The Art of the Non-Fiction Book Proposal: An Evening with Literary Agent Andrew Stuart

the Columbia fictions foundry which is hosting this event it's an alumni group whose mission is to assist each other with improving our craft and getting commercially published we host an online fiction critique forum and art monthly live workshops for those in the New York State area and we sponsor periodic events like this one if you like to learn more about us I invite you to visit our website which is fiction foundry alumni geodon etu it's fiction foundry alumni yeah edu tonight's guest Andrew Stewart has almost 25 years of publishing experience most of it as an agent he founded the Stewart agency in 2002 and he and his team represent a wide range of high-quality nonfiction and fiction across all categories including current affairs history science business psychology narrative nonfiction memoir literary and commercial fiction prescriptive health and sports projects and clients include former congressman Ron Paul's New York Times number-one bestseller the revolution Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Kathleen Barker William Dietrich Michael McIntyre and Carl cannon Hollywood studio mogul Mike Medavoy Christopher Ryan the author of near Times bestseller sexathon veteran political reporter 148 author of The New York Times bestseller love that boy legendary publisher and preach speech at the cutlery Flint and child psychiatrist Bruce parry political scientist Alan wolf intellectual historian Matthew Stewart author of the courtier and the heretic Martin Moerlein author of national bestseller the dumbest generation and Harlan creator of the popular podcast our court history and the New York Times bestseller the Doran Ward's evolution in action and I could go on but I'll suppress the is here with us today to talk about the ideal nonfiction well thank you all for having me it's a pleasure to be here I actually was five years ago so it's a pleasure to be here and I'm going to you know I have I have some notes I'm going to talk loosely about the art of the nonfiction proposal and then open it up to questions because I actually think you know I'll sort of set a template with some of my comments and then I invite you and welcome you to ask away and don't you know hesitate to ask any kind of question so I think one of the things as we talk about nonfiction I'm presuming that most of you a good majority or a good amount of you non-fiction are focused in that area and some doing fiction and of course with fiction you really most fiction is sold on the completed manuscript sometimes occasionally things get sold on partial but mostly it's it's very hard to sell fiction unless you have a completed manuscript nonfiction is different of course and nonfiction most of it is sold on a proposal and but before I get into the details of proposal writing I I think it helps to take a step back and look at the industry and what's going on with the industry now because publishing is more technocratic than ever it's you know there's more power is concentrated in a handful of major companies which have imprints within them and they convinced each other but it's much more you know when I was on the editorial side back in the early 90s you could still it was more common that editors might take Flyers on publishers would take flyers on projects they liked particularly in nonfiction and an author's platform it was not as important and that we'll get to platform in a second but nowadays you know the the departments have analytic specialists data analytics specialists they of course have access to full scans so they see everybody's sales figures and you know it's a merciless thing and and it's so they more and more expect you the author to bring the publicity or to bring the plot them they're not really in the business of making authors the way they might have been 50 years ago you know where you have these kind of apocryphal sets any apocryphal stories and for martini lunches and deals being made and you know and it's the agent just calls calls up the publisher and said you got it you know look at check this guy out he's incredible it's you know everything's by committee now you have sub rights specialists who are wing and you know it's a it's a much more bureaucratic process and it's ever been so as you as we talk about a proposal and what it takes I think that it's you know I I believe that hope springs eternal and not everybody has to have obviously doesn't have to have the platform of Malcom Gladwell or Thomas Friedman to get their book sold but they do have to be very savvy about how they present themselves how they present the material and you know how they think about their platform and and in particular depending on it but depending on the subject matter of the work so you know when I talk about platform I talk about things like being a professor or having a magazine column or a big business that you know has its tentacles across the the country or a steady presence as a journalist who publishes in places like slate or USA Today or whatever or for that matter nowadays is someone who has a big Twitter presence or social media presence that increasingly is you know in an essential when it comes to platform and you know it's there there are ways to you know if you are a writer you know if you're doing a book on politics I know a political issue it's it's very hard to just kind of be a really smart person you who works in a pizza shop but it's really smart and savvy and wants to talk about the you know partisanship in Washington or you know redistricting you really you know if you want to sell that book it's going to be essential that you're either someone who's been contributing to to newspapers to political journals to you know who who has some presence in that space because publishers want to know how are you gonna get the word out and why should we ders trust you now you know I the the as an agent I am very wary because I you know as much as I will take on projects I love because I love the writing I think the ideas are essential I believed in it this is what I got into the business to do and you know I had a fair amount of success with books that was where the author was not well-known or a household name but they were just phenomenal writers but you do have to be mindful and you do have to you know when I I have writers who maybe you know for example one writer who might have done a book on the Civil War or some aspect of the Civil War and then he wanted his next book to be about this kind of something that was totally off topic for him and I just had to counsel him though this is this does not work so this is you know this is a way of getting you know talking about how what's going on in the industry is it's definitely impacts how editors think about publishers think about the proposal you Sunday and how agents think about it and how you know authors have to think about it so now you know what I do is it none as an agent who does mostly nonfiction I do some fiction but mostly nonfiction is that I have to make sure the profile as long as possible because even you know even people who have had I'm finding people who have had best-selling books to their to their credit still have to produce a good proposal I feel like the the bar is is even higher now than it's been you you know and again there are obviously people who huge celebrities they don't have to do much you know if Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift want to do