If somebody had told me how difficult it would be to find a literary agent, let alone one who might exude some interest in my non-fiction book, I would never have gone down this road. But, too late, here I am with a book proposal that is one edit short of submission.
Best not to overly complain. I got myself into this one when I decided to pen a law enforcement memoir of my 21-year career with the FBI and Department of Justice entitled Feds: From Silence of the Lambs to the Castro Brothers.
My understanding was that any author worth his or her salt, had a literary agent who would be able to connect them with a reputable publisher and launch their book to fame and fortune. Then I started doing the grunt work–cold-calling author after author in my genre to learn about their experiences with literary agents. It soon became clear that most of my former colleagues were self-publishing. One said, “maybe twenty, thirty years ago, you’d seek out a literary agent…but these days we’re all self-publishing…unless you’re that one in a million author who can snag an agent for one of the big New York publishers.”
I’m not delusional–I know I’m not one of those ‘one in a million’ types, but I’ve never been afraid to solicit assistance. I turned to my blogster muses Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris who pointed me to Jane Friedman award winning blogster and editor of Hot Sheet. With twenty plus years of publishing experience, Jane knows what she’s talking about. She writes, “…If you are writing a book that has significant commercial value, or you want to publish with a New York house, then you’ll need to submit your work to literary agents.”
Then I remembered. Early in my career I had crossed paths with an FBI agent who, like Liam Neeson, possessed a “very particular set of skills” –someone who had done work many of us could only dream about. This person had gone on to become a best-selling author of a book which was then made into a popular and successful television series about an elite unit of FBI agents. I thought to myself, “should I bother this guy?” Then I discovered we were both from Brooklyn. “Oh, what the hell, why not?”
You can imagine my surprise when he responded to my letter. His answer was cryptic but, embedded in his laconic reply, was the name of a literary agent from New York. It must be that Brooklyn connection. Whatever it was, I was grateful and giddy. I reached out to this agent who, after several weeks, replied and requested a ‘query letter.’ Long story short–the query letter went out to the agent and, after several more weeks, another response–this time requesting a ‘book proposal.’ I shared the news with an author friend who excitedly exclaimed, “You’re in the Big Leagues now!”
However, I was descending further and further into the rabbit hole. What is a book proposal and how do I put one together? I found out soon enough. It requires a concerted effort in several areas including a written Overview, Marketing Plan, Biography, Competitive Titles, Table of Contents with chapter descriptions and one or two Sample Chapters. Four weeks and forty-five pages later and I’m still “almost done.”
Look, I’m a realist. I know I’m standing at the Base Camp of Mount Everest looking up toward the heavens. The odds are I will submit the proposal and it will be answered with a “thanks, but no thanks.” I’ll end up being demoted to the ‘minor leagues.’ And that’s fine. I’ll send a heartfelt thank you note to the agent. Sure, I’ll be a bit disappointed but I will have actually learned something. On a positive note, I will now have a book proposal and template for other potential literary agents. Finally, if nothing pans out, I can always self-publish. I’m still in the game.
One of the great delights of my retirement years has been to serve as editor for three very different writers…one a murder-mystery author, now on her second book with plans to write two more; another, an autistic young man who writes glorious poetry and is working on a Wrestling Federation book, a subject I struggle to understand but I’m learning…and the third, a minister acquaintance who wrote a book about the link between his faith and weight loss…all three a privilege for me to assist. I believe all three began as self-published but have each gained the support of genre- or special interest publishers…I wish you well. Your writing is very very good. Hugs from a fellow ‘Phin
Coming from you, with such a strong background in writing and the English language, I thank you. Hugs from your ‘Phin’ classmate.