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angieMK
10-29-2007, 07:51 AM
I often read here, but I just signed up because now I gotta post. :) I've been working on my nonfiction masterpiece for almost 2 years now, and I've been sending out the queries left and right this year.

Here's the problem, and though I've read through some of the archives I don't see this specific question here. (Although I'm sure it's been asked!)

I'm sitting at 50 agents queried, with 10 asking for the proposal. Of those 10, only 1 offered representation so far. (Yes, I signed with him, only to have him lose interest the week afterwards and only submit to a small handful of publishers. I wasted a good 6 months with that agent - but that's for another thread.)

Of the 9 rejections of my full proposal, I'm not getting anything similar as far as reason for rejection. I have platform problems, is my best guess. (yes I've read all the threads on platform too ha ha!)

Here are some of the comments I'm getting:

1. "Get some 'BIG NAMES' behind you and we'll be in business"
2. "Love it - but you need to write an article for TIME magazine first, to get some exposure." (this is hysterical because I have no writing credits)
3. "I don't think publishers will feel compelled to publish it."
4. "I'm scared by the legal issues that might surround this."
5. "It's hard to categorize"
6. "It's too 'negative'"

and then there are the agents who read my full proposal and sent me a form rejection with no explanation at all, or the ones who requested my proposal and never bothered to send me a rejection - just silence.

So what do y'all think? Is it one of the above, all of the above, none of the above, or is my book a schizophrenic mess?

I'm torn. Is the standard advice to just query 100 agents and see how many differing opinions you can collect?? As Miss Snark likes to say, I feel like "setting my hair on fire".

(and hello to everyone - sorry to leap out from lurkdom like this)

aka eraser
10-29-2007, 09:07 AM
Hiya Angie and welcome to the Cooler. :)

I'm voting "None of the above." (Or maybe all of 'em - who can read an agent's mind? They're as inscrutable as women. But I digress....)

If I was you, and I was, once, I'd give serious consideration to approaching some publishers directly. I'd start with imprints of the biggies which don't insist on agented queries. They're out there and they're looking for books that may not sell spectacularly out of the gate --but will sell steadily and stay on the shelves for a few years. That's the kind of publisher with which I got comfortable.

Good luck and glad you joined us.

Susan B
10-29-2007, 09:51 AM
Hi and welcome.

Sounds frustrating! I took a look at your website so I think I have an idea about your book. It looks great--and overdue, it it hasn't been addressed before. Have you tried getting feedback from people (other than agents) about the query and proposal? Or perhaps the legal issues are a significant worry for publishers.

Susan

triceretops
10-29-2007, 11:20 AM
1. "Get some 'BIG NAMES' behind you and we'll be in business" This is a platform issue, and I would think that the contributors to this book, being directors and supervisors, would be platform enough. How would you tie in a celebrity to this topic? What big name would be appropriet?

2. "Love it - but you need to write an article for TIME magazine first, to get some exposure." (this is hysterical because I have no writing credits)
Another platform issue here--they want to guage the response of the reading public (and a magazine publisher) in a smaller venue, without publication risk. What about post-publication article reprints in several magazines to boost awareness and aid sales?

3. "I don't think publishers will feel compelled to publish it." This could mean anything really--very nebulous response.

4. "I'm scared by the legal issues that might surround this." And they very well should be if you name-drop that company. You can imply, but do not directly accuse, malign or infringe upon a (supposedly) good name. I believe this issue is the most relevant of all of them. Individuals who have been burned in corporations and companies have mailed off tons of manuscripts that are retaliatory in nature, and ride that slander and defamation fence dangerously. This is where you have to be VERY careful in what you reveal (claim) and to whom it is aimed at.

5. "It's hard to categorize" Bullshit. It's called a CONSUMER WARNING BOOK and I wrote one, getting Ralph Nader onboard. It kicked ass and sold well. Trouble is, I made a lot of ememies in the automotive industry because I was whistle-blower.

6. "It's too 'negative'" See Item #4.

