Agent Name: Savannah Brooks
Agency Name/Location: Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, NYC
Agency Link: jdlit.com
Social Media Links: @slbrooks91
Nonfiction Genres Represented:
Narrative and research-based book-length projects, LIMITED memoir.
What is your best tip for new writers looking for a book deal?
Do your research on agents. There is nothing more frustrating than receiving a query that starts, “I know you don’t usually represent this, but . . . .” When agents choose not to represent a genre or topic, it’s because they know they won’t be able to give it all they’ve got; trust me, you want your agent giving you all they’ve got. And you should want someone as passionate about your work as you are. That comes from finding someone who seems to be a good fit both on a professional and personal level.
What kinds of pitches catch your attention?
I love learning, so anything with a central theme of exploration. Think Amy Roach or Bill Bryson—writers who are trying to understand something previously unknown and taking their readers along for the ride. When it comes to memoir, I’m looking for something larger than a personal story. H is for Hawk is a great example of this; you’re there for a story about grief, yes, but along the way you learn all about falconing and T.H. White and goshawks.
How important is platform in getting a deal?
Fairly, but I can be convinced that it doesn’t have to be a social media platform. Being bad at social media is significantly worse than being absent, so if it’s not for you, you just need to have something in its place. Maybe you’re well known in your community or within a niche circuit. Maybe you attend a ton of conferences. Maybe you have a name in academia. Being active on social media helps, but it isn’t everything.
What do you look for in a writer’s platform?
Passion and dedication. There’s nothing worse than a sad blog, something that screams, Help! My agent is making me do this! The purpose of a platform is to identify yourself as more than the shadow behind your books. You want to come off as an expert, an advocate, a friend, or maybe just a real life person. (Can you imagine?) The best way to do any of that is with an authentic engagement in content and your audience.
How should writers promote themselves right now (before approaching an agent)?
Even if it seems scary, give Twitter a shot. You can start by just following other authors, publishing houses, and agents (instead of, say, screaming into the void). That at least gives you an idea of what’s getting published, what agents are looking for (check #MSWL), and what other authors are putting out there. Also, if it’s within your time/money budget, try to attend a conference or two. It could be a writing conference or a conference focused on your nonfiction interest. That shows me you’re driven to learn and take your writing seriously.
What should writers know about book proposals?
You’re selling your manuscript, but you’re also selling a lifelong (hopefully) working career, so as important as the content of your book is, the way you manifest within the proposal is equally as important. If you’re excited, friendly, and engaged in the process, your query will be more likely to get an agent’s full attention.
What other steps should writers take before approaching an agent?
I know it’s exciting to finish a book, and the first thing you want is to send it out to the world ASAP, but try to make sure it’s as close to polished as possible before you do. Agents have full client lists, and for every one of those clients they have multiple rounds of revisions. Even if I love the content of a piece, I’m always thinking about how much time and how much revision a project will need before I take it on. I simply don’t have time for everything, so I’m more likely to pick a piece that’s structurally sound.
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