My mixed race obsession
I've spent the major part of the last six months trying, unsuccesfully to date, to flog my proposed book on the British mixed race experience. It's been my first attempt to get a non-fiction book (or, indeed, any book) published. I warn anybody contemplating pitching a non-fiction book that their their existence from now on will be obsessively focussed on the seemingly impossible - to catch the eye of an agent. I've read that you need to be rejected by at least 15 of these before beginning to accept it's not going to happen for you. So far, I won an agent within two hours of just one email pitch who then, six months later, told me she could not find a publisher for it. I rewrote the pitch and sent this second attempt out last week to two more agents. Now the waiting begins - apparently they take up to eight weeks to get back to the hapless would-be author.
Maybe I've not got the tone right, or my layout is poor, or I don't seem 'expert' enough, or whatever... But I just can't believe my proposal hasn't been snapped up and subjected to (ha!) a ferocious bidding war, because the subject-matter is so timely. Daily, we read gushing stories about Lewis Hamilton's winning streak, with never a word said about how his mixed-ness shaped his ambition and drive. Because if you spend your whole life never quite fitting comfortably and instinctively into black or white, you're left, very often, with a raging desire to prove yourself to be the best. That's what my book is about, how mixed people each individually find their own identity, but I need an agent before I can even start describing their experiences.
How to get your work in front of agents
Freelance UK has asked me to outline how to get your book in front of agents. This is what I have gleaned:
First, write your three sample chapters. As well as these you will need a 10 - 20 page outline explaining:
- What the book is about and why what you have to say is important.
- Why you decided to write the book and what's special about you as the author.
- Why the book needs to be written and published now.
- Who your audience is and why your book will stand out.
- Anything else about yourself or your project that makes you stand out.
- Research into similar works that have already been published.
- A complete chapter break-down.
- A biographical note on your background, training and experience.
- You must also include a covering letter to summarise who you are and what the book is about.
In terms of presentation, send unbound A4 pages in 12-point Times New Roman font, double- or 1.5-line-spaced and printed on one side of the paper only with wide margins. Pages should be numbered. Print your name and contact number/email address on the cover of your manuscript.
Then wait. Agents can take up to three months to give you a yea or nay. So don't send out to only one agent at a time. Send out your proposal in batches of, say, three at a time. Conventional wisdom dictates that if you get to be rejected by 15 agents, you need to take a long and hard look at your proposal and, if necessary, re-write from scratch.
Don't bother sending your work of genius to publishers because they rely on agents to sift the wheat from the chaff on their behalf. I get agent contact details from Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.
My non-fiction book proposal has been rejected by seven agents to date.
Don't expect feedback on why you've been rejected because they won't give you any.
Finally, I would say that getting published is a rough and uphill struggle.
You need to be either passionate about your project or just plain mad to want to even try and I hope you have better luck than I've had to date!
1st July 2008