Angie, the problem I see with this is that you are treading dangerous ground, and that's only because I think you've dropped some corp or company names in this manuscript. Now, if you could stylize this in such a way that you are generalizing these particular business models, I think it might go over better. For instance, I went after Sears Automotive for ripping off the public, but I did not mention them per se, and only referenced them and their business as a "major department store." Also, try to erase or eliminate any "vendetta" type exposition in the text, and instead, make it more of a handy, funny, or uplifting type of book. If you've accumulated dozens of negative or "lost all my money" interviews, it can be a bit tedious and depressing to read such stories. Where is the flipside to the book? Do you have wonderful success stories to balance the catastrophes?

I wrote my consumer warning book with two sections. The first section dealt with all the bad things mechanics can do to an unwary customer. The second section dealt with all the things you could do to get the best deals and make your own repairs and end up a savvy and happy consumer.

I think your book is timely and certainly relevant today. I wish you good luck--one whistle-blower to another...

Tri

angieMK
10-29-2007, 06:27 PM
okay, I see what you are saying.

Here's some more details to make it clearer what we're trying to do....

We're name-dropping some companies... but while you could consider this whistle-blowing, with these types of pyramid direct sellers, the sales force is independent from the corporation. What this means is that the corporation is legally insulated from the things it's independent "representatives" do. Which is why we were careful in all of our wording, and we're relating experiences rather than making blanket accusations against a particular company.

Also, it's not just a catalog of thousands of stories of financial loss. While we could easily do that, instead it looks at the industry as a whole, from the political lobbying organizations that support it to the credit card debt problems that are symptomatic...I interviewed other experts, but none of them are a "household name". Think of this book like Fast Food Nation, and you get the picture. I queried the agent who sold Fast Food Nation, but no dice. :P

I hadn't even thought of trying to write this without dropping any names - maybe I should try that. Problem is, it will be obvious from the text which company we are mainly discussing! As far as celebrities who could endorse us, I can't think of anyone famous who is related to this subject. That's why I feel hopeless when it comes to the platform issues.

I'm thinking that if I can't find another agent, I'll query the publishers directly (given the advice above!). If that doesn't work, then we are going to self-publish.

But I was so hoping to not have to self-publish. *weep*

Thanks for all of your opinions!!

angieMK
10-29-2007, 06:31 PM
oh, I should add this just to make things even more confusing - when we had an agent, one of the publishers he pitched seriously considered it and took it to their acquisitions meeting. They passed, and one of the reasons they gave was
"corporate whistle-blowing type books aren't selling well right now"

This was last winter. Again, big fat sigh on this one.

Lauri B
10-29-2007, 07:33 PM
One way around the "corporate whistle blower" title as well as worrying about potential legal issues is to write your book in the style of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickeled and Dimed: she named some names of companies for whom she worked as a minimum-wage employee, and did it beautifully, primarily by focusing more on her experiences as a minimum-wage worker as representative of any Min.Wage Worker than targeting Wal-Mart or Merry Maids (two of companies she worked for) as a Bad Company.

ResearchGuy
10-29-2007, 08:12 PM
. . . I've been working on my nonfiction masterpiece for almost 2 years now. . .
Could you tell us in a couple of paragraphs what the book is about? Pitch it in one or two hundred words? (If so, please do. Thanks.)

--Ken

angieMK
10-29-2007, 08:21 PM
I never thought of Nickel and Dimed - I should go to the library and look at that book. Maybe I should be likening our book to that instead of Fast Food Nation?

I could post my query here, but I read somewhere that there is a seperate place to post query letters. I looked around and can't find it though! Do you want me to post the query here?

ResearchGuy
10-29-2007, 08:32 PM
. . . I could post my query here, but I read somewhere that there is a separate place to post query letters. I looked around and can't find it though! Do you want me to post the query here?
I was really looking for the quick pitch, the equivalent of the business person's 30-second "elevator speech." In one or two hundred words (or better, 40 or 50 words), what it is about? This might be the equivalent of what one agent acquaintance of mine calls a "pre query."

Once I have seen that, I might have some ideas for you that could help to build "platform." (That, though, is something that should have been in process for all the time you were researching and writing.) Or maybe I will see that it is not something I can be helpful with.

--Ken

Susan B
10-29-2007, 08:32 PM
Angie--go to the "Share Your Work" board. The password is clearly posted and it's not a secret! (it's "vista") Then you go to the "query" section. Fondly known as "query letter hell" :-)

Will be interested in taking a look.

