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lrs
09-27-2005, 08:17 AM
I have a couple of ideas for nonfiction. I have read that you should query first, before you write the book. Are there any websites that deal with how to write a query for a nonfiction, or any books? Also, is it better to have an agent to sell nonfiction? Thanks!

Lauri B
09-27-2005, 03:51 PM
I have a couple of ideas for nonfiction. I have read that you should query first, before you write the book. Are there any websites that deal with how to write a query for a nonfiction, or any books? Also, is it better to have an agent to sell nonfiction? Thanks!

Hi lrs,
I think you're going to get many different opinions on this. I'm a small nonfiction publisher, and I prefer a query with sample chapters up front, but wouldn't buy a book that's not finished, especially from an unpublished author. If the writer has already had several books published, I'd consider taking on his/her project based on the query and sample chapters, but we don't do it very often. We've had a couple of disastrous experiences with this, and once burned, twice shy.

I've worked with authors who have agents, and more who haven't. It has worked out fine both ways. Good luck!

Zoe King
09-27-2005, 05:24 PM
I think it depends upon how you feel about writing the book. If it's something you have a burning passion about, I'd suggest starting work on it anyway. That's what I'm doing right now. (At least I'm in the planning stage.) I don't want to approach publishers before I have something to show them. (I know the idea is solid. I know the market is there.)

Having said that, there are good reasons for querying. First off, you'll get some idea of whether the idea is something publishers will go for, whether your book is sufficiently different from what's out there to attract buyers.

Also of course, a publisher may have a preferred approach. This seems to be especially true of How To books. It's easier to write to a given approach from the start than to have to go back and change things.

As regards an agent, I suspect many non-fiction pitches direct to publishers are successful if they're done well. I don't see that you necessarily need an agent. But then again, if your idea is incredibly strong, maybe an agent could get you a fantastic deal that you wouldn't have been able to get for yourself.

In other words, there's no simple answer! Good luck with it.

Zoe

Button
09-27-2005, 09:49 PM
A lot of nonfiction publishers don't want you to write the whole thing first. Some editors like to have a hand in molding the book from the start. Perhaps they will want a different angle or a slightly different outline. You'll want to know that before you put all your effort into it.

It's good if you are passionate about your book and want to write it anyways. There are still other publishers who prefer already completed books.

If you weren't so passionate about it, I'd say query. :) Otherwise, just write!

TashaGoddard
09-28-2005, 12:53 AM
It may well depend on what your ideas are. Here are my suggestions, for what they're worth:

Before you start writing, do some market research. Find books in the same subject area as your idea; find out how they are structured; find out who publishes them. Pick a few of the publishers and check their websites for guidelines. Many publishers put up very specific guidelines on their websites, that tell you exactly what they want (i.e. query letter, detailed proposal, sample chapters, marketing strategy, etc. etc.). Pick the one you like best and send them what they ask for. If you get no luck there, pick another one from your list...

I work in educational publishing where, for the most part, authors are commissioned to write to a specific structure and number of words. The commissioning editor and/or development editor work with the author throughout the process, moulding the writing to their particular requirements (or the requirements of the market, really!). However, this isn't how it works everywhere.

Good luck and stick around to let us know how you are progressing!

Jamesaritchie
09-28-2005, 05:08 AM
You always need an agent, if you can get one. An agent can get you through doors that have real money stashed behind them.

Writing the book before a pubisher shows real interest is nearly always a terrible idea. Nonfiction, far more than fiction, is based on knowledge, but also on structure. Good nonfiction editors want imput on structure and content, and they should have it.

If you've never had anything published, you may have to finish the book before money changes hands, but this isn't always the case. And even when it is, it's much better to have the publisher's input as you write.

If you have had books published in the past, never write a book before you have money in hand. It's a waste of time and life, and it isn't necessary. A publisher who expects an experienced writer to write an entire book before receiving a contract and an advance is not going to draw very many good writers, and no smart ones.

triceretops
09-28-2005, 06:43 AM
Be sure to include any credits (relevent to the text) and your educational platform. This is absolutely imperiative nowadays. You have to prove and backup claims of expertise, especially if the book deals with one of the core sciences, or a particular related field. I made the mistake of writing on a subject that I was very pationate about, only to be told over 23 times that I was unqualified to tackle it. The book was already written--six months of hard work and research were down the tubes. Never, ever again.

Tri

OneTeam OneDream
09-28-2005, 07:41 AM
Hi lrs,
I think you're going to get many different opinions on this. I'm a small nonfiction publisher, and I prefer a query with sample chapters up front, but wouldn't buy a book that's not finished, especially from an unpublished author. If the writer has already had several books published, I'd consider taking on his/her project based on the query and sample chapters, but we don't do it very often. We've had a couple of disastrous experiences with this, and once burned, twice shy.

I've worked with authors who have agents, and more who haven't. It has worked out fine both ways. Good luck!


IRS-


I would listen to Lauri (Nomad) she is awesome!