a book no one's gonna take them to task for not having a proposal for the rest of us we have to have fully developed and evolved proposal so um to that end we'll just take this apart some of the key elements and and some of it seems pretty fundamental but you'd be surprised you know a great deal of works going work goes into perfecting this and you know the first thing to think about I think you all have to think about is that it's like a real estate and the first five to ten pages of any proposal is very very valuable real estate and so I feel you have to get in and get out and the the mission of the project the premise the point of it by I think by the first 10 pages has to be articulated or you're going to lose the editor you're it's going to make it hard because remember they get tons of projects they don't have the time to devote and to dwell on every project and so I you know particularly with with most nonfiction but particularly with narrative nonfiction I like to start the proposal in in medius race with an anecdote you know something compelling which gives a sense of the writers voice their style and grabs you and then step back and talk about you know this book is you know going to be a new account of the Battle of Waterloo and a you know a total counter in a revisionist account of what happened there and and you know okay so we have it and I think one sentence I always I'm a big believer in fact wrote an article for a collection for a collection about book proposals on the need to compress everything into one sentence in that if you can't articulate your book in one sentence then you're you're you're going to be in trouble you're you're you need to really work on that because then the editor is not you know you're selling to the editor who's then going to be selling into his board and and they you can't rely on them to do that work for you so I think that you know that basically what has to come I think within the first 10 15 pages of an overview is really what the book is how you're going to write it you know are you going to tell the story through the eyes of a general or are you what is this going to be a history of welfare policy in America and that you're gonna you're going to start in 1900 and go to the present you you you need to talk about why this topic is important why this account is what sets it apart what the bigger story is and that's a very big thing to and I noticed because I'm going to guess some people in the program have done memoir have you know been involved with memoir and memoir in particular is an area where there's so many memoirs some breakthrough you know others are just misery tales you know the data dumps of misery and degradation and and that can make for a certain kind of an current you know engaging reading but after a while you have to give a sense of context and eyewitness feel that context I often see proposals where one of the things I work on is bringing the the context now what is the bigger story why is this proposal why is it like memoir what is it that's gonna stand out that people somebody in Denver who doesn't know you you know it's going to come to this what what bigger dynamic or bigger issue or bigger question is this memoir exposing and you think about a book like I don't know brain on fire or which is a good example which is this woman's account of this rare brain disease that kind of just you know blew up her life for a month and you know and and so it could use that equipping story but also you know look at the science behind and and look at there the neuroscience and so there was a peg to something to something bigger so so those are very important things with the overview usually for serious works of nonfiction commercial I like my overviews to be anywhere from 10 to 20 double-spaced pages then you go to the author bio author bio it seems obvious of course but you you know you're presenting yourself to these people and you know you just want to be don't you don't need to talk about how you love to bicycle and your big bird-watching fanatic unless it's relevant to the book certainly credits are essential and the sense you know that that's so editors that's one of the first things they look at is bio is the author vital I actually think sometimes if you don't have a huge body if you're like you know a graduate of Columbia University and you know you happen to be a fine writer tackling a really important topic I don't think it you know sometimes less is more if you don't have a lot of things but to talk about like I was on them you know I was the editor at the time and I was then I was at the Atlantic and I you know if you don't have that sometimes don't try to pad it they can snip that out and it can also look amateur marketing plan very very important because and also something I meant to say – about overviews one of the things I like to do and I like to see an overview as a way to reel in editors is to have bullet points so sometimes you might maybe you start with the story then you step back to talk about what your book is then maybe you pick out five or eight really compelling ideas or revelations or issues that your book is exploring and sometimes that's just a nice kind of teaser to again situate the editors mind you know this is what I'm reading oh oh and wow I'm gonna learn you know about this these are like little coming attractions that will grab them the marketing plan is is very important because and again that's a I'm actually gonna hand out something this is a little different this is a part of the proposal and you know you can take these there's just a one page thing this is the market for the book section and this is where you you list the competitive comparative titles that your book would share the same space with and that's something that editors a big houses look at very closely because that's how they conceptualize your project so if your project if you're you know if you're using freakanomics or you know why or something like that they know how to have a think about it and read it now of course if one has to be very careful because certain that certain titles are used you know Tuesdays with Maurey is used you know left and right while this one though that's actually still pretty effective but you have to be careful because everyone you know claims to have the next freakonomics with an accident boys in the boat but that's the idea the marketing planner or what can be called promotion is a very important part because that's really where you describe how you're going to get the word out and that can really be everything from I've you know I've written for these magazines and I'm good contacts at these you know at the Atlantic at salon it's late I can call upon them or I know these producers at the Today Show and they've asked me to come or of course you know I lecture all over the place on this topic I and and the more you can it never say things like I'm gonna I'm going to build a website when this book comes out and publish it or because again I've seen that it's like you know my 13 year old Simon has a website do you know it's like that that's not going to get you over the hump what's gonna is is this idea that you can really call on people and that you've been published and again not everyone has all those credits but you know another thing can be if you if you are connected with people who are popular on Twitter or Instagram have big followings if you are someone who works for certain organizations where they might buy back books or have