How to Submit - Non-Fiction
When selling nonfiction, you don’t have to write the entire book: in fact, it’s often preferable not to, since that way the editor and publisher can put their own “spin” on the project, provide their own input to make it as marketable as possible to the audience that they (and you) intend to target. Instead of the book, then, you write a “proposal” – a business plan that tells the publisher how you propose to write the book. We’re not talking about a long document – anywhere from 10 to 60 pages – but it’s a crucial one.
Keep the following issues in mind when you’re actually sitting down to write:
- ● Sales Tool. A proposal is a sales tool that the agent uses to sell the book to the editor – and that the editor uses to sell the book to the publisher and other editors, to the marketing people, possibly to booksellers and other publishers (for foreign sales), and so forth. You can’t be subtle and can’t be modest: if you are, at least half the people reading your proposal just won’t get it.
- ● Accessibility. In most cases, editors and publishers (the publisher is the business person who runs the publishing house – s/he’s the editor’s boss) are often very young, often in their 20’s or 30’s. So you need to try to make the proposal as accessible as possible. This means that you should consider using charts, side bars, graphics, tests, and so forth to make the proposal as interactive as possible, as well as to make it look interesting on the page: remember that you’re giving this to somebody who was raised on TV, so s/he may have a very short attention span. Of course, the extent of the “look” of your proposal really depends on the subject matter – so if you’re dealing with very serious subject matter, and we’ll be targeting an academic or very serious house, you need less of the “look”; but a more commercial house may require more bells and whistles.
- ● Complete & Concrete. Although the proposal is not supposed to be complete, you should also keep in mind that some editors are not that great at “connecting the dots” – meaning that you should try to make the proposal as complete, and concrete, as possible. Even if your vision of the book changes over time, you still want the editor to feel comfortable and confident that you know what you’re doing, that you can write the book, and you know how you’re going to do it. This comfort level is very important, and the more ways you’re able to demonstrate it, the better (for example, in your Chapter Outline (see below), you could estimate the number of pages per chapter – even if you really don’t have a clue how long the chapter will be, since you haven’t written it yet).
OK, now you hopefully have some general idea on what the proposal will do; here are the issues that every proposal should cover (you can use the sections as we’ve outlined them here, or modify them as you see fit):
- 1. The Hook. 1 Page; often optional. Depending on the material, it often helps to have something to immediately make the proposal accessible. For example, if you’re writing a book on who needs health insurance, maybe start with a test for the reader, on whether s/he needs health insurance; a proposal for disturbed kids may begin, “Does Your Child Need Help?”. Similarly, if the book relies heavily on your writing style, perhaps a brief single page excerpt might do it. Whatever you choose, you want something to immediately grab the reader and pull her in. Some editors say that they like to learn three or four things in the first couple of pages (especially in prescriptive nonfiction), so that’s another way of approaching this.
- 2. Overview. 1-3 Pages. Sidebars often helpful here. I like the editor to be able to find all the information right in the Overview. This is exactly like the “Executive Summary” of a business plan, if you’ve ever written one. Here, as clearly and briefly as possible, set out the highlights of the book: what it’s about, why it’s an important subject, who will be reading it, who the author is, what will set it apart on the bookshelf. Editors, when they’re interested in a book, fill out a so-called “Tip Sheet” that they pass around in Editorial Meetings. The Tip Sheet will include the following information:
- ○ Title and subtitle;
- ○ “Sales handle” or “log line” – a single-sentence description describing the proposal in a clever nutshell;
- ○ Production specs including estimated word count, approximate delivery date, and the need/availability for photographs, graphics, or illustrations;
- ○ A paragraph-length positioning “memo”, describing where the book will fit in the publishing world;
- ○ The most relevant comparative titles;
- ○ Other relevant marketing information;
- ○ A brief description of the author and the author’s credentials, including the author’s previous book sale history.
