01 November 2011

Writing a book

Posted in Talking about . . .

Well, it’s harder than it seems . . .

While I was still in Amsterdam, I got in touch with a literary critique group to see if I could join while I’m here. I met with the head honcho of the group who said that it was a strictly fiction-writing group, but that, after talking to me for a while, decided that he would make a case for my joining. The next day, he sent me a short story he’d written and asked me to critique it so he could see what I could do. Eek! I don’t know anything about literary criticism – I only know what I like . . . Anyway, he’d given me a number of specific questions to answer which made it easier, so I wrote some stuff about the characters and the plot and the continuity and the dialogue. He wrote back and said that it was all very constructive and that he’d take it to the group. But, when they met, the group voted NOT to have me there because I’m not writing fiction. However, he’s keen to do some reciprocal critiquing once I have something written for him to look at.

It turns out that it’s really difficult to find other non-fiction writers who want to join forces and critique each other’s stuff. I got in touch with a number of writing groups and courses through the English Bookshop in Amsterdam and none of them are for non-fiction writers.

Then I found a website called The Crafty Writer, which is edited by Fiona Veitch Smith. She’s a journalist and lecturer (currently completing her PhD) and has specialized in non-fiction writing. She has an 8-session non-fiction writing course on the website, which I have done (most of it refers to writing articles, so it’s not relevant for me) and I have corresponded with her about my book project a bit. I also bought a book she recommended called, “Successful Non-Fiction Writing”, which has been helpful.

What has become apparent is that (a) the big publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and (b) I need to get an agent first. So I’ve been researching agents on the web, and have finally decided to have a go at pitching my book idea to Janklow and Nesbitt Associates simply because they represent Malcolm Gladwell and he’s my non-fiction hero. We’ll see. . .

It appears that non-fiction writers tend to submit a book proposal (with or without sample chapters) and only write the whole book once they have a contract. This is because they’ve usually published elsewhere, so already have a publishing track record, which non-fiction authors may not have. The next task it to write the book proposal to submit to the agent (or agents because I will try others as well). It’s a huge job! It will probably be about 15 pages once I’ve written sections on Why we need this book; Who this book is for; Other books that address this issue; What this book includes; a synopsis of each chapter; and the Index/Appendices/References, etc.

Then I have to write a covering letter and it’s supposed to include stuff like this extract (amongst a whole lot of other stuff) from the Robert E Shepard Agency’s recommendations on writing a non-fiction book proposal: “Describe any prior experience you have in writing and publishing, as well as with the media. Do you appear regularly on television or radio? Make sure to say so. Have you been interviewed on a national program? Have you written op-ed pieces for a major newspaper, or contributed to a magazine? Have you actually won prizes for your writing? It is more essential than ever for authors to have a "platform" appropriate to the kinds of books they want to write and publish. Don't be shy about your accomplishments, experience, and awards. And if you haven't been "present" in the media lately, consider calling your local radio station or sending some pieces to newspapers ¬ before you query agents. You may find editors and producers receptive to your work, and prior experience marketing yourself and your work will be invaluable as you set about selling your book”.

I must say that, as I’m researching and writing the proposal, I’m getting ideas about the book itself. One of the advantages of going to the trouble of writing the book proposal is that I’ll have a reasonable idea at the end whether or not I actually have a book in me, or whether it’s more like a series of articles. So I hope it’ll be worthwhile.

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