who speaks to get the word out so those are all ways of describing and then in Canada it's a very important piece of real estate to the proposal something else to think about as you're thinking about the bio and the the author bio for some proposals I've had people the author was maybe not well known that I've had him collect quotes about him so from established authors and I find that to be very effective that can kind of give you it's like a it's a calling card and said it's an introduction that can really help if it's a relatively unknown person to have a good blurb from you know a published author and that can sometimes definitely sell books and make a difference so that's sometimes um it's interesting sometimes authors have these these like gifts in their pocket they don't realize well you know if you're friends with so-and-so has had a best-seller and there are friends and they support your writing you know by all means have them give you a blurb about either the proposal or about you as a writer and and so that's a very that's that kind of endorsement can go a long way to set up the proposal um chapter break down a very important I'm a big believer in Thoreau chapter breakdowns I like them to be yeah two to four five pages you I feel that the the with chapter breakdowns the the they should read like a mini sample chapter they should they should have a voice it shouldn't just be this chapter is going to talk about this battle it's then going to look at these generals then it's going to look at you know it's you ease into it make it make it read like a two to four or five page might girl chapter where again because because editors want to see how this book the proposing will evolve how what will the narrative art opinion so I think it's very important with to me in my opinion a well done a well executed a sample of chapter breakdown is as effective as a sample chat you know and I often just go out with a good chapter breakdown rather than a sample chapter because remember if your sample chapter is not as strong then you can be shooting yourself in the foot you may think oh I'm showing them all this material and publishers may ask for that if they're interested but if it's not strong you know then there's like okay well here's the actual chapter and we don't like it another quick thing that I realized I overlooked with the compare with the comparative title section usually only do that at home but but the the the comparative titles see not only you not only want to you really want to make sure that the titles are books that are in the same genre not you know are close to what you're doing but obviously aren't you know they don't cover the same territory and also if you're if you're aiming for a commercial readership don't put like self-published titles as comparative titles unless they were huge blockbusters try to avoid academic titles because again it will just give the impression so you're really only as good as the company you keep and and you'd be you know I'm always a surprise editors will say we'll be talking about a proposal that I've sent them and they'll say you know good good comput idle list yeah those are the right ones you know and so they really do take that very seriously so I you know we can circle back to some of these issues in the question period but but let's see I'm gonna go over a few books now that have done these were the bestsellers of mine this year and I think giving you know very brief descriptions descriptions of them will give a sense of of the business and how things can work um unbroken brain is a a great book she's actually upon the alum and it's a book it's a memoir slash kind of radical new way of understanding addiction and she had has a very harrowing personal story of having been an addict and almost who haven't gone to prison for selling and it's her story though it's a she uses that story to tell a much larger story of the science behind addiction because she's a science journalist and how addiction can best be understood as a learning disorder and if we can start looking at it that way we can open up you know when she brings in a lot of neuroscience and ways of understanding the brain but but to offer this radical theory but at the root is this very powerful memoir um and and that you know that is a book that will sell over time because it'll sell to medical professionals to key recovery readers of the country books but is there's also a very powerful memoir that allowed her to place pieces based on the book in scientific America in the New York Times Sunday magazine which often likes to have personal stories that you know a personal stories that have a deeper purpose the Oh Florida is a book that is you know just kind of came actually with an idea I had I was asking myself why is Florida such a messed up state why is it that whenever there's you know the stories of the guy getting arrested for you know being naked holding up a police station it's Florida you know having you know intercourse with the Care Bear at a Walmart it's it's Florida and so that was something where I found that the writer was some a Florida writer who had written a lot and it was now actually Dave berry has a book out of it that's on the list and they've done some events together that's Dave Barry's you know love letter this crazy state this love that boy is a book also that I think it's relevant here and that's done very well because it's a it's a memoir it's if they grew out of a National Journal piece that Ron Fournier who's a big political journalist a frequent guest on Meet the Press and political shows he did a story about his relationship with his son who has Asperger's and how he didn't understand it and how he and you know obsessed with covering the the presidents and how he you know he had always wanted a son even played baseball with and you know have this kind of all-american idea of what his son should be and it's really a very honest and brutally honest and heartbreaking you know account of how he kind of comes to realize like what kind of data you know doing this and what's interesting about this book and why it had the you know we credible possibilities to but also some perils in terms of marketing is that it's a memoir we didn't want this to be a pitched as a autism memoir because there'd been so many so he and I worked together to use this story to take a larger investigative look at the nature of parental expectations so we gave the personal story a bigger context and even so though so what happened you know it what's interesting is that he was able to get a lot of press because he knew a lot of these people in that hope to get the book onto the list but it also was so you know but we had to kind of navigate this line between you know is this a book for reparent is it a book for reader you know people who are usually have special needs children is it a book you know just for fans of wrong or you know so that's another thing that you have it's you know too intricate to go into here but as you write the proposal you really think who is the audience and sometimes if you put too many audiences in you can really damage the quote-unquote brand you know because you just uh you know you get one or two you have to focus on that and the war on cops was just very topical and obviously who taught her journalism for City Journal about you know what she calls the Ferguson effect and so that was where the publisher brought together a bunch of articles and and made it into a narrative so that was