The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) held its annual Writers Conference last week at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. The conference featured more than 80 sessions covering a wide variety of topics, from how to write a book proposal to how to break into magazines.
I was fortunate to attend the conference and have been recapping several of the sessions here over the last few days: Breaking into Women’s Markets, How to Look and Sound Great on Camera, Writing for the Health Market, Tricks of the Trade: Online Tools and Apps for Writers, Writing for Association Publications, and Writing for Corporate Markets.
While the sessions were targeted to freelance writers, the information is also helpful to PR professionals looking to get their clients in these publications. Not only does it give you an inside look into what the publications look for, but it also gives you an idea of what freelancers need in order to pitch these publications successfully.
In this panel, three literary agents discussed how authors can buff up their presentations to attract an agent’s interest:
- Regina Brooks, president of Serendipity Literary Agency and author of “Writing Great Books for Young Adults.” Brooks serves on the faculty of the Harvard University publishing course and the Whidbey Island Writers MGA program. In November 2010, Books launched a new publishing imprint, Open Lens.
- John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, focuses on narrative nonfiction.
- Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank of Fairbank Literary represents authors who have written for the Boston Globe, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, Wired, Jezebel and more.
“We get so many query letters – thousands and thousands of them – so we make decisions quickly based on the query letter,” said Fairbank. “It has to stand out from the pile that we get.”
Brooks said she looks for three things: incredible writing, the “hook,” and the platform.
Writing: The writing has to be tight. Make sure you are presenting everything as clearly as possible. Don’t use clichés, and make sure your grammar and punctuation are correct.
The Hook: Don’t bury the most impactful line – what the book is about. Also, include a great anecdote that gives them a sense of how interesting the book will be.
Platform: Platform refers to how you are already reaching people who are talking about the topic – e.g., your blog, how many engaged followers you have on social media, etc. Also include how you are going to promote the book.
- Give the meat of the story upfront. State who the audience is and what kind of book it is.
- Include the genre. There are more opportunities for narrative nonfiction (has several story subjects) than for memoirs (about one person). Don’t try to sell it as one type of story when it’s another type.
- Include an approximate word count for the book. Your target length should be about 800 words.
- Pitch according to the book’s genre. For example, if you’re pitching a memoir, write your query letter in the first person. This will give them a sense of how the book will be written.
- Include your bio, including your writing experience and credentials that is directly applicable to the book. For example, if you’re writing a memoir, include any first-person stories you’ve published, rather than business articles.
- Include how big the audience is. How many people are in the target audience?
- Visit the agencies’ websites, where you can view submission requirements and proposal guidelines specific to each agency.
While there are no hard-and-fast rules for book proposals, these tips should help you get started on writing one that will get an agent’s attention.
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