Susan

ResearchGuy
10-29-2007, 08:37 PM
Helps to explain caution on the part of publishers:


Legal Costs Force Barricade Books into Chapter 11 (http://email.publishersweekly.com/cgi-bin2/DM/y/hzsM0LwxWM0OYa0DOu50EQ&rid=985098691)
by Jim Milliot
Citing mounting costs from three libel suits, Barricade Books filed for bankruptcy earlier this month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Ken

angieMK
10-29-2007, 08:43 PM
ok, I'll go post it in query hell. lol

Here is part of the query, what would be my 30-second "elevator speech". I do have platform but it is internet based - I had the first blog on this topic, and now I'm partnering with several websites/forums that discuss MLM.


"(xxx) is the first book to expose the dark side of an American icon: xxx xxxxx. Relying on interviews and experiences of thousands of former xxxx representatives, xxxxxxxx is a cross between Fast Food Nation and The Stepford Wives-- the truth behind a multi-level marketing (MLM) industry that targets women and their credit cards, by selling unattainable dreams. While this book is an expose, it is also an education for women on small business ownership vs. 'home business opportunities'."

Susan B
10-29-2007, 09:36 PM
ok, I'll go post it in query hell. lol

Here is part of the query, what would be my 30-second "elevator speech". I do have platform but it is internet based - I had the first blog on this topic, and now I'm partnering with several websites/forums that discuss MLM.


"Pink Cadillacs and Pipe Dreams: What Every Woman Should Know About Home Businesses, and How Not to Get Ripped Off, is the first book to expose the dark side of an American icon: Mary Kay Cosmetics. Relying on interviews and experiences of thousands of former Mary Kay representatives, Pink Cadillacs and Pipe Dreams is a cross between Fast Food Nation and The Stepford Wives-- the truth behind a multi-level marketing (MLM) industry that targets women and their credit cards, by selling unattainable dreams. While this book is an expose, it is also an education for women on small business ownership vs. 'home business opportunities'."




Well, this would grab my attention--and I'd read it!

But you do clearly target Mary Kay, no bones about it. I bet that is the issue for publishers.....

johnrobison
10-29-2007, 10:14 PM
I think the responses you've gotten all speak to the need for a platform. If you are breaking a story about corporate malfeasance (be it on the part of company employees or independent sales reps) you really need a position as a knowledgable insider, or a reputation for responsible investigative journalism.

I agree, one way to start would be to draw attention through articles in major magazines or newspapers.

angieMK
10-29-2007, 10:18 PM
well I looked into querying some women's magazines with an article. All of them required you to be a credentialed author - which I am not. So that's what the problem is. We're a couple of stay-at-home moms, and while we have the expertise and experience, we don't have the publishing creds or the fame.

Wow this is a rough business. yikes.

johnrobison
10-29-2007, 10:18 PM
I just read your summary . . . that sounds like a book that's going after Mary Kay, and I think you'll have trouble selling that to a publisher. I think a book about the pitfalls of multi level marketers in general might get farther. Why would Mary Kay be different from Amway and all the others? Are they?

johnrobison
10-29-2007, 10:22 PM
Angie, a story that takes on a specific company is going to have to be backed up by real solid evidence. I second the suggestion that you read Nickeled and Dimed, and reconsider your proposal

angieMK
10-29-2007, 10:26 PM
you know what the hilarious part of all this is? We actually already changed the proposal once, in order to make it more general and not directed solely at MK. And I guess we didn't do too well. LOL

Back to the drawing board. Thanks for your input!!

benbradley
10-29-2007, 10:39 PM
Well, this would grab my attention--and I'd read it!

But you do clearly target Mary Kay, no bones about it. I bet that is the issue for publishers.....

Ironically, I've heard that Mary Kay is one of the "better" MLM's in that it has actual real product of a decent quality, and that a reasonable amount of effort IS on showing and selling the actual product rather than most other MLM's where 90+ percent of the focus is on selling to and generating more "downline" distributors, and the LOC, er, soap, uh, end-user product or service is incidental.

When I was first on the Web in 1996 I did some online research on cults, and Amway came up very prominently. MLM's are their own separate entity, 'business cults' that sell the idea of making big bucks working for yourself.

