Posts Tagged ‘book proposal’

Eleven Steps to Finding an Agent

March 18, 2013

 

I teach a class on finding and working with agents. A lot of prospective authors who attend the class are a little intimidated by the process and need to know the basics of agent research. So here are the steps you need to follow to find the right agent for your book.

1). Decide if you really want to work with an agent in the first place. I recommend you read my blog post on writers’ misconceptions of literary agents. Agents are going to charge a 15% commission on your income. Smaller publishers don’t require agented submissions. Some even refuse to work with agents. Large publishers will almost never accept unagented submissions. And even when an editor is interested in your project, she might insist that you find an agent before proceeding with her.

2) Make sure your project is ready to submit before seeking an agent. If your book is non-fiction, have a complete and polished book proposal and sample chapter. If fiction, the manuscript must be in final form. (Frequently publishers will insist on a finished manuscript for memoir as well.) If you are preparing a book proposal, do your homework on how to write a good one. Read some books about it, attend some classes, or get a freelance editor to work with you. Books are sold based on the proposal, and it has to answer the questions that the agents and publishers will be asking. Having a compelling idea isn’t good enough. Agents have to know that the idea works as a book, not just as a magazine article or a blog. Publishers need to know that they will make money on this book, not to make to fine point. To get a better idea of what agents are looking for, check out my blog post, Think Like an Editor.

3) Be careful about bad agents and scammers. Before preparing a prospective agent list, do a little research on things to watch out for. Check out the Writer Beware website. They have some very good advice on avoiding unscrupulous agents.

4) The next step is to start doing research on agents who are most likely to be appropriate for your specific genre and project. Remember that you can and must send multiple submissions. Almost all authors, from Joe Schmo to J. K. Rowling, have gotten lots of rejections from agents before finding the right one. I recommend that you make a list of 25 agents who would seem to be a good fit and proceed from there.

5) Begin by mining the data bases. I have a blog post about the resources you can use for finding agents. You might want to start with the list of members of the Association of Author Representatives. The AAR is the trade association of literary agents and has some strict requirements for membership including a code of ethics. For a larger list, I recommend Agentquery.com. In all of these lists you can limit your search only to agents who are working in your genre. Most of the agents will have brief statements that give you a more subjective feel for their sensibilities. You can also get links to the agents’ websites for further research. I went into some detail on a previous blog post about resources for writers.

6) After you have developed a tentative list of agents, it’s time to move on to the agents’ websites. Almost all agents have websites and almost all agent websites have a similar structure. You are likely to find:

• a page describing the agent’s orientation including a fuller description of the types of books she is looking for. Sometimes this will give you a better feel for the agent than simply a list of genres she works with.
• background information about the agent. This might include her education, previous occupations, honors and awards, and personal interests. Sometimes you want to go with your feelings on this. Your relationship with your agent will be very personal.
• A list of books that the agent represents and/or recent book deals. It’s important for you to see if these books seem compatible with your project. An agent whose list is primarily cookbooks might not be the best agent to represent your political journalism. But you need to find out if that agent in moving into other areas that would be more appropriate for you.
• Submission guidelines. This is crucial. Every agent website will have a page on submission guidelines that will tell you: how much and what information they want in query letters, whether submissions should be electronic or paper, some specific requirements about book proposals, and how long you can expect to wait before hearing back.

If you want to delve deeper into the dark recesses of an agent’s mind and soul, some agents will have blogs that could be revealing and always provide useful tips for prospective authors. Check out my blog post on agent blogs.

7) Next compose your query letter. The number of articles, books, and podcasts on this subject is legion. Some of this stuff though is mystification and hype. Don’t let a query letter guru tell you that a good query letter will result in publication. It won’t. But it is important to present your query in a format that is familiar to an agent, that provides the specific information an agent is looking for, and in a style that is clear and intelligible. Always sound professional. Never indicate that you suffer delusions of omnipotence. (Avoid mentioning: Oprah; Eat, Pray, Love; or movie deals.) Don’t be dumb. (Don’t say you are offering a “literary fiction novel”. That’s redundant. And for God sake, don’t say you have written a “narrative non-fiction novel.”)

