table book, you’ll need to include sample photographs; if it’s a technical or reference book, you might want to include a few diagrams or charts, etc.
When querying, some agents will ask that you query them with just a one page query letter, while others will request a synopsis and chapter outline, or sometimes the entire proposal. Every agent’s needs are different. This is why it’s important that you have the entire proposal completed before querying anyone. When in doubt, query with just a one page query letter.
 What Type of Non-Fiction?
Non-fictionis a broad category, and can mean many things. For example, if you have written a cookbook, there will be different requirements (recipes, etc.) than if you have written a serious work of history (sources, etc.). In general, highly practical and prescriptive categories of non-fiction, such as parenting, psychology, diet, fitness and health, tend to warrant a similar marketing approach. The proposal should emphasize how such a book can help the reader, how a reader can easily use and implement the techniques and possibly emerge as a changed person as a result. Having a structure or plan (i.e., 8 Weeks to a Stronger Body or 30 Days to Peace of Mind or 7 Steps to a Behaved Child) will be important.
When querying about serious narrative non-fiction, though, such as works of biography, history and current affairs, there won’t be any talk of how such a book can help the reader. Rather, there should be an emphasis on the author’s credentials, on his scholarly background, and on hi extensive research. And there obviously won’t be any mention of a program, steps or a plan.
Memoir falls into a class by itself. It is the only exception to the general rule of non-fiction versus fiction since, while it is non-fiction, it is treated as if it were fiction when it comes to querying and marketing. As with fiction, you will have to emphasize characters, plot, setting all of the issues pertinent to fiction. Likewise, the market and competition won't matter, as it is a unique work. For all intents and purposes, when writing memoir, ignore the rules outlined for non-fiction, and follow those for fiction. (Incidentally, the rules about non-fiction being easier to sell also disappear when it comes to memoir it is as hard to sell as fiction.)
I hope this information helps any other aspiring writers out there like it has helped me.