- 3. Author. 1-5 Pages; C.V. and previous publications can go in an Appendix. Who are you, and why are you the best person in the whole world to write this book? That’s the biggest question that a publisher will ask – these credentials can quite easily make or break a book sale. This is no time to be modest: include other books you’ve written on the subject; your advanced degrees; your media interviews; your lecture schedule (regionally, nationally, and/or internationally), your great personal marketing contacts (e.g., “I was Oprah’s Love Slave for years”); whatever – include them here. Your credentials may be nothing more than a passionate interest in the subject, which is also fine – but tell us.
- 4. Annotated Chapter Outline. Varies on the proposal, but plan on spending 1/2 to 3/4 of a page per chapter, assuming that an “average” book chapter will be 20 pages long, when complete. As clearly and concisely as you can, set out what each chapter will do, and how the book will be organized. Write it as interestingly as possible (so try to avoid “this chapter will discuss…”, which adds extra verbiage), in a style that mirrors the book itself (using the same tense, perspective, and so forth), but at the same time make clear to the editor that this is only a summary – that there’s a lot more material that you haven’t been able to cover.
- 5. Sample Chapter. 15-30 pages; may include several sample chapters, but that may not be necessary. Other than the Author’s Credentials, this is the most important part of the proposal. Show that you can write well, communicate effectively, organize your material efficiently, and keep the reader’s interest. Obviously what chapter you choose to use will depend on what material you already have available, but you want this chapter to be a representative (i.e., “sample”) chapter of the book – not an introduction, or summary. For narrative nonfiction (by way of example), you should show the editor how you address the following types of issues:
- ○ How characters are introduced and developed;
- ○ How facts and medical/expert jargon are dealt with;
- ○ How a scene is set;
- ○ The kind of momentum/pacing the book will have;
- ○ How dialogue and other “novelistic” elements are handled.
- 6. You’ve now dealt with the “personal”, most important aspects of the proposal; now you need to concentrate on the supplemental information to really sell this. In order to do this effectively, the basic premise to keep in mind is that you need to fit your book in with the rest of the publishing world. My break-down into three sections here is fairly arbitrary, but all the issues need to be addressed somehow.
- 7. Positioning. 1-2 pages, maybe less. Fit your book into the greater world of publishing. Find several wildly successful books on whatever subject – it doesn’t have to be at all similar to yours – with authors who have credentials similar to yours, with marketing contacts similar to yours, and explain how your book “will be the next” wildly successful book because it has a lot of “package” similarities. Be reasonable and realistic: find books by authors whose credentials really are similar to yours, with a writing style or world view or angle that is somehow similar to yours. “This is the Longitude for dog lovers”, and so forth.
- 8. Market. 2-8 pages; may include letters of support from celebrities, sponsoring organizations, etc. Who are your readers, and how will you reach them? Do you give lectures and seminars? Have a great web site? Any great publicity tools already in your pocket? (e.g., Dateline wants to do a special on you.) This tends to be a hard section to write, but it really helps if you’ve gone out and gotten information to give the publisher on how many, and what kind, of people will be interested in purchasing your book – it shows you’re a “go-getter” and will be effective at selling your book even without the publisher’s support. FYI – never rely on a publisher’s plans for publicity – authors always complain that publishers don’t do enough to get the book into the public eye, so you need to be your own best advocate. Show it here.
- 9. Competing Works. 1-4 pages. Go to your local bookstore and determine where your book will fit on the shelves – and then find the titles that are your book’s closest competitors. Show that the book has a niche – that the bookseller will know where to put it, so it doesn’t get lost and remain unsold. On the other hand, the book can’t get lost among dozens of other similar titles – so explain what sets your book apart from the others, why the reader will buy yours and not theirs. How you do this depends on the books, but you should never disparage another book (after all, it may have the same publisher/editor who will be looking at your proposal) – you should just explain why yours is different (meaning “better”). Complete the following sentence: “My book is the first book that…”
So that’s it. We know it seems like a lot, but when everything’s said and done, you’re writing one chapter, putting together an outline, and then putting on a lot of ribbons and bows to make this into an effective sales tool. Good luck!
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How To Submit - Fiction
Please review individual agents’ to find the right agent for you. Please do not submit simultaneously to more than one agent at Folio.
Step #1: Find the right agent for you. Visit 'The Team’ page to review agents or use our agent wizard to find the right agent for you
● Please wait until you’ve got a completed, polished novel or a complete nonfiction proposal with a sample chapter to query any of us. Our nonfiction proposal guidelines can be found here.