8)Most writers want to know how long they should expect to wait before hearing back from an agent and how they should go about nudging those agents who haven’t responded. Response times are all over the map. I generally read queries every day and respond within 4 or 5 days. Other agents may take weeks or even months. Usually agents will give an indication on their website how long they take to respond. And….a lot of agents aren’t going to respond at all. It’s rude, but that’s life. Don’t expect agents to give you incisive advice on how to rewrite your book. And don’t ask them to refer you to other agents. You need to do your own research. Agents get 10-100 queries a day. Rejections tend to be pro forma. I recommend that after a few weeks, start sending out more query letters. It’s ok to send a follow-up after a month or two though.

9)If an agent is interested in your project, be responsive. If your project is non-fiction, she will usually ask for a complete book proposal. If it’s fiction, an agent will usually ask for the first 10 pages. And those 10 pages had better be good. Most agents and editors can tell good writing by the end of the first paragraph. If the agent gets excited, she will ask for the complete manuscript.

10) If you are in the enviable position of having interest from multiple agents, you can and should do your due diligence. Ask for references from other authors the agents have represented. If an agent tells you she can get you a 6 figure deal, she’s probably lying. She doesn’t know. That’s a bad sign. Having a New York agent is no longer important. Having an agent from a big agency is less important than having a good agent who believes in you.

11). You will get rejected. You will probably get rejected by dozens of agents. Get used to it. Authors get rejected by agents; agents get rejected by publishers; publishers get rejected by book sellers; and booksellers get their books rejected by consumers. That’s show business.

How to Write a Great Marketing Plan For Your Book Proposal

December 23, 2012

Most writers are intimidated by book proposals. I can see why. Writers are writers, not salesmen, not marketers, not researchers,  and not necessarily aggressive self-promoters.  But all of these qualities are necessary when you are putting together your proposal.

I don’t think proposals are that hard, that is unless you don’t have a clear idea of what your book is about. And even then, I have found that in the process of writing the proposal, the writer’s ideas become clarified, the structure of the book tightened up, weaknesses become apparent,  and more often than not  the concept of the book gets  strengthened.  Writing the proposal is time well spent. And a good agent will lead you through that process.

Simply put, a book proposal is a business plan. The purpose of the proposal is to describe   your book idea to a publisher and to get them excited about it.  But you also need to be careful not to oversell. Publishers are going to give you a lot of money (well, probably only an insultingly small amount of  money) based on the material in the proposal, and they have a right to know what they are buying.  Trying to dazzle them with hype or baffle them with bullshit  isn’t going to work. We have heard the pitches  a million times about the book being  a shoe-in for Oprah,  being the newest Eat Pray Love, or the next Spielberg blockbuster. Certainly all of those things would be nice, but they usually don’t happen. Trying to oversell the book sends the message that the writer is either  unrealistic or manipulative. These are messages you don’t want to convey in the proposal.

A good proposal anticipates the questions and concerns an editor is going to bring to her reading of your proposal. I did a blog post about this last year called “Think Like an Editor.”  You need to know what those questions are, and your proposal needs to answer them convincingly.

Of course, the $64,000 question is going to be whether your book will make money. And one of the questions you will need to answer is “what will the writer do to help sell the book”.  That question needs to be addressed in the “marketing” section of the book proposal. That’s usually the section that authors have the most difficulty with. So let’s talk about that today.

The marketing sections that come to me in draft proposals usually fall between the Scylla of  being totally lame and the Charybdis of grandiosity. I’ve previously written a blog post called “The Art of the Pitch” where I tried to evaluate pitches that work compared to those that don’t. We have already mentioned above some examples of grandiosity. I will not  allow the word “Oprah”  to be mentioned in a proposal that I am submitting, unless you happen to be sleeping with Oprah’s latest diet guru. At the other end of the scale, I see marketing plans which tell the publisher that the author will have a publication party at her mom’s house and might contact local booksellers to (try to) schedule events. These pitches are totally lame. My favorite pitch was by an author who said  that he would agree to be on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, time permitting.