The Religious Movements Homepage (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/) is a neat resource I've used, it has an alphabetical list of groups (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/profiles/listalpha.htm) with a link to a page descrbing each one, covering everything from the mainstream Christian denominations to many of the smaller "fringe" groups. It even covers what I call these "business cults," the MLM's as a subset (the only on they have, actually) of parareligious movements (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/Pararel.html). The DSO (Direct Selling Organization - their name for MLM's) Tour (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/dsotour.html) mentions Amway, Mary Kay and several other recognizable names.

ResearchGuy
10-29-2007, 10:41 PM
well I looked into querying some women's magazines with an article. All of them required you to be a credentialed author - which I am not. So that's what the problem is. We're a couple of stay-at-home moms, and while we have the expertise and experience, we don't have the publishing creds or the fame.

Wow this is a rough business. yikes.
The mini-query is an attention-grabber. But it would be very scary to a publisher, IMHO. (It would scare the crap out of me as someone who occasionally helps books see print.)

Allow me to recommend that you read Jenna Glatzer's Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments (Nomad Press, 2004). Jenna is a pro and one of the leading lights of AW. The book will give you a lot of guidance in getting established in magazine writing.

(Have you considered fictionalizing the material and writing a novel revolving around the theme? Just a thought.)

--Ken

angieMK
10-29-2007, 10:42 PM
yes that's the point - Mary Kay and others like it claim they are selling a real product, and so they aren't on par with Amway. It's not the truth.

The truth is quite the opposite. I know all of those sources - been researching this for two years after I got out of Mary Kay. :) I'm so glad that you guys at least recognize my topic - I was afraid that maybe the general public wasn't going to understand the issues here.

johnrobison
10-29-2007, 10:48 PM
you know what the hilarious part of all this is? We actually already changed the proposal once, in order to make it more general and not directed solely at MK. And I guess we didn't do too well. LOL

Back to the drawing board. Thanks for your input!!

Well, there is a big discrepancy between this statement and the previous proposal quote, which specifically targets Mary Kay.

I agree with Ben, these multi level marketers are cultlike in a way, and I can certainly see how individuals might well act improperly.

You've got to be very careful how you write and present a book like this.

angieMK
10-29-2007, 10:52 PM
John, our original proposal was targeting solely MK reps - based on the communities of "Mary Kay Survivors" that were popping up.

Then we decided to broaden the scope and model Fast Food Nation, and discuss the MLM industry as a whole. But we are still targeting MK too much I see, from the responses here.

angieMK
10-29-2007, 10:54 PM
I just want to say that I wish I'd come here for your feedback long before I queried 50 agents with this. We didn't get enough outside feedback. Thanks again to everyone who's added their 2 cents.

benbradley
10-29-2007, 11:07 PM
This is such a hot-potato subject, it's easy to see why publishers would be reluctant to accept it and give so many reasons for rejection, even if it's VERY well written and researched. "Sorry, we're not interested in publishing a book on the health dangers of Mom's Home-Baked Apple Pie..."

...
I'm thinking that if I can't find another agent, I'll query the publishers directly (given the advice above!). If that doesn't work, then we are going to self-publish.

But I was so hoping to not have to self-publish. *weep*

Thanks for all of your opinions!!
Here's one more opinion. If you self-publish, be sure to make an LLC or publishing company or whatever (a lawyer will help you better know exactly what to do) so that if someone sues you for what you say in the book, all you can lose is your book publishing business, and not your car, house, savings, etc. I'm not even sure you could completely protect yourself from such liability even with a large publisher. But if you do go through a large publisher, anyone suing will go more strongly for the publisher as that's where the most money is (though you probably won't be immune from liability).

But here's a question: What do you want to do more, get your message out, or make money selling your book? If you can get a real publishing deal, that would probably be the best that could happen, as far as BOTH getting your message out to as many people as possible, and getting paid for your work. If you decide you can't get it published and still want people to read it regardless, you could put it up on a website, both as HTML (web pages readable in any browser) and PDF, as well as selling printed copies through a POD site such as Lulu or (if you want to put money into it) getting your own private print run done to sell online and at book signings, on street corners outside MLM conventions,...

triceretops
10-30-2007, 08:12 AM
Angie, I know how hard this type of a book is to get through the process. I wrote, like I said, a 230-page manual on how consumers could avoid getting ripped off my mechanics. Each facility had a different way of billing, pricing, and paying their employees, so I had to departmentalize them up and give them seperate chapters. But I was very lucky (wary) of using actuall franchise and company names when describing their business practices. Actually, your reference to Mary Kay is right in the title, and nowhere does it need to be said anywhere in the book from there on. If you get my drift.

