I’ve been querying literary agents for the past two months. I use a combination of Query Tracker and Publisher’s Marketplace to identify agents interested in true crime. So far I’ve racked up a dozen or so rejection letters. The book I am working on is a nonfiction narrative account of a wrongful conviction. You can visit my website at www.EmilioCorsetti.com to learn more about this story, or you can view my Publisher’s Marketplace page and see the actual query that I’m using. For those of you not familiar with the process, when it comes to nonfiction, publishers make their decision based solely on a book proposal and not a completed manuscript. So what’s in a book proposal?
Book proposals have some common elements: an introduction, an author bio, the author’s platform (social media, websites, blogs, etc.), a list of similar books, a marketing section, chapter summaries, and finally two or three sample chapters. An established author can get away with a book proposal that’s as short as fifteen pages long with maybe one sample chapter.
In order to write a book proposal, you have to have more than just a general idea of what the book is about. In my case, I have a completed first draft. My book proposal is sixty pages long, double-spaced, and has images.
In order to get a book proposal in front of an editor at a major or even midsized publishing house, you have to go through a literary agent. Now literary agents get a lot of queries. A top literary agent can easily get 300 queries a week. So, getting them to invest a couple of hours to read a sixty-page book proposal is not an easy task.
The website Querytracker.com gives you three ways to contact an agent based on the agent’s preference: snail mail, email, or by form. A lot of agents only accept queries by form. The agent has the ability to set up the form to get the information they want: your bio, your query, comps, etc. Some agents will ask that you post the first five pages of your book or the complete book proposal into a form. Other agents provide a link that allows you to upload your book proposal.
Whenever I see an agent that does not provide an upload link, I put them to the side. I’ve tried the copy-and-paste method. The end result is not pretty. You lose the formatting, you lose all of the images, the TOC, etc. I doubt that any agent is going to sift through a mess like that. Now there might be some purists who will say that your words alone should be enough to convey your story. Did I mention that agents can get 300 of these queries a week? Take this post, for example. Was it the title, the image, or a combination of the two that got you to click to read more? I’m betting that it was the latter. In stories about real people and real events, having pictures to place with individuals and scenes is important. So far, of the few agents that I did the copy-and-paste thing, they all sent form rejection letters.
This brings me to the subject of today. I saw a tweet from an agent who was just opening up to queries. I did a little research and saw that she was interested in true crime. I looked her up on Query Tracker and saw that she only accepts queries by form. I looked at the form and it turned out that this agent does not provide an upload link. Knowing that I would be wasting my time dumping sixty pages of text in a form, I decided on a different tack. Here is what I wrote in the form:
I’m going to go out on a limb here. My book proposal is sixty pages long, double-spaced, and includes images. I’d love for you to see it. Now I can copy and paste and give you paragraph after paragraph of single-spaced text, or I can ask that if you’re interested in seeing more, simply send me an email. A better option is to provide an upload link through Query Tracker.
The agent sent me a form rejection letter the same day. So, what do you think?
After coming across more agents who insist that you paste the entire book proposal into a form field, I gave in. What I found was that there are some limited format options that you can use to make the plain text more readable. For example, you can bold text and center text.
When I first came across this issue, I just copied and pasted the Word document. The end result was a table of contents that pointed to non-existent page numbers, paragraphs merged together, captions for images that no longer existed, and inconsistent spacing.
Using the format options available through the QueryTracker form, I was able to create a much more readable plain-text version of the book proposal. While I still feel that a polished book proposal with images, TOC, and formatted text is preferable, I now see that the form-only approach can serve the same purpose and simplify the process for a busy agent.