Remember that the marketing section is about what you are going to do. You don’t have to advise  the publisher  about what they already know. You don’t have to make a list of  major national periodicals to send review copies to. But if you are aware of niches that the publisher might not know about, you should bring that up.

And you should be quite emphatic about what you will do. And that means don’t fill up the proposal with  errant speculation and wishful thinking. I generally tell my clients not to use the word “might” in their marketing section. It’s weak and sends the message that you also “might not” do what you are proposing and probably won’t. And while you are at it, don’t use the word “try” either (as in “I will try to get Cameron Diaz to give me a blurb.)

A good marketing plan needs to be robust, but it also needs to be convincing.   You have to speak with authority. That means that you need to have a realistic and professional tone. And you also have to be honest. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Here are some  points you should be thinking about when writing   your plan.

  • Websites. Publishers expect you to have a website for your book. So you should mention that you intend to do it. Now if you already have a website with lots of fans and lots of unique views, then you have a compelling pitch and you should make it.
  • Blogs and social media. Publishers like authors to blog. If you have one, that’s great. And if you have impressive numbers of followers and viewers, let the publisher know.  But a lot of writers aren’t going to do blogs. Maybe you don’t have that kind of time. So don’t promise one unless you are committed to it.  Publishers also expect you to engage in social media like Facebook and maybe Twitter, so you should address that. And if you have an impressive  amount of friends and followers in social media, then let the publisher know.
  • Media appearances. If you have strong connections with media and have a realistic chance of getting bookings, then mention that in the proposal. It helps if you have had previous appearances in those venues or if you have a close relationships with people who can help you line them up. But again, don’t engage in wishful thinking.
  • Blurbs are good, but make sure that you either already have the blurbs or have firm commitments. It’s ok to say that Cameron Diaz will blurb your book if she has agreed to do it. Don’t make a list of celebrities that you will “approach” for blurbs, although by all means, start thinking about who to approach for blurbs after you get a book contract.
  • Speaking engagements. If you  do public speaking as part of your job or your platform, then talk about the major venues where you will be speaking at the time of publication. You should probably limit this to major venues with significant audiences.
  • Book signings. It’s ok to say that you will aggressively seek out book signings. Remember that publishers usually make the initial contact with the bookstores.
  • Book tours. Publishers won’t send you on a book tour unless you are a huge author. Some authors will go on a tour at their own expense. If you intend to do this, mention it in the proposal. Give the publisher a list of cities and tell them you will work with the publisher to line up signings and media appearances in those cities.
  • Book groups. Offer to meet with book groups reading your book or to do Skype appearances. It’s always a little tricky trying to ferret out these groups. If you have ways of doing it, let the publisher know.
  • Press kits. It’s always nice to put this in the marketing plan, because it shows that you are savvy at promotion. Describe the press kit a little. And if you have creative ways to disseminate it,  let the publisher know. Again remember not to tell the publisher how to do their job.
  • Other  stuff. You should try to think of other creative ways to promote the book that won’t be done by the publisher. Do blog tours, giveaways, op-ed pieces. Hire your own publicist, but let the publisher know and make sure that you will be working closely with the publisher on promotion
  • Platform. Platform is a subject unto itself. I have another blog post called “Platform is More than Just a Website and a Blog”. If you have a platform, make sure that you leverage it for marketing the book and explain in detail how you plan to do that.

These are just a few ideas. You need to think long and hard about this. Remember whatever you say in this section, the most important thing is to be realistic and convincing. And that means –in this and in all things–be honest.

Writers’ Misconceptions About Literary Agents

September 2, 2011

Let’s face it. Most of you who have never worked with a literary agent probably think that the 15%  agency commission is  sort of …well…unfair. A kind of baksheesh paid to the  middleman in the literary souk  who can use his connections  to get you access to  the celebrity editor at Knopf. Most published writers will tell you otherwise. Check out the acknowledgements page at the back of any book.  Authors love their agents, and recognize that the agent’s work goes far beyond dickering over deal points.

I’d like to address the subject of  the misconceptions about agents that seem to be going around in writers’ circles.