that okay so the the no platform the non platform author and you know now we're heading towards the the end how can is it doom and gloom I don't believe so sometimes I think it is but I really know I know it isn't it really isn't and it isn't because it's there are just too many books that are you know there's too much great writing out there and there's people that that publishers will see the virtue of nonfiction that doesn't necessarily have a big platform author I mean I one of my favorite stories is a very good friend of mine and one of my favorite books is the courtier and the heretic by Matthew Stewart who had a PhD from Oxford they've gone to Princeton and got his PhD from Oxford was actually a management consultant but God you know dispirited and disgusted by the industry but was also a gorgeous writer a brilliant supple thinker and did this book about the rivalry between liveing it's and Spinoza and you'd think what a weird you know these two men no well that's hardly commercial or but there was something where we could say this will be for readers of Dickens shines poker it's a look at these two towering figures who have never really been talked about in a kind of commercial trade of leadership way and there's a great way of looking at these two distinctive men with they're just incredibly idiosyncratic personalities and also look at the impact they had on on modern philosophy so that you know I believe with nonfiction it really is the ways to set things up that it doesn't have to be you know for for a new platform author again you know getting blurbs from well-placed individuals to you know obviously saying good writing unique counterintuitive idea usually it's easier to do narrative nonfiction if you're not you know the big platform I did a book that worked very well for me years ago called the last dive which was about a diver who ran a very obscure diving magazine wrote a story about what this book about a father and son who he knew in Jersey who died on a dive to a German u-boat off the coast of New Jersey and he used this story to really take a large to look at the world of extreme diving but he was not you know he was not at Men's Journal he was not he was just he he created was the timing was right because that was the time when he into thin air and the perfect storm and all those kind of action adventures were big so it worked and so I really do believe it absolutely works I think one thing I do tell people is the more they can try to own a topic you know whether if they're writing a book about you know they're doing something about some scientific phenomenon or you know string theory or something try to get some pieces published writers publish and slate you know salon some places that have a certain cachet Atlantic online you know Huffington Post I guess you know it's a last resort but but it can counts it counts they get of viewers and you know that can at least just give it's like those little things that can can push you over sometimes you know so so III think it's it's actually a great I even as technocratic as things are publishers are you know with the right with the right push from from an agent kind of orchestrating things with the right writing with the right timing but it can work it really can but again it's you know it's once you start going down a proposal for a topic you really want to do you know part of the onus is on the author to to network to be publishing our beds to be kind of owning that space whether it's a space about extreme sports whether it's about some you know you you can't just sort of you can but it's not gonna help you be successful to just write this good proposal maybe you'll sell it and then just think that the publisher will do everything for you does every person have a story no but but it's good no I mean I think you know sometimes sometimes I will say this some there's certain things that may work better in fiction there are certain times I actually one of the things you know I've seen done and I've done that you may be in a situation where you're a fantastic writer you may not have the platform that's sufficient for a particular subject matter team up with somebody who may have it like a Doctor Who or surgeon who you know maybe you're doing something about a medical medical phenomena you're a great writer but you know who's gonna buy your thing will be the why not you know some they're different little things you can do to to you know find that person maybe you've been talking to a research or something so maybe you team up and it's worth it to split it because you're gonna have a better shot if it's like an ambitious issue topic book premise I sometimes have said to people you know you want it I'd say spend the next six months maybe year publishing on this topic you know you could go out with something now but units I'd rather see you get placed some pieces so that when we go out with it I can say you know based on these articles in Slate or based on these articles in New York magazine or whatever and and then I think that is it for now and I think I'll open up the floor because I think that gives us Doosan toe do's and dont's do's and don'ts query letters are really important and I'll give you a couple of examples of things don't not to do so don't open up a query letter by saying I'm not sure how to go about doing this but I recently had an experience with God and a different reality that I'm trying to write a book about don't that's not gonna help things don't say my name is stone so I'm trying to be a great a writer I've done a few short stories in a few longer stories how do I become a great writer I just I'm a bit self-conscious when it comes to getting any kind of recognition I freeze and become anxious gonna help and then don't and certainly don't say you know I was hallucinating when I came up with the idea of this story they may be that but um so one page query letters some people I'm not a person who likes cute jokey things I like people to get in get out give a sense of the market they show a professionalism that they know who they're writing for they know the they know the kind of titles author publisher meetings um very very important you know again just professionalism being on message usually the agents go with you for that and they you know kind of are there a good agent should prompt you and help steer the conversation in the right ways and but but let's turn it over to questions because I think that's you know that's just the introduction and hopefully we can go further into some of these issues or ideas or anything lay it on me okay thank you we've had several of fiction agents come here and tell us a little bit about how much editorial work is often required before an agent will even start shopping it around to a publisher um how would you compare nonfiction that way is it typical for an agent to request a lot of revisions a lot of changes and to be very involved in the topic matter it's not very much so it's it's sometimes you have to proceed gently and proceed internally sometimes because there's some people you know it's sometimes it's a real negotiation because somebody has a setlist you have an author who maybe has a very set idea about the work they want to write and they don't want to adjust it too much they you know I do a great deal of editing you know on the line level on the conceptual level there are there is a point in time where you have to let it go and you know but but there's there's sometimes you know you you it's an