Lauri B
09-28-2005, 04:15 PM
A publisher who expects an experienced writer to write an entire book before receiving a contract and an advance is not going to draw very many good writers, and no smart ones.

Ow. Not true.

Zoe King
09-28-2005, 11:20 PM
I had an agent for my first book, didn't for my second. For this one, I've decided I need an agent because I'm looking to overseas markets and I can't cope with the hassle. Circumstances alter cases.

LaBell
10-11-2005, 03:45 AM
I have a couple of ideas for nonfiction. I have read that you should query first, before you write the book. Are there any websites that deal with how to write a query for a nonfiction, or any books? Also, is it better to have an agent to sell nonfiction? Thanks!

Hi IRs!
Pick up a copy of this book by Rudy Shur: "How to Publish Your Nonfiction Book." (A complete guide to making the right publisher say YES.) It will answer all of your questions, and give you valuable information on what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do! :)

AdamMac
10-11-2005, 06:42 AM
Hi lrs,
I think you're going to get many different opinions on this. I'm a small nonfiction publisher, and I prefer a query with sample chapters up front, but wouldn't buy a book that's not finished, especially from an unpublished author. If the writer has already had several books published, I'd consider taking on his/her project based on the query and sample chapters, but we don't do it very often. We've had a couple of disastrous experiences with this, and once burned, twice shy.


Hi Nomad. You're in a minority on this, right? I can't imagine writing a non-fiction book entirely on spec. Particularly in my field, journalism, which often has a timely element.

If an embedded correspondent in Iraq came up with a book proposal that he's still researching, would you ask him to finish it first, then call you back? Or somebody writing about an election campaign, etc?

Or are you differentiating between types of non-fiction? I would certainly understand wanting to see an entire memoir or how-to book, which depend so much on the execution. Are there some types of non-fiction that you might take based on sample chapters and some types that you would not?

Yeshanu
10-12-2005, 02:57 AM
Since Nomad publishes Jenna's books, I'd say that James is a bit off when he says that no smart writers would work with that sort of publisher. ;)

I think a lot depends on what kind of non-fiction you're writing, and whether or not you're looking at a small or a large publisher.

I've read a few books on publishing non-fiction by very well-credentialed authors, and they do recommend not writing the full book before you've got the contract in hand, even for new writers. But small publishers like Nomad don't have the kind of margin for error that large ones might have, so the advice isn't invariably true.

Same thing for agents. One writer suggests an agent if you're not the type of person who likes to haggle, or if you want to concentrate solely on writing and not as much on selling. But he says that no agent will be as enthusiastic about your book as you are.

For what it's worth, I've currently got a non-fic book in the gestational stages. I fully intend to query first, to both agents and publishers. If someone is interested in the book idea, then I can send out a full proposal. That way, if they don't want it, I won't waste my postage or their time with a book they wouldn't consider anyway.

As for your query, once you write it, try posting it in Share Your Work for some feedback before you send it out. Folks there will help you polish it to perfection, and you'll have a much better chance of grabbing someone's interest.

TeddyG
10-12-2005, 11:57 AM
I wrote a non-fiction book based upon experiences of our battalion in War in Israel in Jenin (took place 3 years ago.) My agent took my very basic outline and got a publisher and senior editor interested. They immediately asked for an OUTLINE - in this case a day by day one, (and sometimes hour by hour), which made sense.

No one asked me to finish the book before they would consider it and it was stated (not just understood) that the contract was based on the Outline and on the first 100 pages.

On the other hand I am off and on working on a cook book for single, divorced and real busy parents, called, "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen" and the publisher who is only "somewhat" interested so far, wants the whole damn thing.
What they all do want to know, and I think any major publisher or agent will want to know is as follows:

1. Why are YOU the best to write on such a subject?

2. What unique traits do you bring to the table (as it were)?

3. How long will it take you to complete? (The real final MS. which will be in the editor's hands and going through revisions.)

4. What you can do to Market the book. - Don't turn your nose up at this one. Threads here are devoted to it, and the Internet has hundreds of sites warning writers that they MUST market their own work as well. (It is a long haul.)

5. Your other writing credits (no matter how large or small)

(I am sure there are other questions but these always stand out in my mind.)

As for writing on spec. I always thought the rule of thumb (and rules, as we know, are made to be broken), is that Non-Fiction is sold based on a very comprehensive Outline and a few chapters, but fiction usually requires the entire ms. for authors starting out. I have heard my agent tell me that is all BS and it depends on the Publisher and the agent and the author. (The Holy Trinity). Some will demand a complete non-fiction ms. and some will settle for a fiction outline. All is on a case by case basis from what I have seen and have been led to believe by reputable sources.

Final advice is to try and go for the agent, unless of course you have someone like Nomads, a small independent publisher working with you and your own team. And even in that case I would try and get an agent, even if you already have a contract. Good agents nurture writers cause they are in it for the long haul. And you may have another 30 books in you.

