This is the first in a series of posts about how to go about pitching and placing a non-fiction trade book, if you have written one (or want to write one).
There are three reasons to get an agent, rather than sending out your materials directly to editors:
- You don’t have access to trade press editors, and you fear that an email out of the blue will go unread.
- You have many skills, but negotiating is not one of them.
- You want to know if your book is actually a trade book or not. Most agents are straightforward; if they don’t think they can sell your book to trade presses, they will tell you.
Some scholars are lucky; agents find them. But for most of us, this isn’t the case – we have to go out and find the agent. So how do you do this?
- Read the acknowledgments of trade books that are similar in approach or subject area to yours. If the author mentions an agent, note the name.
- Even better: talk to other scholars who have agents. Ask if they would recommend their agents, and if you can mention the scholars’ names in your emails (as in: “so-and-so suggested I contact you about my book project …”). This shows that you know a bit about the agent’s authors, and that you have connections within the field.
- Do your research. Most agents have websites, with detailed descriptions of the kinds of book proposals they are interested in reading – and those they will not read. They also usually lay out their submission requirements, which include
- The email address to use
- Guidelines regarding materials (query letter only; proposal only; full manuscripts welcome)
- Guidelines regarding process, which can include a policy regarding multiple submissions (sending work to multiple agents at the same time)
- The timetable for getting back to you
- Prepare a list of agents, their email addresses, and their guidelines. Decide if you will write to them simultaneously (see note about multiple submissions, above) or one at a time, in ranked order of preference.
- Write a query letter.
What is a query letter, you ask? This will be the subject of Historista’s Guide to the Writing Life, Part II.