interesting dynamic because you have an idea and you the agent have an idea of what's really commercial what's working and the author may be wedded to something that you know is problematic but you want to you don't want to force them to you know not do to follow their dream and do that and so you you know it's a very it can be tricky but yes I mean most authors and many of books you know the good editing and intensive editing the difference between can make the difference between fifty thousand a hundred thousand you know much more so so definitely I mean it's fiction is of course fiction is tough in a way because you can edit a 300 page manuscript and go through that and realign it it takes you know that kind of one it takes a lot of effort but it doesn't sell and so you you know it's it's a that that's a different kind of editorial thing and also I might add a proposal writing is a very different animal their writers who I have were brilliant really gifted writers and they do not understand the proposal format or logic because you know proposals are all about getting in and getting out talking about the book sort of telling not not showing and that's a different unit what real writer knows how to show you know and and build up character and do all this stuff rather than say the books going to do this you know and so so it's often seen that as well we're really fine poetic writers don't have a hard time condensing their vision into a proposal but yes there's usually a 80% of proposals require a fair amount of intensive editing and also how to market how to you know how are you talking about the book and you know that's not always what the writers think a series of hair related questions so first would be can you suggest avenues for workshopping ideas before a full proposal proposals is not really practical yeah I think I mean part of that is talking about that with the age and you know and agents were absolutely agents are there to brainstorm and to work with you I mean I have people that I've been I've had people that I've represented for say seven years before we hit on the right idea you know they were working they were doing stuff they had certain ideas and I said no as a you know trust me stay with me because this is not the right idea for you when it was the right idea you know it and so absolutely and I really do you know a good agent should and and the relationship should be open that they can shoot you down and no one's feelings are hurt I would say you know there is a time again it's like I mean it's a it's a balancing act because there's a time when spitballing is crucial and then there's a time where if it's like every day you're just telling we're running something then an agent can get kind of burnt out it's like well what do you want to do what is your mission what is if you're you know you can't just pull things out of a hat you know are you do you have a topic a subject that you own sorry uncle I don't know your mother for a first-time writer in terms of the practicalities of getting an advance let's say if a book project would build on an existing work but require further research record ad you know topics that you've covered as a journalist to do it a chapter length you know you really got to go back to the scene and do it a little bit depth than you did when you parachuted in for some story two years ago right so how much of the research do you think would really have to be done and I said research though the in-person reporting aspect well that's for that Mosel it's very hard to send me I think you certainly you may want to take cut and paste and meld and integrate synthesize the material you've done at you know that was covering that story in the first place no one can expect you to go halfway across the world to do this just on on a spec proposal I tell people I'd sometimes say you know why not try to workshop this get some articles make a little money at least you know and see if if this idea has legs if it can evolve into something you know that's sometimes a way that's a nice compromise you like if there's I can see this as an article all right I can see this as a book or no this is ultimately a really good article but it's not a 300 page book and that's always something especially with journalists I think it's always it's like you have a great story but it may not be a broken and or that's where an agent can come in and say oh here's the bigger context here's how to make this big the same question but it's about the sample materials so I've had agents I'm not working with anyone and the conversation after agents say 40 pages 70 pages I've had some people ask for the full manuscript I would prefer to put a lot less in there or just to know that it's the best of what I've written do you have any guidelines relevant I think you know proposals can kind of come in all shapes and forms and I would rather I would always rather have 40 really high quality pages than 70 you know less can be more and rather than 70 where it search dragging on I'd say for a serious nonfiction you know 50 double-spaced pages is a good good length you know it's a substantive it shows you're serious but I don't I don't see the and like I say I've sold many things on with just a chapter breakdown not the sample chapter so I think you you know it again though it depends on the topic I mean if you're doing a topic that is so big and you know intricate and requires it's going to be tough to sell it on 30 pages like there you know there's so many loose ends but most of them buy 50 pages and you don't need to shouldn't need to do the whole thing my platform now talk more about some of things you're saying people well certainly good question I think certainly people navigating social media well you know Twitter obviously is an obvious one but that can if you are assiduous and collecting linking to people and getting them to connect to you and you do that I mean Twitter is an art form in itself include they're good tweeters and bad tweeters and they're ones the people that I learned of just because their tweets were so funny and they but they were also may be connected with journalists that you know I respect it so that's like one that's one simple way of social media it depends on the kind of book you're doing I mean if you were doing a book that was like a pop culture thing you may want to do you know if you're doing Instagram and you're doing you know I've done books based on Instagram accounts or YouTube accounts one coming up from bro science which is a bit YouTube account where it's based around meathead and Jersey Shore character name it's like a comic character but it gets over a million followers so those that's but that's pop culture you know that's not Timothy Snyder is not going to do a YouTube or Instagram but in terms of other ways I think certainly there's no no substitute you know for just publishing and well-established reputable places certainly you know networking giving speeches on the topic connecting up with organizations and others to give speeches that you know might be part of that that that in the area of what you're talking about those are some of the things and also fellow travelers you know fellow writers who are who are who are in this area to to kind of start getting into their orbit and seeing you know a lot a lot can happen at parties and stuff in podcast podcast forgive me podcast is the other big big big thing you know but some of this keep in mind some of this can take a little while to to really