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Part 4 l The Impossible Road to Publishing

Wrong. What lie ahead was more trouble than writing the book in the first place. I looked up the criteria for agent submissions. Query letter and Proposal. A query letter. Just a letter highlighting your book and credentials. Right? Not quite. It is anything but “just,” as it must be concise and amusing and attention grabbing, all in the first sentence. I swear I wrote that letter twenty times before I thought it would catch the eye of an agent. You get a minute, probably more like 30 seconds, so your words better make an impression.

Now for the proposal. What is it anyway? For non-fiction books, it is the reason your book is saleable and marketable. It requires all of the following:

  • One sentence summary.

  • Brief overview.

  • Biography.

  • Who is your audience, what can you offer to them, and how will you reach them?

  • Platform. This is where you brag about everything you can do to market your book. Have you made speeches, how many contacts do you have, do you have radio or TV experience, a regular blog that gets impressive hits?

  • Competition. What other books are out there that compare to yours, and why is yours different and better.

  • Word count, and completion date of your manuscript.

  • About the book: chapter outline, including chapter titles and a few sentences, plus one or two perfectly polished chapters.

This took at least two months of serious writing that began with a list of what to do and then a breakdown on how to do it.

Armed with what I needed to attract an agent, I made up an Excel sheet with agents who accepted memoir. This meant going through Writer’s Market page by page, circling names, adding details for each agent, and then to the agency site to note specifics for every agent.

It seemed every agent had her own idea about how to receive a query letter, whether you could add a proposal, how many words they would like to read, and a dozen other niggling criteria to make you want to pull out your hair. Some agents were freelance, and named in several different agencies. And then there may be a half-dozen agents at one agency who accept memoir, but you may send only to one, so it’s pretty much a photo/name thing. Whose picture looks like someone you can work with. You needed to also consider by what means you could send the letter. Some agents only accepted snail mail, others email, and others a form to fill in. Some would not accept attachments, others only doc or docx. Mailings also had to be timed, as some agents accepted only during winter months, some an even tighter time period. More hair pulling.

This is what I noted on my spread sheet: Out of 100 agents to whom I sent a query letter, 50% ignored my query, 40% sent a form letter of rejection, 9% respond that they liked my book but must pass, (one agent asked me to rewrite the book following Law And Order criteria,) and 1% asked for a proposal. That’s ten agents out of 100. From those ten agents, five never responded to the proposal, and four passed after reading the proposal. The story happened too long ago, one said. Another wrote that memoirs are just too hard to sell. And then one blessed agent said right away he wanted my book. HALLELUJAH!

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