1) It’s better to be represented by a New York agent. Obviously I’m annoyed by this surprisingly widely held belief, since I live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. A lot of writers seem to think that getting published is all about the agent’s physical  proximity to editors and the number of times per month they have lunch with them. The famous “publisher’s lunch” is from another era. And it is unclear that this was an important ritual in the acquisition process  even then. All of the editors I talk to  will tell you that the key consideration  of an acquisition decision is whether the book has commercial potential. Publishers are under incredible pressure from their multimedia conglomerate parent corporations to make money on every book they publish. If your book is a bad business proposition, no amount of martinis at lunch is going to convince the publisher otherwise. I talk to a lot of book editors even though I work in California.   They tell me that the most important thing you can provide them with  is a convincing book proposal.  You don’t have to be in New York to do that.

2) It’s better to be represented by a big (prestigious) New York agency. There are no good or bad agencies. There are just good or bad agents. That said,  there are some advantages to having one of these big agencies on your side, but not the advantages that you might think.  At the end of the day a celebrity agent isn’t  going to give you an edge, and can’t  deliver a contract for a project that would not otherwise get published. If you have a big book with lots of subsidiary rights opportunities (movie deals, foreign markets, merchandise tie-ins), it would be nice to have a big agency that could seamlessly handle all these deal elements. But even there, most good independent agents can serve you well.  

And  there is a downside to working with these  big agencies as well. They are extremely selective in the projects they take on.  A lot of these agencies are not looking for new writers. If you aren’t a literary superstar, you might be better served by a newer agent who is building a list and  is willing to take some chances by seeking out new talent.  And always, always, you are better served by an agent who has the time and the imagination to help you shape your ideas and the passion to believe in your talent. You want an agent who will not just flip a contract but who will work with you to develop your career as a writer.  There are some very good agents at the big New York agencies who will do this and other agents who are just too busy. The same is true of independent agents.

3) The agent’s 15% commission is a rip off.  It’s nothing more than payola to help you  get your foot in the door. Actually, sometimes that’s true. I’ve heard a lot of stories about agents who have done very little other than send your proposal around (usually to the same ten editors they like to work with) and then either drop you or flip a contract and disappear. That’s a bad agent. If you are going to give an agent a 15% commission, you might as well make sure that they are earning it. The work of an agent is a lot more than sending out your project and dickering over deal points. A good agent will help you refine your idea in a way that will make it easier to sell, will lead you through the book proposal process, may even provide detailed edits on your novel or memoir, will negotiate the contract, will be your advocate during the publishing process, will help you exploit all the subsidiary rights opportunities for the material in the book,  and will advise you on promotion when the book comes out. A good agent will earn that 15%. So try to find one of those.

I’ll talk about some more misconceptions on my next blog post.

Think Like an Editor – Nine Tips on Writing Book Proposals

July 12, 2011

 Book publishing is run like real business now. The six largest publishers are all owned by multimedia conglomerates. The corporate bosses have very high expectations for return on investment, far higher than in the old days when book publishing was a cottage industry. Accordingly editors are under intense pressure to acquire books that will make money, a lot of money. In those old days, deals were made informally over the famous three martini lunch. Personal relationships were key to getting a book published. At least that’s the conventional wisdom on the way things were back then. I’m not sure if it was ever true. Now the acquisition decision is primarily based on the material contained in the book proposal. A bad book proposal can kill a good book idea. Well, maybe if you are Kim Kardashian, you can get away with a lousy proposal or none at all. But gentle reader, don’t fool yourself. You are not Kim Kardashian. A good book proposal is an honest book proposal and one that will address the concerns of the editor and give her confidence that the book will meet her expectations and requirements. Put yourself in her shoes for a minute and it will help you write a better proposal.

 1. A book proposal is a business plan. You have probably heard the old saying that publishing is the marriage of art and commerce. At the moment the relationship is sort of S/M with commerce holding the whip. Never forget that an editor’s acquisition is a business decision and your proposal must convince the editor that your book is not just great writing. It is good business as well.