evolve and develop a following you know the the bro science guys I think it took him six years to get over a million others not so much but it you know podcast to that podcasts are great again again inviting on very well positioned people can you know there little way to do that advice distributions for that might be of interest for yeah no no I've certainly worked with a lot of academics and you know continued to it's a big part of what I do and dissertations are it's not uncommon for dissertations to be turned into trade oriented books I mean obviously you'll want to go back and adjust the narrative you know the voice the narrative voice made structure differently obviously take out a lot of you know yeah the the academia but know that I mean my my author David Callahan I know his he did a dissertation on Paul Nitsa and the Cold War and that became a book with HarperCollins so that is that's definitely a route and especially if you have an adviser or someone really you know who's got who's got prestige and its respective who can blurb and you know that can help the process along and also keep in mind that that more and more university presses and not only are they paying decent money but they're also publishing and in very robust commercial ways some of them like Princeton it publishes very well for commercial readers yeah I think both I mean I think it depends because I think if it's something that you can work on and potentially even enhance it you know bring in new angles or whatever it is absolutely I think you know I mean either way you should get it published and not with just a monograph prep you know publisher I mean if it's that commercial it has that potential you should definitely yeah I think that's that that's like the million dollar question you know because it's it's hard to say you know it's I think to the degree if you have a memoir if you're doing a memoir that sane and then let me also say that you know it's not uncommon for a lot of memoirs to be pretty much fiction I mean look at where we're just seeing the JT Leroy story which is you know this documentary and Todd knows you know Frank of James for a million little pieces which which begs the question can you still read a million little pieces knowing that it's completely false and it was that still interesting but that's a that's an interesting question because you know the first thought that comes to mind is that if you were doing a story a memoir that was very small and quiet and maybe it wasn't you know there wasn't it didn't say take place in a war zone or involve you know some exceptional circumstances or horrific addiction or or for that matter it didn't entail a deeper like another conversation whether it was about a historical moment or about a scientific phenomena or health phenomena or something like that then there's a part of me that says well maybe this is better served as fiction because if why make it memoir and if it's going to be small and quiet and maybe it works better as like a novel that's introspective and quiet and beautifully wrought you know rather that it's really hard to say and yeah you know it's like sometimes some things are stranger than fiction and they you know and truth is stranger than fiction so you know it should be a memoir but I I think to me of the bottom line is that I think one of the tests is that is the memoir just a very insular diarist ik account of one person's story or can it speak to a much larger audience does it lay out you know a way of talking about an issue or does the person become like you know I mean in a way like like Elizabeth Wurtzel you know that that her book was you know huge and it was about her at Harvard and talked about anxiety and all this stuff and it became a kind of rallying you know a book that rally you know women and people who were dealing with a bunch of issues and so in that way if there's the bigger context that there's a kind of a book conserve as a you know almost rallying point to talk about issues I then I feel like oh there's a memoir you know I had I had a memoir that came out earlier this year called the gilded razor by journalism Sam Lansky that was kind of like Gossip Girls Meets The Basketball Diaries and it was all about going to a very this you know going to a very Tony prep school in New York by day and then at night you know do you want drugs and going to clubs and until as you know keen bottomed out and reached rock bottom and ended up in an insane asylum and so it had like what it had going for it was beautiful writing but also what kind of like you could see the pitch like Gossip Girls meets you know high high society New York prep school Society meets the grittiness of like about about Diaries so so that that's what I would say but if there's no easy the the other bottom line the second bottom line is that there's no easy answer its summits you'll know it when you see it right I for articles usually as you know agents aren't as involved as they used to be in place in articles so you know because there's not as many places they don't pay as well The New Yorker Vanity Fair Esquire you can still pitch but usually pitches are about a page a couple of pages it's not this intricate yeah yeah you know but it would be I ain't I think you know going to the New Republic would be disruptive or pitching they would just say why is the agent getting involved and usually most authors yeah yes marketing plan you go with titles that are well known it beats you or if you dig sales data is very important it's hard because you know I have access to like books can and there's a there's a service you can pay a few hundred I think it's it's you know it's been like a thousand but there's like a book scan light that you can pay I think through Amazon that you can pay like seven hundred dollars to get that but I wouldn't recommend that if you just for this usually you'll know you know you'll have some idea that the book is done well obviously anything that hits the list you know though ironically there are a lot of books that hit the list that don't sell as well as books thing don't get the list it's you just hits the list because it's a certain velocity of sales at a certain period mo Amazon I mean if you see it and again Amazon's all about the the pace of sales so you could be two thousand if you're if you're like two thousand or below 2,000 or below for a long time you're you know you're selling good copies but Amazon is one way to do it but you just you just maybe have to do a little digging it's hard publishers when it's harder just call someone off the street and say okay keep telling the salesman I'm curious just well I you know it's it's hard to say because I don't know some of that is proprietary but then I'd be you know giving my secrets but no I've been seen I there's been everything from a great parody a thing that I saw that was very smart to I knew just a recent client that we signed up the skeptics guide to the universe which is a big podcast and website that you know takes apart phenomena natural and spiritual from the skeptics point of view I have a you know let's see I've got said well the hardcore history is something that I'm very excited about and that's gonna be you know they're they're a huge podcast so ya know I've been I mean I'm I'm very excited you know there's a lot it's a very good time the business is in a decent state about five years ago or so it was definitely in there was a lot of uncertainty obviously the financial crash but also people didn't