How to find an agent for nonfiction?
August 17, 2005 2:21 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to obtain an agent for a non-fiction book (a collection of unorthodox and engrossing interviews with innovators on the political Left, with many a-listers)?

What criteria are foremost in my choice? Is geographic proximity to me important in an agent? How do I find an agent that takes book-writing newbies but is effective and nonexploitative? I have looked at writers dot net and eagerly await the local Writers' Organization's class catalog.

I'm doing the interviews and have sample chapters ready as well as a boiler plate coverletter for agents.
posted by By The Grace of God to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What are you looking to get out of the agent? More to the point, is lulu an option?
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 2:35 PM on August 17, 2005

Best answer: Rotsa ruck finding an agent--although the reward is worth the effort. The key word is your "platform"--what publicity do you already have (tv, radio, column, and to a much lesser extent, blog), that will get the word out about your book? Larger houses are moving away from sorta-interesting-stuff-by-nobodies, and toward Al Roker's Good Ole Fashioned Family Bar-b-Q Recipes.

Geographic location don't mean squat. Here are the basics:

1. Never pay any agent to read/represent your work. The ethical ones are comfortable with their 15% of your gross.
2. Go to Spend hours there.
3. If your work is any good, you'll still get rejected by 95% of the agents you contact. 5% might ask to see what you've written, and then one or two of those may offer to represent you.
4. That's the bad news. The good news is they probably won't offer to represent you unless they already have a publisher/editor in mind. So getting an agent is two-thirds of the battle.
5. Don't disregard self-publishing. Never a better time to do so than today, and marketing the book off of a decent website may leave you with more control (and money) than a contract from a larger publishing house.
6. Plan to speak on your subject--it's the only way you'll really make any money from writing a non-fiction book.
7. Once your book gets published, don't check the sales ranking on Amazon more frequently than every fifteen seconds.

Good luck!
posted by Kibbutz at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2005

How to Write a Book Proposal is very good. You will probably need to turn what you've got into a the mostly-standard book proposal. This book will show you how to do that.

As for looking for agents, Literary Agents is pretty good.

I would *not* consider self publishing until you've exhausted every other legitimate angle, excepting paying somebody to publish (a vanity press.)

I'm also not sure how necessary it is to speak on your subject, but I'm sure that doesn't hurt. Anyway, take a look at the book proposal book, it's got a lot of info on there on marketing, etc. Good luck!
posted by drobot at 6:00 PM on August 17, 2005

The project you describe might have an academic press market, or a quasi-academic press like Beacon might take it. In that world, an agent is not necessary, though a personal contact with the press is hugely helpful. You submit a proposal to the editor, the press reviews it and renders a decision. You won't make much, but you'll be published, which will make the next project much easier. A book of interviews with even A-list historical figures from the left is a niche market book, unless there's some magic you're not describing (interview from beyond the dead with Eugene V. Debs, perhaps?). If it's high quality work and historically important material, I can think of several academic and small presses that might bite. South End Press is respectable and comes to mind right off.
posted by realcountrymusic at 6:24 PM on August 17, 2005

Geography is not important. Find books similar to yours and see which agents repped them; then contact those agents and pitch them yours. Check out Preditors & Editors for warnings on certain agencies. And here's a great run-down of what an agent's looking for in a proposal from a reputable agent herself.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 7:17 PM on August 17, 2005

[Selfpost]More ideas and information at
posted by twsf at 11:27 AM on August 18, 2005

Response by poster: Hm, hm!

Ted, that's the most useful and relevant self-link I've ever seen. Many thanks!

realcountrymusic, I'm thinking of the academic presses as well (AK and S. End would be great, and I am indeed not looking to make bank on this but to get the ball rolling).

Thanks for the great responses, everyone!
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:53 AM on August 19, 2005

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