Agent Cricket Freeman On: Nonfiction Credentials in a Book Proposal

No matter what type of nonfiction book you’ve written, if you’re proposing your book for publication you must show you’re prepared. Imagine an editor is considering two book proposals by first-time writers. Both books are equally clever in concept, suited for his house, and he’d be proud publishing either. But he only has budget for one. Reviewing one he sees a tight synopsis, a descriptive table of contents, and a short author bio. Promising. Cricket Freeman is a literary agent with The August Agency.
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Editor's note: I am declaring November 2010 to be "Agent Guest Column Month," and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 10: Today's guest agent is Cricket Freeman of The August Agency.

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No matter what type of nonfiction book you’ve written, if you’re proposing your book for publication you must show you’re prepared. Imagine an editor is considering two book proposals by first-time writers. Both books are equally clever in concept, suited for his house, and he’d be proud publishing either. But he only has budget for one. Reviewing one he sees a tight synopsis, a descriptive table of contents, and a short author bio. Promising. Reviewing the other he sees those things, but also a colorful author with blurbs from known writers, is connected to her target market, provides several versatile outlines, plus plans for self-promotion. Valuable. This is a professional writer on a firm career path. Which author would you rather be? The second one, of course. And that's why a great book proposal needs to lay out a compelling author bio, marketing section and platform.

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Cricket Freeman is a literary agent
with The August Agency.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Can you appear fascinating, informed, captivating, wise, compelling, authoritative, and intriguing? A bio has one purpose: to attract readers—starting with agents, then editors, and ultimately, readers pondering whether to drop 20 bucks on what you have to say.

When surveyed, readers admitted the #1 reason they buy a book is the author. Readers don’t want to know what you’ve done, they want to know who you are. So don’t you dare give them a gagging grocery list of names of schools, towns, spouses, kids, or cats. Blah, blah, blah. You owe readers more than that.

Bios are used by agents, editors, librarians, reviewers, booksellers, and talkshow hosts to promote your book. Try several multipurpose versions, slanted for different audiences, of 50-, 100-, and 250-words. You can easily drop an intriguing author’s photo right into it, too.

AUTHOR-DRIVEN PROMOTION

Do you picture your publisher sending you on a lobster-and-limos, 20-city booksigning tour? Fact is, even career authors are rarely given the Big Celebrity Treatment. Publishers look for writers who are already connected to their target audience in some way. How can you show your ability to jump in and connect with readers? Can you compose a comprehensive, multi-strategy marketing plan to reach that target audience you know so well?

PLATFORM

Having a platform -- a place from which to reach your audience -- is essential for writers of nonfiction. (But it’s now adventageous for writers of creative nonfiction and memoir, even novelists, as publishers’ publicity budgets shrink to peanuts.) Create an author website, generate Web buzz, and plan your own mini book tours to cities where friends, college roommates, and relatives will put you up.

After you've identified the audiences who will buy your book (e.g., "single moms," "soccer enthusiasts," "people serious about losing weight), concisely show the avenues you have to speak to those specific niche audiences. Do you speak in front of people? Do you write articles for publication? Does your audience read your popular newsletter or blog?

Publishers are willing to do a lot for authors and build on your efforts, if you show them:

  • You understand promotion produces sales
  • You can reach your target audience
  • You can work hand-in-hand with them
  • You’re energetic, resourceful, and show initiative

In fact, one author told me her publisher was so impressed by her publicity plans they upped her print run from 5,000 to 50,000! Four things should guide you: presentation, profitability, platform, and professionalism. Remember you have only one shot at an agent with each project. There are no do-overs. You need a crackerjack proposal. Why? Agents are tough. Editors are tougher. Readers are the toughest of all.

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This column is an excerpt from
Cricket's full article in the
2010 Guide to Literary Agents.

Buy the 2011 edition here at a discount.


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