know where ebooks would be going and whether the whole ebooks would cannibalize the whole industry and I I feel and I think others feel as well that ebooks have kind of plateaued at about 25% of the books that are sold and they it's actually helped it's that kind of help stabilize the industry advances are good and they're you know that the pretty thriving in a weird way and you know the Amazon and its conflicts with the publisher has got worked out because there was a lot of back-and-forth and litigation about antitrust and setting the price for the ebooks where you know they could have been very cheap and that would would have been how would you have gotten advances if ebooks for four dollars or something and so now it's there's a kind of sanity has has is raining so far and independent bookstores are coming back and there and print sales are very solid I mean I'm actually I'm just so pleased and pleasantly surprised because when you think the lack of review coverage be the fact that many review sections have closed down you know you have the New York Times Wall Street Journal you don't have many more you know you know division of the only times anymore you know Washington Post so it's it's it's not a bad time but I guess social media has filled in the gap in getting the word out in so yeah well because South Asian mercenary is about I most think should be made about me no I think that well I think they have to because I still think all that said there's no question that I think publishers we all saw what self-publishing could be and sure for every fifty shades of gray there's many many other things that really aren't worth the paper they're printed on so there's do you still need gatekeepers you still need the agent to work with you to make something good because you know agents that's what they're there for they're there to work with you but they're to troubleshoot they're there to weather get you you know set you up the podcast or a lecture agency they're there to on you you know look at the the press release that was written by a 22 year old who has no idea and and correct it they're there to you know they're there to edit the book what even once it's been signed and to look at it and then say you're going in the right direction you're not I mean it really adds up but in it of course the most important part is doing the deal and knowing in and knowing the people to send to and knowing how to shape the proposal to make it as marketable so I you know I yes there for certain odd and for certain audiences it may make sense but still most people right understand yeah I mean there's always that you never nobody really ever knows what's you know I was surprised Amy Schumer about nine million dollars I you know I don't know how they'll make that back i but usually when they pay more money they're they're gonna put more resources into it and so and and so in terms of things that are surprising that you know I was I was interested that there's certain you know I'm always amazed that the us list I think it's far more substantive for nonfiction than the UK list and that's one thing I've always found really compelling is that in the u.s. really really smart books by major thinkers academics can get hit the listen like in the UK it's mostly misery memoirs it's a reality show tells it's things like that and or maybe you know Malcolm Gladwell but but you know the American market there's still a real good market for smart serious nonfiction so yeah I you know I'm very pleasantly surprised and I think it's you know I was ly enough to deal was I surprised by like boys in a boat or wild you know at first but then you kind of see why like they touch a nerve while touched a certain nerve you know so yeah that's basically it you can't argue with it you know my advances any advance well I mean your first time authors can get very good advances if we remember you have no sales track so you've nothing to hold your back so you know so you're golden you're you know virgin and then everything falls apart once the sales but no that's all many in fact many of you know the huge deals are first-time authors you know of Seabiscuit the Laura Hildebrand I mean that was the first time she was a lot of these these big books are first-time a lot of them memoirs yeah so no it's it's definitely it's there and you know advances are kind of they're there you get a signing advance then you get like a DNA payment to deliver an acceptance then maybe you'll get the hardcover publication payment and then the paperback one twelve months later so they're cut up always keep in mind that you know can sometimes sound like oh this is six figures I got you know a hundred thousand but it's like a hundred thousand over two years but if that was a problem you wouldn't be in this industry yeah that's why we do that what we do it you know it does I have had that where they've completed the book but I I think everyone prefers the for nonfiction the proposal because also if the editors have a certain vision of it they may want it to go in a different direction and then you've already written 300 pages so I think it's it's better to you know it just makes a lot of sense to you know I sometimes I I just had a memoir that I had the person cut it down from 350 pages to 70 because it's for a proposal because it was too sprawling of a memoir and it was going to be a tough sell so we had to work and that was actually a situation where this was a brilliant brilliant writer but very difficult to write about yourself and to kind of compress everything into this very functional document this is the sales document do you ever come across situations where the inside here is certain what their one thing is so different to the brightest idea that's a good question I mean it really is there are times where you know sadly you just have to say I just don't see it I'm not getting it and but you have my blessing to go elsewhere to somebody who does get who does understand it and I think that's something you have to do you know as an agent cuz it's not fair if you don't have the enthusiasm for something and somebody really believes in it and then you're not really selling it effectively because you know cool to the topic and but it's again it's one of those things you it's like you have to get them hopefully you can convince them they're the direction they're going down it just doesn't make sense for career purposes or this isn't going to build off maybe the last book or you know it's gonna it's not a good career move it really depends but it's it's tricky it's definitely tricky and and I think people have to be willing to say you have my blessing you know I understand I just can I don't see it in terms of like the technical aspects like if you end up delivering on something you mean once you've sold it yeah well then they can just reject it I tell you to do what they paid you for but most proposals I mean the books evolved in certain ways as long as you didn't sell them a book about World War two and they write a gardening book you know they they usually and you would be working with an editor who would guide you so it's it's it's sort of where what's more likely is that it potentially they you could go back for revisions they don't like it and they send you back and back and back and maybe eventually they just they realize this is not we can't accept this but I tend to think that's you usually that doesn't happen so it's the payment of the advance they accepted the completed manuscript before