● Be sure that your cover letter, manuscript, and supplemental materials are properly formatted, and the best you think they can be: that means, at a minimum, double-spaced, well-proofed, well-written, and well-presented.
● Please contact us about one project at a time. You may have a drawer full of fabulous yet-to-be-published manuscripts, but only tell us about the one you feel is the most polished, the most ready to go.
Step #2: Contact the agent
● All agents provides details on how to submit queries. Please follow the directions
Step #3: Await Response
● All agents will read your queries as soon as possible. Most Folio agents will respond to let you know of their interest or to inform you of their decision not to pursue representation. If you do not hear back from the individual agent, please understand that the sheer volume of queries can be overwhelming and on occasion, it’s simply not possible to send a personal response declining representation in every case.
Additional information about submissions
How To Write a Query Letter
A query letter is the letter you write to an agent, editor, or publisher, asking if he or she might be interested in reading more of your material. Sending all of your material without being requested to do so is frowned upon in the publishing industry.
Above All Else, Proofread Everything.
Keep in mind that Folio’s agents only accept electronic submissions.
Your letter should:
● Be no longer than one page, if double-spaced and printed out.
● Have a catchy but professional introduction (how you heard of agent, great plot idea, etc.).
● Detail your experience (credentials for writing the book – can be professional and/or personal experience). Your credentials are crucial for nonfiction, and may be less important for fiction, but sell yourself. Nobody thinks it’s bragging.
● Include details about the project in a short paragraph. If fiction, one- or two-line “log line,” plus word count and genre, if appropriate; if nonfiction, a brief description of the project, plus finish this sentence: “My book is the first book that…”
Also include, if relevant:
● Links to press clippings about you or other books you’ve written (don’t assume that we’ll click on the link, but it doesn’t hurt to have it there).
● Anything else the specific agent, in his or her bio page, may request.
● Include attachments or force the agent to link to your Website to read sample materials – make it as easy for him (or her) as possible.
● Make the cover letter longer than one (1) page, if printed out.
● Mention other manuscripts sitting in your drawer, asking the agent to choose which one to see. Discuss only the best, strongest, most salable manuscript you have.
● Send it until it’s the best-written, tightest prose you can possibly write.
Sample Query Letter
30 January 20XX
Mr. Ian Successful
43 Literary Lane
Novelsville, OH 44022
[Include all your contact information, so we can reach you]
123 456 7890
Mr. (or Ms.) Wonderful Folioagent
Folio Literary Management
Re: My Dog Eliot
Dear Mr. (or Ms.) Folioagent:
[The Hook] You may remember that we met yesterday at the water cooler. [or, next best] I recently completed a novel that is similar to The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I know your agency represents, and I thought you might want to take a look at it. [or, next best] I read your listing in Publishers Marketplace, and thought that you might be interested in taking a look at a novel I just completed.
[Professional, or interesting personal, background of the author that make it clear why the author is the best person to tell this tale] I have been writing for the past twenty-seven years. My short stories have appeared in Playboy, GQ, and Martha Stewart Living. [or] I am an avid dog-owner, and have owned the same dog for the past twelve years.
[Information about the novel] My Dog Eliot, a novel of 97,000 words, tells of these experiences. [possible comparison to another novel] It is similar to The Great Gatsby only in that both novels are written in English.
Since I know you are an avid dog fan, I am writing to ask if you would be interested in representing me. I am attaching/enclosing [note: only attach documents when the agent explicitly asks for attachments]: an outline; synopsis; sample chapter(s); press clippings about my other published works; endorsements by (1) bestselling authors, (2) celebrities, (3) experts, (4) other people who really would be useful for endorsements.
[submission information] This is on a multiple submission. If you are interested in reading the entire manuscript, however, I will be happy to give you exclusivity for six weeks.
(Please note: Folio Literary Management does not represent poetry, stage plays, or screenplays.)
Please note that hard copies of any unrequested materials, either sent directly to an agent or to Folio in general, will be recycled, unopened, and not returned to you.