 2. Get the editor hooked right out of the gate. An editor’s life isn’t all that glamorous. She works in a 10′ x 10′ office all day, every day. She has to attend boring acquisition meetings with a bunch of other fatuous editors who are pitching their pet projects for the same slot as hers. The publisher, the sales director, and the marketing manager are all there too. Maybe they have read your proposal. Maybe they have only read the first page. Maybe just your agent’s pitch letter. Everyone in the room including your acquisition editor has a busy life leading to attention deficit disorder. If you can’t get them excited in the first two paragraphs, I’m sorry, but you are probably sunk. Make sure your writing in the first paragraph is sparkling. Make sure you can say what the book is about in one or two sentences. If you can’t, you probably haven’t figured that out yourself. And remember, you have a lot of competition. Every acquisition editor gets 20 proposals a week. Every one of those proposals has been heavily vetted by agents. Every one of them will have a very compelling reason to get published. What will make yours pop out?

 3. Don’t play the editor for a fool. Editors have seen every kind of hype that you can think of many times over. Just remember this. Don’t mention Eat, Pray, Love. Don’t mention Oprah and while you are at it, don’t mention Terry Gross. Don’t mention The New Yorker. Don’t mention Spielberg either. When you talk about your promotion opportunities, don’t use the word “might” ( as in “I might get on Oprah.”) Editors will read this as “might not” or more likely “doesn’t have a chance in hell.” This kind of hype sends a message that you are either dishonest or deluded. Neither of these are good messages to send.

 4. Focus on your competitive analysis. A lot of writers gloss over the competitive analysis and treat it as if it were an unpleasant exercise that one must get through in order to please her agent. Don’t fool yourself. Editors look very carefully at this, because it gives them important information about the potential audience for the book. The editor is looking to see if there are other books on the subject that have had impressive sales. But they also want to know that you have something new and important to say on the subject. Make sure you use comp titles that will be useful to the editor in evaluating whether there is an audience. Use books from major publishers that were successful. Don’t use books that flopped. Don’t use books that are so old that they are irrelevant to the editor’s analysis. Don’t use books that aren’t truly comparable. And, for God’s sake, don’t use self-published books. And, one last thing, remember: never say that your book is totally unique and the only book on the subject. That means to the editor that there’s probably no audience for it.

 5. Make sure your audience analysis is realistic and robust. The audience analysis section of the proposal is also an area that authors give short shrift to. When an editor looks at a proposal, the first question she will ask herself is, “Is there an audience for this book?” In the audience analysis section, you need to answer this in a compelling manner that shows you mean business and are not acting under your own illusions or just blowing smoke. I get a lot of proposals about health related topics. Frequently the author will define the audience as “everyone between 20 and 70 years old interested in health.” This is not an audience. This is a demographic. The editor doesn’t want to know how many billions of people in the world might think about your subject area from time to time. She wants to know what specific and discrete groups of people will be motivated to pay $25 to buy your book. The editor wants you to get real or get lost.

 6. When writing your bio, think like an editor. The editor will read your bio and be looking for these things. 1) Does the author have the authority to be writing about this subject? and 2)What kind of platform does the author have that will allow her to drive sales? This should not be a curriculum vitae (although if you have one, you may include it in an appendix). You will have to describe the work that you do in the real world. You will have to include a modest list of important books and articles –if such a list exists — that you have written and published. You should include media connections past and present. You must mention major venues where you have spoken and will be speaking, and any significant awards you have received. Don’t put in filler material that will not impress anyone. Don’t say that you will teach a class on the subject at your local junior college. Don’t say you came in 3rd in an unknown literary award. Don’t pretend you have a platform when you don’t. [See #3 above]

7. Impress the editor with a solid, realistic, effective and honest marketing and promotion plan. The marketing and promotion section of the proposal is another area where authors have difficulty and sometimes try to wing it. Don’t. Editors will be able to see whether you have a sophisticated understanding of marketing and promotion, whether you will do an effective job flogging your product, or whether you are callow and naïve. Show the editor that you have a good plan. Go into some detail. Don’t say “I will do Internet marketing.” Say exactly what you will do. Don’t say, “I will try to get interviews on my local radio station.” Tell them exactly what media events you will realistically be able to line up – and don’t lie about it. Don’t mention that you will have book signings at local bookstores. They know that already. Don’t say your mom will host a publication party.

