3 Steps To A Winning Non Fiction Project

Non fiction is an incredibly busy category. With celebrity memoirs and internet-based projects (HONY etc.) everywhere (and rightfully so! As you’ll see below) it’s a competitive space for debut non fiction authors. So if you have a non fiction idea how are you going to get to the marketplace? How do you find an agent and editor that will see the potential?

1. IDEA

Firstly, you need a completely original idea or a very new/controversial take on an existing one. Yes, nearly every topic has been written about but there are many more spins and angles to be worked. So ask yourself: Why are you the right person to write this? Why does the market need it? There is no substitute for the idea. You can work on 2 and 3, but this has to be there from day 1. If you’re working on an idea that’s already out there in book format, how is yours different? No agent or editor is going to sign something up that’s already out there unless it’s being done differently or better.

2. ENGAGEMENT

How have you tested your idea? Do you have a podcast where people call in with stories? Do you have a Twitter account with lots of RTs? Do you have regular speaking gigs where people hear you talk? Are you on TV/have a column/hold a prominent job? How does a publisher know that people are engaged with what you have to say? If they’re going to financially invest in a project before it’s written (remember non fiction is sold on proposal) then you need to show them why they should. You’re writing a business plan for your project. Engagement is the proof that this idea can work as a book. Give the publisher faith that you can bring this to a wide audience.

3. PLATFORM

Engagement and platform are the same category, but different. You can have a platform without engagement (i.e. blog with no hits) but you can’t have engagement without a solid platform. Pick the platform that you find easiest to consistently communicate on and make it easy for people to find you. Your platform is essentially your numbers of followers and the virtual and physical reach you have. How many people listen to your podcast? How many followers do you have? They need to be engaged, yes! But, the smaller your platform the higher the engagement has to be. The bigger your platform gets high engagement is expected and that’s when it’s time to pitch a book.

Then you put it all together into a proposal, write a query, and submit.

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10 Ways To Personalize Your Query to Agents

Writers hear that they’re supposed to personalize their queries–but “how personal, exactly?” is the most common question. The best queries show that they have engaged with us before (on Twitter, read an interview, or a blog post of ours) and have done their research. It’s easier than you think to show that personal touch.

Below are TEN great query intro’s you can model yours after:

“You’ve mentioned on your blog an interest in XX and so BOOK TITLE HERE might be of special interest to you.”

“After reading (and loving) CLIENT BOOK TITLE HERE, I am submitting BOOK TITLE HERE for your review.”

“I noticed on Manuscript Wishlist you are looking for XX and XX so I’m submitting BOOK TITLE HERE.”

“I am seeking representation for my novel, BOOK TITLE HERE, a work of XX complete at XX-words. For readers of XX and CLIENT BOOK TITLE HERE.”

“I enjoyed your interview with XX and am eager to present to you my query for BOOK TITLE HERE.”

“As per your request on #MSWL, I am hoping you’ll be interested in my book, BOOK TITLE HERE, an …”

“I am excited to offer, for your consideration, BOOK TITLE HERE, one that is HOOK, like your #MSWL requests.”

“I am contacting you about my novel BOOK TITLE HERE because of your wishlist mention of XX and XX.”

“I noticed your tweet requesting XX and I thought my novel BOOK TITLE HERE could be just what you’re looking for.”

“I am seeking representation for my GENRE novel BOOK TITLE HERE complete at XX-words. It is similar in theme to CLIENT BOOK TITLE HERE.”

You don’t need to gush too much and you don’t need to flatter us. You just have to use your professional judgment to share why you think we’d be a fit. If you tell me that you’ve read my blog chances are I’m going to like that because it shows that you understand what I’m looking for. If you’ve read my clients’ books that shows we might have similar taste. If you cite my MSWL posts that shows some research. It’s really the little details that will set you apart from the pack.

Make sure to also include in this opening paragraph: word count, genre/category/audience and don’t forget your book title!