Great title, by the way.

Tri

angieMK
10-30-2007, 09:08 AM
thank you so much for the encouragement. I think everyone is right - we need to back off all the name dropping and get some nuance. or something. lol

I rewrote my query and proposal based on everyone's suggestions, and I'm reposting the new query in query letter hell. :) Thanks again to everyone for the help and support - this is a fab forum. I can't wait to participate more.

angieMK
10-30-2007, 11:54 PM
hey everyone.

I just received my 11th rejection on the proposal, and this time I actually got up the nerve to ASK for some feedback.

Here's what they said, which pretty much confirms everything everyone has said on this thread. Again I wish I'd asked about this here before I queried so many agents. You guys were right on!

"I thought that the focus was too closely on MK and that you'd have a better book if you can take a step back and look at MK in the larger context of MLM's in general (I don't know whether that's the same as what you mean when you say "direct selling" more generally.) And yes, the legal issues are a concern. I suspect you'd be somewhat -- though certainly not totally -- protected if you looked at more companies. But be aware -- as I'm sure you already are -- that these are litigious times, and most publishers (and agents) are not going to want to go near something with potential legal trouble unless they think there's going to be a real reward for their risk."


Wow. It's almost like she read this thread and then gave me feedback! LOL

*sob*

triceretops
10-31-2007, 12:17 AM
Yeah, but it's better you find it out now, Angie. We're not always right, but some of us have traveled those identical roads. I think he's right--if you broaden the scope to generalize the MLM marketing schemes and issues, it might open up some of those "wary" doors.

Tri

kimmer
11-02-2007, 05:31 AM
Two cents from a former candle girl: I helped earn the downpayment for our family's first house selling candles, nine months pregnant. Maybe your angle, as others have suggested is to look at the whole industry and profile the good, the bad and the ugly. Plenty of bad and ugly, no doubt, but a little good, too. Some women I knew joined just as a social outlet, new moms, to get out of the house, make a few bucks...others certainly got suckered in way past my level of tolerance.

I think a great angle would be to add humor...like the time I moved a table during a "show" and had a mouse run across the floor. ugh.

I think your story needs to be told and you would probably get flack for it, but a lot of sources, too.

tombookpub
11-02-2007, 06:21 AM
AngieMK: We all sense your frustration - especially when you understandably feel compelled to alter your query and proposal based on feedback. It's a time-consuming process and there's no guarantee. Have you thought about pitching your book upon completoin - all the while improving on your platform. At least you'll make progress and may be able to better sell your idea.

qdsb
11-02-2007, 05:38 PM
Two cents from a former candle girl: I helped earn the downpayment for our family's first house selling candles, nine months pregnant. Maybe your angle, as others have suggested is to look at the whole industry and profile the good, the bad and the ugly. Plenty of bad and ugly, no doubt, but a little good, too. Some women I knew joined just as a social outlet, new moms, to get out of the house, make a few bucks...others certainly got suckered in way past my level of tolerance.

I think a great angle would be to add humor...like the time I moved a table during a "show" and had a mouse run across the floor. ugh.

I think your story needs to be told and you would probably get flack for it, but a lot of sources, too.


1) I agree with much of the advice you've received here, and I think kimmer states my specific response better than I would. There are so many MLM businesses, and they all have their good and bad aspects. And it would be great for people to know more about both sides before getting involved with one.

2) I know you said that you looked into getting an article published...Have you tried submitting a proposal to Working Mother magazine? It's geared toward all working mothers, including entrepreneurs and ones involved in MLMs.

Here's a link to their writer's guidelines (http://www.workingmother.com/?service=vpage/140). Looks like they're not limited to "credentialed authors."

If you haven't tried WM yet, my suggestion is that you write a more balanced proposal, looking at the good and bad of MLMs or even of just MK. Perhaps make it an article about "The Top 10 Things Women Should Know Before Joining an MLM business." (with a mix of good and bad in the that list.)

Good luck!