My own two cents on the matter

Teddy

Lauri B
10-12-2005, 04:38 PM
Hi Nomad. You're in a minority on this, right? I can't imagine writing a non-fiction book entirely on spec. Particularly in my field, journalism, which often has a timely element.

If an embedded correspondent in Iraq came up with a book proposal that he's still researching, would you ask him to finish it first, then call you back? Or somebody writing about an election campaign, etc?

Or are you differentiating between types of non-fiction? I would certainly understand wanting to see an entire memoir or how-to book, which depend so much on the execution. Are there some types of non-fiction that you might take based on sample chapters and some types that you would not?

Hi all,
To explain my position: I answered lrs' original query, who said she (or he, but I'm going with she) had a couple of ideas for a nonfiction book and didn't know quite what to do from there--so I assumed that it was likely she wasn't a published author. I would be (and am) very wary of offering a contract to an unpublished author, since writing a book is a time-intensive, capital-intensive, process. But if someone who has already written a nf book or has other writing credentials in the field of the proposed book queries me on a project, I may very well take a chance on him or her. I certainly have in the past, usually with good results. We do a couple of children's nonfiction series, for example, and I have hired writers who haven't written books prior to our assignment, but I liked their writing resume and already had created the shape and format of the series they'd be contributing to--so the risk that it would be a total disaster for all of us was fairly minimal.

To answer your question, Adam Mac, if we had an experienced writer/journalist who pitched us an unfinished but in progress book about a timely topic, we wouldn't wait until it was finished before acquiring it. However, we've had several incidents with relatively inexperienced authors where they've underestimated the amount of work to complete a book properly, and we've had to either launch the book late, or move it to a new season. It has definitely made me more cautious about working with brand-new authors or accepting works that aren't complete, which is a shame, since so many unpublished authors could really use a break.

What I've found in the last couple of years is that every so often we'll take on books that haven't already been completed and that have been written or proposed by previously unpublished authors (previously unpublished meaning haven't done a book before, not people who have never been published, period)--and those are the books that tend to come in late or so scattered or haphazardly done that we are left with a huge in-house cleanup in order to make our deadlines. And because we are small, every dollar we spend cleaning up messes before the book comes out means fewer dollars to promote and market the book, which hurts everyone.

AdamMac
10-14-2005, 06:03 AM
Nomad. I can well imagine the problems you may face from time to time. It seems quite reasonable and your reply contains some good advice. Thanks for the insight. Adam

JudgeJeezor
10-14-2005, 11:59 AM
How much time is one generally given to write the book once a proposal has been accepted?

Lauri B
10-14-2005, 04:17 PM
How much time is one generally given to write the book once a proposal has been accepted?

It depends on the publisher. We schedule our books up to a year in advance, which sounds like a lot of time, but isn't.

TrixieBelden
10-14-2005, 10:36 PM
Here was my experience in this:
I have this relationship with lots of women on death row. They have given me permission to publish their letters.
I also have a friend who writes mystery books for Kensington. (Savannah Reid Mysteries! Great! read one!)

And she mentioned it to her publisher who said it was a great idea nad would definetly be interested and to end a proposal.
I did and three weeks later got a reply that said this is great and a wonderful idea but it doesnt sell well.
So NEVER get your hopes up, no matter how close it seems to be happening.
I have a proposal, outline and sample chapters but... nada...sniff... where are my bonbons and big fluffly quilt??

MarkButler
10-14-2005, 10:53 PM
Wow - this is really interesting. I had always assumed I needed to get my book written, get it through a half dozen rewrites so its as good as I can make it and then start shopping for interest.

Does the "let the publisher have input on structuire and content" also apply to travel-journal style of books? not the "when in Rome do these things" but the "I spent my summer backpacking across America" ype of books.

Mark

Grasshopper
10-15-2005, 12:38 AM
Interesting topic.

For what it's worth, I've published three non-fiction books (adult market) and all of them sold based on an outline and sample chapter. When I was offered the contract for the 1st one, I had been previously published in magazines and newspapers. (I think it was my credentials that "sold" the first one.) As Nomad pointed out, it obviously depends on the publisher and how willing they are to take a chance.

Mark, I don't know for sure, but my guess is that for a travel-journal type of book you're talking about, you will have to finish the whole thing first. It's non-fiction but it'll read more like fiction.

I'll be interested to hear if someone else has some direct experience with this type of book and whether or not they sold it unfinished.

Lauri B
10-17-2005, 06:38 PM
Wow - this is really interesting. I had always assumed I needed to get my book written, get it through a half dozen rewrites so its as good as I can make it and then start shopping for interest.

Does the "let the publisher have input on structuire and content" also apply to travel-journal style of books? not the "when in Rome do these things" but the "I spent my summer backpacking across America" ype of books.

Mark

Hi Mark,
Memoir is a notoriously hard sell, especially the "I spend my summer backpacking across America" type. We received dozens of those kinds of proposals every year (and we don't even publish memoir). But for this type of book I would recommend that you submit a completed manuscript.