8. Don’t suffer delusions of grandeur. This is primarily for those of you out there who are writing memoirs, but it applies to everyone. Don’t get me wrong. Memoirs are a very popular genre but they are hard to get published. I usually advise memoirists that it is best to look outside themselves. I have no doubt that your life has been dramatic, even the stuff of legend. Everyone’s life is a hero’s journey. But this doesn’t mean that there is an audience who will want to read about it or a publisher who will see it as a marketable commodity. By all means, write your memoir. It will give you a deeper understanding of your life and your place in the world. But try to be realistic about the chances of getting published. Again, think like an editor.

 9. I want to say one word to you, just one word: “transparency”. This is my golden rule of proposal writing. The editor must know when he has finished the proposal that everything in it is true and deliverable before and after publication and that the author is who he says he is and has the authority, connections, and savvy to make this book sell. I need to trust my author just as she needs to trust me. And the editor needs to trust both of us. There is probably an agent out there who will be able to get you a contract based on some fancy footwork. But that isn’t the way I do business, and it isn’t the way the agents I respect do business either.

George Witte of Saint Martin’s Press Talks About the Work of an Editor

September 25, 2010

George Witte is editor-in-chief of St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. He has worked at St. Martin’s since 1984.  Over the years, George has acquired and edited books by notable literary novelists including Fred Chappell, Robert Clark, Claire Davis, Eric Kraft, Janet Peery, and Gregory David Roberts;  thriller writers P. T. Deutermann and David Poyer; and a wide range of nonfiction authors including Ray Anderson, Francis Bok, Jason Elliot, P. M. Forni, Emmanuel Jal, Stephen P. Kiernan, David Kirby, Irshad Manji, Bill Reynolds, Mitt Romney, Matthew Scully, Gerry Spence, and Charles Sykes.

George is also an award winning poet whose poems have been published in (to name a few): The AtlanticThe Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Southwest Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. His most recent collection of poetry is: Deniability: Poems published by Orchises Press in 2009; his first book, The Apparitioners, was published in 2005, and also is available from Orchises.

Andy: George, thanks for coming to the blog today. I’d like to talk about how you make acquisition decisions. I’d just like to add that this blog has done some entries on publisher rejection. Most recently we composed: Publisher Rejection Letters From Plato to Hitler. Let’s hope that St. Martins would publish the former and reject the latter.

 Andy: Can you tell us some of the books you have been working on lately? Maybe one by one, tell us what they are, why you are excited about them and what did you consider when you made the decision to acquire them?

George:  This spring and summer I have continued to work on the publication of David Kirby’s Animal Factory, a book on factory farms and their enormous environmental impact, which becomes more relevant each day.  (Last week’s massive egg recall is just one example.)  Kirby is a terrific investigative reporter and writes with a sense of narrative urgency; he knows how to organize complex information and science into a story about people, and he has a nose for important subjects.

 

Andy: That sounds like a very interesting book. One of my clients is Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who writes about animal rights and animal emotions.  I’ll make sure he reads that book. What other book do you find exciting right now?

 

 George: Another recent book is Stephen P. Kiernan’s Authentic Patriotism, which seeks to reclaim the word “patriotism” from the current “us vs. them” climate of hysteria, and defines it as many of the founding fathers did: as service by citizens to country.  Stephen is a dynamic writer and speaker who inspires everyone he meets, and this book portrays a wide range of Americans who are doing remarkable, wide-ranging things that improve the lives of people in need…with no political agenda.

Andy: How many book proposals do you look at in a typical week? How do you sort through them?

George:  I read 20-40 proposals and manuscripts each week, most of the proposals for nonfiction books, most of the manuscripts fiction.  Nearly every project is represented by an agent, and the proposals are structured in roughly the same way: a descriptive overview of the book, a chapter outline (often with substantive text), at least one sample chapter, an assessment of competitive and/or similar books on the subject, and information about the author’s credentials.  All these proposals reach a level of professionalism, and all are “publishable.”