 

 

Guest Post: 6 Ways To Make Comp Titles Work For You by Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

I’m so thrilled to have another great guest post for you! Comparative titles are a major conundrum for many writers. How recent? How many? How perfect do they have to be?

I get more questions about comp titles than many other topics–believe it or not.

How can you make them work for you? Literary Agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock tells us how.

6 Ways to Make Comp Titles Work for You

Comp titles—other works that are comparable to your own book—can be powerful tools to help an agent understand your project. Though you don’t absolutely have to include comp titles in your query, if you choose the right ones, they can get the agent excited: “Oh, it’s like that book? I love that book! I definitely want to read more.” But selecting the right comp can be tricky, so here are a few tips:

 

  1. Choose a comp title that puts your book on the right shelf…and the right table.

Imagine you’re walking through a bookstore—where would your book be? To begin, you want to choose comp titles that are in the same category and genre. Then take it a step further. Say you’ve written a work of women’s fiction. In a bookstore, that might be jumbled up with all the other adult fiction books. But what if they made a themed table—what other books would go on a table with yours? A table with Jojo Moyes (Women’s Fiction to Make You Cry) is going to be very different than a table with Sophie Kinsella (Lighthearted Women’s Fiction to Take to the Beach). And your book isn’t a classic yet; make sure you’re choosing titles that are relatively recent.

 

  1. Be specific.

Your book could probably be placed on more than one table, which is where the classic X meets Y comp title formula comes in. You can be even more specific, though. What about each title makes it comparable to your book? The powerful romance of X with the fast pace of Y tells me much more.

 

  1. But don’t use wildly different comps.

I recently passed on a query that used comp titles so different I couldn’t see how they were talking about the same book. For instance, if you pitch your book as THE FAULT IN OUR STARS meets GONE GIRL, I’ll think you’re not sure what sort of book you’ve written, since those works couldn’t be more different—in category, genre, tone, themes, everything! Specificity can help here, but at a certain point, it’s too much of a puzzle. Choosing books from the same metaphorical shelf will help a great deal. And remember, it’s fine to use just one comp title.

 

  1. Consider a character comp.

Say you can’t think of a great comp for your book as a whole. What about your main character? Maybe you’ve written a protagonist who’s just like Harriet the Spy—but in space. Even though you’re not describing the entire book, helping an agent understand your protagonist will go a long way to her understanding your book.

 

  1. Movies and TV shows can be comp titles, too.

Books are the obvious comp source, but other media can work as well, especially if it’s big and buzzy. I’ve seen comps used successfully with properties like SCANDAL, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, and SERIAL, just to name a few. Only go this route if it’s a popular, recent show and if it truly is the best comp for your book—don’t tell me it’s like the current Big Thing just because it’s the current Big Thing.

 

  1. Strike the Goldilocks balance: not too famous and not too obscure.

If you set the bar too high, it’s hard for your book to live up to the comparison—no, sadly, your book will probably not be the next HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, if you set the bar too low, you risk the agent a) not having heard of the comp, which makes it unhelpful or b) thinking your book will be too small to pique a publisher’s interest. It’s tough, but you have to find the comp title that’s just right.

 

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

5 Year Blog-versary Round Up!

9e4073d6863e21b9a5b923c3e62390afWow, 5 years since this blog began!

Thank you to the loyal readers and commenters for your engagement with my posts.

I decided to do a round up of some of my top posts over the years.

Craft:

30 Questions to Ask Your Main Character

When You Start Comparing Yourself To Other Writers

7 Things Writers Should Stop Wasting Their Time On

6 Tips To Hook A Reader on Page One

4 Ways To Edit Your Book Back on Track

Business:

Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction?

5 Secrets To Publishing Your Debut Novel

7 Ways To Make Yourself An Easy Author to Work With

Queries:

How To Write A Synopsis

8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers

How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

Agent perspective: What’s wrong with your manuscript

Social Media:

7 Ways To Build a Platform Through Your Online Community

6 Ways Social Media Doesn’t Help You Get Published

Q: Do you have a favorite post? One that changed your opinion of the industry or changed your manuscript for the better?