copy-editing and at you often after legal meet so sometimes they have to get it especially gone thinking you know they can't accept it yes it's hard to say I mean it's it certainly helps with the proposal but they always change usually or they change a lot so it does you don't have to but if there's no question it can definitely help there's you know I I work very hard on that no no oh no are you saying for the editor oh no no yeah yeah yeah that's um you know hopefully somebody has enough imagination to see beyond the title and see what there's not something else but yeah yeah yes well right well I mean there's definitely there's no question that there's you know the Twitter and Instagram hooks that are based on that are still going strong you know from my dad said to the betches to a lot of those white girl problems which was a did very well there's definitely that kind of satires is definitely very big you're seeing a lot of you know I think you're you're seeing a lot of still seeing good narrative historical narrative nonfiction World War two is obviously always big their memoir is then you know usually female memoirs more more than male are still very you know very big and but but I think certainly there's no question that things dealing with neuroscience and behavioral economics and applied to different areas of inquiry are always have a very good shot name you'll see you see a lot of that stuff you definitely see a lot of that you see some retro I've been seen a fair amount of retro 80s kind of retro fiction you know people calling upon that there's this big novel coming up but but it's a good question there's no question that that keywords which is the imprint of Simon & Schuster which does all their social media like Tyler Oakley you know a lot of the YouTube and Twitter stars that is a lot of these guys with these kind of – it existences as youtubers or Instagram people I just had an Instagram book published about two pigs there's these two things while Christie and poverty and it's a site that Reese Witherspoon really likes because the woman dresses out the pigs as humans and they take her she takes them together manicures and takes them they sleep with her and they're like they're they're fun pigs well we made it into a children's book so you don't you don't like that no no no I mean uh no no no that's just one it's a way that you can be inventive with that format in the same way that like my dad said was a kind of inventive way to take these tweets and make it into you know I guess I'd say I guess bro-bro stuff is still alive and kicking not as much as it was a few years ago there's still a market there you know total frat moves books like that Tucker max but I don't think anyone you don't have to do it to get an H I mean if you have good credit good you know magazines and papers you've written for me that's that's not a make a break though I do think once the book is published or it's going to be published you want to start setting that up setting up Twitter feed setting up even a Facebook account you know definitely I think that's a strategic thing but no oh yeah yeah I mean good agents yeah absolutely a good story good writing an important topic and if somebody who's clearly an expert on that topic that that's still very very important kind of talked about the deadline Alicia audio I mean we publish our agency well used it really depends on the book it can be anywhere from nine you know they they nine to twelve months usually that they twelve months like they've all gone deliver but it could be two years it really depends on the book I oftentimes if you're late they'll get most of the times they'll give you extra time I've had books that have been five six years late you know but they they believe in it and they do it it depends on the topic if it's very current they will cancel if it's a book about the election but usually depending nine usually like twelve anywhere twelve eighteen they have a right I mean I try to put in my contracts that changes in market condition will not affect whether they accept the book and a lot of times they'll put that in I can get that in but it once in a while people will push back but they can always say we don't think this is good enough we you know we reject it on the it's not satisfactory informal content on thing you have to pay back does anybody have any questions by phone remember to take yourself off me yes related to folks that I my friend Daniel Brook Road industry of future cities or the studies book that was my commercial classical years back and I know he did at least one writer at residents UNLV in the custom kind of Library of Congress or research fellowship are you seeing those kinds of supplementary methods of sustaining well served sure book that people run a superclass necessary it's not necessary but if you need it there's often people will apply for grants and having a book contract will help them in in getting a grant yeah absolutely you know and they can suggest and sometimes right already because you know one chapter was the same title of an essay he didn't plus one another chat right was one SAT two trees right is clearly he's played driving himself to an extent and I don't pay any to decide my second pair so I'm sure some words change but as somebody who also has a body journalism is that it's common this community I mean there's I feel like I'm just calling mom I mean that's what your books are you owe a lot of these books are based on are synthesizing people's articles the research you know expanding upon an art in one chapter might be an article to expand upon it so that's not don't be gun-shy that's your work and renounce what people came to you for in the first place yeah you know and you know essay collections are always very problematic or very challenging it's not an easy sell but that's why people find ways like with that book the war on cops to make it a more seamless narrative they need like what they were basically like six or seven big long essays but they were the way it was you know we worked kind of transitions and all that I have a question about in special and question my book is back there and even quotes you're in the pie I think that that would be a bit out of my mind does that interest you as us publishers or is it much New Zealand Australia is small I mean it doesn't it all depends you know we need it that would be the kind of thing sure they want to keep those rights but it really depends I mean yeah well usually you can you sell either you sell the publisher all the rights or you sell them just translation and you keep when you sell them North America or you sell them in North America and world English which is just like New Zealand UK and America but it really depends yeah but that can be a depending on how well-known you are in this museum yeah thank thank you and we really appreciate it I think we all live

2 thoughts on “The Art of the Non-Fiction Book Proposal: An Evening with Literary Agent Andrew Stuart

  1. this guy talked the talk for the whole video. Obviously knows something. Yet One comment on this video. wtf…..

  2. Thank you for posting this. I have manuscript completed first one (working on 2nd one) but watching various videos and reading up on what literary agents go for and the publishing field. I will be sending out submissions soon and see what happens. I enjoyed this very much and Andrew Stuart helped and confirmed what I needed to do. Thanks again.

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