Andy: So what are the things in the proposal that really grab your attention?

 George: When I’m reading, I’m really listening…for a voice, a sense of urgency, a passion for the subject that excites me even if I have no previous knowledge of or interest in the subject at hand.  Yes, other things are important: how many books on this subject have been published recently, how have they sold, and how is this proposed book different?  Does the author have a “platform,” which can mean anything from he/she is a journalist who has published widely on the subject, or is an academic writing for a general audience, or is an expert for some other reason, or has contacts with individuals, groups, organizations, and media that can help the publisher sell, market, and publicize the book.  But the key thing is the author’s voice, which no amount of proposal-laundering and packaging can supply.  The best books have a distinctive sound and it’s audible from the very first encounter.

Andy: It sounds to me that you have pretty wide ranging interests. Do you have any special areas that might fit into the publishing program or are you just looking for good books that excite you and (hopefully) your readers?

George:  St. Martin’s publishes all kinds of books for all kinds of readers.  Different people want different things from books—some want pure entertainment, some want information about a specific subject that is important to them, some want to learn about a completely new subject, some want to be deeply moved, some want to change their lives and hope a book will show the way.  We read a wide range of books and look for those that seem the best for their intended audience.  These days, I’m looking for investigative journalism, current affairs/issues, a certain kind of memoir (usually those that connect with larger social questions), and narrative nonfiction.  I am not publishing as much fiction as I once did, but am open to a special literary novel. 

Andy:  But even if you fall in love with a project, it doesn’t mean it will get published. Where is the final decision made and who makes it?

George:  Final decisions are made at our weekly editorial meetings, with our two publishers having the last word.   

Andy: Could you tell us a little more about how you work with books after the book gets acquired?

George:  After acquisition, I’m in touch with the author along the way to delivery of the manuscript.  Some authors like to submit sample chapters or sections, others prefer to finish the book and begin editing then.  I work closely on editing—line to line as well as structural—and usually go through two drafts with the author before we have a final manuscript.   Then I circulate the manuscript to the people in house who will have a hand in its publication: art, sales, marketing, publicity, subsidiary rights, and others.  After it’s typeset, I seek out advance quotes to help support the efforts of the sales, marketing, and publicity departments, and I work with each department to provide information that will be useful in their respective efforts.   I attend a range of meetings to discuss these efforts and follow up with each department.  I work with the author throughout the publication and usually for at least three or four months after publication date, or longer if needed, to keep reaching out for readers. 

Andy: George, we are always hearing that editors don’t edit any more. It sounds to me that you are still of the old school.

By the way, I’m the agent for a lead title at St. Martins in the spring. It is called The Jersey Sting. Most people remember the unforgettable picture of the Hassidic rabbis in handcuffs. The book is about the biggest corruption scandal in New Jersey history (and that’s saying a lot.) The authors are journalists with The New Jersey Star Ledger and were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of this story.

Barbarians at the Gates

June 23, 2009
There has been another rash of stories in traditional media about book proposals lately. One of the oddest involves deposed Miss California (and Miss USA runner-up) Carrie Prejean, who was fired by the pageant for alleged breach of contract. Prejean attracted controversy on a number of fronts, including her answer during the pageant opposing same-sex marriages in California.

Recently US News & World Report reported she had a book proposal, aimed at conservative publishers. Now in a follow-up, Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant says her book proposal is actually one of the reasons that she was fired. But Prejean’s attorney notes she was “given preliminary approval” to write a book, had “a draft amendment to her contract for that purpose at the time that she was terminated,” and has not actually contracted to write a book yet anyway.

Another proposal on the market is from former John Edwards’ campaign aide Andrew Young (represented by David McCormick), offering a tell-all about his role in trying to cover-up Edwards’ affair and at least implying, according to the account in The Daily Beast, that Rielle Hunter’s child was fathered by Edwards. (Edwards has denied paternity, and Hunter declined to have a paternity test performed.) In a classic assessment, the story notes: “So far, there have been no takers for Young’s book, which one editor estimates could bring up to $1 million.” Or not.

-From Publisher’s Marketplace
 

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