Agent Name: Elizabeth K. Kracht
Agency Name/Location: Kimberley Cameron & Associates in Tiburon, CA
Agency Link: https://www.kimberleycameron.com
Social Media Links:
@elizabethkracht (Twitter & Instagram),
Nonfiction Genres Represented: Narrative/Creative, Memoir, Self-Help, Prescriptive, Science, High Concept, Spirituality, Sexuality, How-To
What is your best tip for new writers looking for a book deal?
I have so many tips! For new writers looking for a book deal I’d suggest doing your research on the publishing industry, from what submission materials you will need and how to format your manuscript to what sections make up a book proposal, how to approach your query letter, what an appropriate word count is, and common structural elements found in nonfiction. Also, “author platform” is an imperative in selling nonfiction; the exception can be a project (such as memoir or narrative nonfiction) that is literary, where the writing quality is what is of focus. Last, be professional and well-organized in your approach. Agents will spend some time helping a nonfiction author to develop their proposals or materials if they are taken with a book’s concept, but show that you’ve done your homework by putting forward well-executed materials. In addition, you may want to work with a freelance editor to make sure your book table of contents and sample chapters are developed.
What kinds of pitches catch your attention?
Honestly, the pitches that catch my attention are the ones that are the most businesslike in approach: well-formatted and straightforward. We see a lot of overselling and underselling in query letters, such as “I’m the next best seller, you’ll be sorry if you don’t sign me” and “I’m not a writer… ”. Approach your query like it’s a business letter. Leave any ego or flair out of your query.
- Introduce yourself and tell me why you are submitting to me.
- Tell me your genre, title/subtitle, approximate word count, and provide two comparable titles.
- Provide the hook and summary of the project—what problem this book is going to solve (if applicable)?—and detail any special features, such as quizzes, tests, case histories, or spotlights.
- Author Bio/Platform. What is your background and what kind of visibility do you have?
Pitches offering to solve a problem society is currently facing also catch my attention.
How important is platform in getting a deal?
Platform is an imperative in getting a nonfiction deal. The exception, as mentioned above, can be a project where the quality of the writing is what’s of focus—something literary. Otherwise, agents and publishers want to see that a writer has reach (easily discoverable), that they are an expert in their field, have a high-concept project (something timely), have had an article go viral or an essay that’s won an award. In order to sell nonfiction, the writer has to have a digital footprint and be working hard to get their message out. Memoir is one of my favorite nonfiction genres, but I have only been successful at selling one memoir because publishers want memoir authors to have near-celebrity status or incredible community reach. It’s not too early to work on platform; in fact, a writer should have their platform well in place before approaching an agent or editor with a project. Early in my career I worked with a number of writers to develop their platform and, in most cases, their platforms were still too underdeveloped.
What do you look for in a writer’s platform?
If the writer is writing narrative nonfiction or memoir, I’m looking for a compelling story and/or literary-quality writing. If a writer is writing in other genres of nonfiction, I’m looking for writers who have an education, are experts in their field, and/or have a project that fits a demonstrated need in the marketplace (hopefully all three). I also expect any writer I work with to already have a digital footprint in place: website and basic social media. Ideally the writer will have a demonstrated audience that will translate to book sales.
How should writers promote themselves right now (before approaching an agent)?
Most writers just want to write; they don’t want to be bothered with social media and promotion. But with nonfiction book publishing this simply isn’t possible. A nonfiction writer must have a platform in place beforehand. There is an element of what seems like “fake it until you make it” involved. To start, a writer should have a website and an active blog and social media in place (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). They should be able to demonstrate that they are actively reaching out to promote their work, whether through talks, conferences, or by publishing in journals, magazines, newspapers, or other forms of media. Writers should look for as many angles of reach as they can to promote their work or message. I always suggest they approach social media or promotion of their work as an extension of their voice and message. Writers get into this business because they have something to say; they want to help others or reach an audience for a particular reason, such as to provide for a current need or solve a problem. They should think of any promotional efforts as an extension of their voice, their message. Writers who interact with their audience sell more books, and publishers and agents want to see a degree of audience in place to mitigate risk.
Here is a brief list of things writers can do to establish their platform (look for ways to reach the largest number of people):
- Write articles or essays on some aspect of your book (possibly as it relates to current events) and attempt to get them published in print media. Articles and essays that go viral get the attention of agents and publishers.
- Do radio, podcast, and print interviews on the themes or topics explored in your work.
- Sign up for Help-A-Reporter Out (HARO) to be used as a source for journalists.
- Consider giving a TEDx talk.
- Present your work at conferences and to other large groups of people who may be interested in your topic.
- Establish a website with a blog, as well as basic social media.
- Join organizations and associations affiliated with your themes and topics, including writers’ organizations and associations.
What should writers know about book proposals?
Book proposals are necessary for nonfiction authors looking for a traditional publishing deal (including memoir authors). In order for an agent to sell a nonfiction book to a publisher, they must have a book proposal. Most book proposals that show up in my inbox need development. Though some agents may be willing to help you develop your proposal, always assume this is not the case. In other words, do your best to deliver a well-researched and formatted book proposal.
A book proposal is a technical piece of writing composed of ten parts:
- Title page
- Book proposal table of contents
- Comparable titles
- Book table of contents
- Chapter summaries
- Author bio/platform
- Writing sample (approximately three chapters)
The book proposal should be about 25-30 pages in length (double-spaced) minus the writing sample. There are several good books on proposal writing written by agents (mine included). By researching books on proposal writing, you’ll have a better understanding of how the individual sections break down. Online research will also help, such as a simple search for “overview in a book proposal.” Once an agent agrees to represent your project, they may ask you to develop your proposal or reorder/reorganize it. For memoir authors, though your writing sample may only be three chapters, your book must be complete before submitting a book proposal to an agent or editor.
What other steps should writers take before approaching an agent?
Take time to research the industry, to understand that it is a business. Most authors approach agents before they are ready, which results in an endless cycle of querying and rejections. Be curious about the publishing industry—not just your project. Research websites like Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Market, Publishers Marketplace, and other places that writers, agents, and editors gather. Attend conferences like the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, the Willamette Writers Conference, and other big conferences where a large number of agents attend and where there are countless workshops on query and proposal writing as well as writing craft. There are also a number of books that might be helpful, such as The Author’s Checklist: An Agent’s Guide to Developing and Editing Your Manuscript (my book), Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents, and the Guide to Literary Agents. And, of course, there is an incredible amount of information online through simple search terms and organizations specifically in place to help writers, like The Author’s Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives. You can also look for associations and organizations by genre, such as the National Association of Memoir Writers. If you align yourself with the business aspect of publishing, you will increase your chances of being traditionally published.
Elizabeth K. Kracht is the author of The Author’s Checklist: An Agent’s Guide to Developing and Editing Your Manuscript and a literary agent with Kimberley Cameron & Associates. She lives in Tiburon, California.
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