View Full Version : Does this sound right coming from an agent?

03-30-2006, 11:02 AM
Should this raise a red flag? Rapid reply would be appreciated.

... it is the author's responsibility
to basically make a "business case" to the publisher for publishing the
book, in the form of a nonfiction book proposal. It is essentially the
"resume" that gets your manuscript the "interview", or an invitation to be

Am I mistaken to think that once the agent has read the manuscript, expressed interest in representing it, and spoken of it enthusiastically, that it is the role of the AGENT to make the case to publishers?

In the case in question, the agent has already been given a clear list of target audiences numbering tens of thousands in the aggregate, and accessible ways of approaching those audiences -- that is, the basics of a marketing plan for a nonfiction book.

I don't know whether to thank the agent for the time, shake hands, and go to the next one on the list--one who might not expect the author to do the selling to the publisher. Or is the quote typical of what they would all say?


03-30-2006, 01:10 PM
Ken, I think the agent is just explaining the importance of platform and a thorough marketing plan. You might ask this agent what more you can do to satisfy this need. I know that my non-fiction proposal consisted of an overview and detailed chapter by chapter outline that ran 44-pages long.


03-30-2006, 04:05 PM
Hmmm... I think non-fiction is a bit different. Perhaps the agent is talking about the responsibility of having a good "resume" and proposal. I know a crime writer who worked for TWO YEARS with his agent to come up with a killer proposal -- two years, without writing ONE word on the actual ms. The proposal was everything when it comes to hooking a publisher. And even though the agent helped him in the process, he was the one who had to write the proposal and use his credentials (as a journalist). The agent gave him ideas of what publishers are looking for and, of course, made sure that his proposal was read.

03-30-2006, 07:11 PM
Thanks for the comments, folks. Much appreciated.

I guess I am puzzled because the agent in question has the entire manuscript in hand (except for one short chapter, written, but inadvertantly omitted), has read it, and has expressed great enthusiasm for it -- and because I had already outlined enough of a marketing plan to demonstrate a viable book. The manuscript has a rave endorsement from a name author/scholar and readers (regular folks) are entranced by it and want to know how soon they can buy an autographed copy. (This is the book, Dandelion Through the Crack, that I discussed in a thread on the promotions board.) A copy of the manuscript is on the desk of a nationally prominent journalist/author, who is going to read it and provide a blurb when he gets back to his office in a week or two (he asked me to send him the ms. for that purpose). The agent knows that, too.

I doubt that the agent reads AW, but in any case it would be no secret that I am dismayed by the late ambivalence, literally on the eve of the meeting that I thought was to be a formality after the agent already stated interest in representing the manuscript. (I still need to be persuaded that that agent IS right for the manuscript and will not simply turn out to be an obstacle.)


I could sell it myself, I believe, but I am not an agent and have no interest in handling the stuff that an agent handles.


03-30-2006, 08:10 PM
I think that if you're feeling ambivalence from the agent, that's not a good thing. You don't want an agent who's on the fence about your work.

On the other hand, the proposal is the basic form of approach with nonfiction (which is as often, if not more often, sold on the basis of a proposal and sample chapters rather than a complete manuscript). If you approached a publisher directly, you probably would be asked for a proposal, so you're going to have to produce one no matter what. Another agent might say it differently, but I think this agent is right on the money about the importance of the proposal.

It sounds as if you already have much of the information you need--target audience, marketing methods, great blurbs. You just have to put it all together in proposal form.

- Victoria

03-30-2006, 09:22 PM
... the proposal is the basic form of approach with nonfiction ...
Thanks, Victoria.

The agent has a website with a complete explanation of what she expects in a proposal. This, though, gives me pause (one point among a long list): "Mention how many books you will buy per quarter or per year." Huh???


My perplexity comes, I think, largely from the difficulty of using a template that might be suited to a book on, say, cat care or small-business management for a memoir. This memoir, in particular, as its literary qualities are unique, and its historical and cultural aspects are distinctive. Yes, I can identify some specific market segments (one that is quite large--secondary school libraries, as a curriculum resource in more than one subject).

Trying to fit a proposal for this particular book into a generic template is not an encouraging prospect. There is also the Catch-22 that the real opportunities (such as, review in School Library Journal and in some major magazines, as well as regional newspaper) require first that the book be published! (En route, that is, with ARCs provided.)

The breadth and depth of promotional and marketing work (and expense) this agent seems to expect of the author is also ... challenging. I have heard that trade publishers have cut way back on marketing and promotion -- maybe this agent's list of (implicit) expectations mirrors that trend.


No wonder authors--even very good ones--would give up and use a subsidy press. That may end up being the result here (but at least a legitimate, reputable subsidy press).

Given how much the agent expects to be done by the author (or by me, as the author's volunteer consultant), it might make sense at least to cut out the middleman and deem myself an agent, and then to contact publishers myself. I will have written the entire package already anyway.


03-30-2006, 10:17 PM
The agent has a website with a complete explanation of what she expects in a proposal. This, though, gives me pause (one point among a long list): "Mention how many books you will buy per quarter or per year." Huh???Huh? indeed. That is NOT something a major publisher expects to see in a book proposal.

Ken, I have a feeling I know the agent you're dealing with. If so, despite one big-name client, I don't see a lot of prestigious sales. Most if not all of her track record seems to be focused on smaller publishers. No problem with that, if it's what you want--but if you're setting your sights on larger publishers, it's best to have an agent who has experience selling to them.

- Victoria

03-30-2006, 10:53 PM
Victoria is right. I smell this one. Lots of the smaller POD based publishers have been requesting marketing plans from their authors. Now if this agent deals with any of them, they are inclined to pass along these rules for acceptance to the authors. I've run across a couple of these types.

Ken, from what I gather about your writing style and education, and considering your book topic, I would think that you might go heavily after the university presses. Have you exhausted them? They are very good about getting back to you.


03-31-2006, 03:25 AM
After a two-hour meeting, things are pretty well hashed out. Assuming the author (I am not the author, only the author's friend, advocate, and pro bono copyeditor/formatter) decides to sign the agreement, we move forward. The editor and her associate have an excellent understanding of the manscript and WHY it is important, and why it is very, very good. That counts for a lot.

Small press, big press -- not important as long as it is a genuine trade publisher (which IS what the agent deals with) with real distribution.

Aside to Tri -- a university press might be appropriate for the manuscript, but the one I first thought would be the best bet (possibly the only one, really) already turned it down as not right for them, and in general, university presses are, I believe, exceedingly slow anyway.

Aside to Victoria -- I am pretty sure you do know who the agent is, judging from your comments. I think she will give this manuscript a 100% effort. Fair enough.