My March Writer’s Retreat at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast

AmbrosiaSign_06There are still a few spots available for my upcoming writer’s retreat at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast in Floyd, Virginia. It begins on Friday evening, March 7 and runs through Sunday morning, March 9. The cost is $120 plus lodging.

Here’s the fancy-pants description:

“Writing and Publishing Your Nonfiction Book”

Author and blogger Neil Sagebiel of Floyd, Virginia, will lead a writer’s retreat on nonfiction book writing and publishing. Neil will cover topics such as story development and research, the book proposal, the writing process, literary agents, publishers, working with editors, and related areas. Participants can discuss and work on a current project and/or simply bring their ideas and questions.

(Once all participants are identified, Neil will email questions related to their background and interests and work to tailor the time accordingly. This retreat will include time to work on a current project and/or other fun writing exercises.)

Neil is the author of THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open, which was published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. THE LONGEST SHOT was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2012 by Booklist and was also praised by the New York Times. His second book will publish in September 2014.

Neil is also a freelance writer and the founder and editor of ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG. Contact him at neilsagebiel@gmail.com.

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My Agent Answers: Why Is It So Hard to Land a Literary Agent? (Conclusion)

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

(This is the final installment of a two-part series. Read Part 1.)

Often, a book proposal doesn’t get the past the editor’s desk if the editor doesn’t believe he/she will be able to generate internal support for the idea.

Even if an offer is made and you sign a deal with a major publishing house, you’ve still got two more major hurdles. A book isn’t guaranteed to be well-distributed just because a major publisher has acquired it. If the booksellers don’t get excited about it, orders will be small, and the book can stagnate before it even hits the shelves. And regardless of how many orders are placed by retail stores, if there isn’t sufficient publicity to generate awareness and momentum for the book, sales could be very disappointing.

Publishers are looking for books that can move tens of thousands of copies, so the bar is set very high. This is not as easy to achieve as you may think.

Keep in mind that most agents are receiving dozens or hundreds of book pitches a week. Editors are usually in the same boat. The process of pitching a book to editors, and then negotiating a contract, if an offer is made, is very time consuming. It can take several months. So agents have to pick and choose their projects carefully. It is simply not practical or possible for an agent to circulate every proposal to publishers.

I once had an author ask me why I couldn’t just send out his proposal to editors and see what happens, even though I wasn’t keen on it. Editors depend on literary agents to vet proposals and send them the most promising prospects. Even though editors and agents often disagree on what constitutes a strong idea, I have to believe in a project in order to attach my name to it and then take up an editor’s valuable time.

When an agent rejects a proposal and says “it’s not right for me” or “it doesn’t fit my current needs,” it means that the agent isn’t motivated enough by the idea to be able to pursue it enthusiastically.

That decision is usually based on multiple factors, including the agent’s current client load, the quality of the writing, what the agent’s personal interests are, what projects the agent believes his/her publishing contacts are most likely to be interested in, how much the project is going to sell for, and more.

It’s a complicated business!

My Agent Answers: Why Is It So Hard to Land a Literary Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

To understand why literary agents scrutinize projects so carefully, you need to understand the sales process.

I’m going to be most responsive to projects that I believe are saleable to the major publishers I work with. Even if I’m interested in the idea you’re pitching, I have to believe that the editors I work with are also going be receptive to the idea.

Because of the considerable amount of time required to shape an idea, pitch it to editors, and negotiate a contract, it’s simply impossible for an agent to represent everything, even projects that are likely to result in an offer from a publisher. Literary agencies are businesses, and they are not only motivated by their personal interest in certain topics, they are motivated by projects that are going to generate the most interest (and the strongest offers) from publishers.

No two literary agents are the same. Since agents have different personal interests (one may be interested in history while another may not) and different relationships with editors and publishers, it may take awhile for you to find an agent who can be an effective champion for your book.

There are several steps in the process of getting a book published.

First, the agent has to pitch the idea to an editor at a publishing house. Second, the editor has to sell your project internally to his/her colleagues (including the marketing and sales staff) and build enough in-house support to justify an offer from the publisher to the agent. Third, the publisher has to sell your book to the book buyers at the chains and bookstores.

This doesn’t happen until about six months before publication, when the publisher releases its catalog for the upcoming publishing season and publisher’s sales reps call on bookstores (and other accounts), hoping to generate big orders from book buyers.

Fourth, the publisher (and the author) need to generate enough publicity to make the public aware of the book and in turn drive sales.

When an agent is reviewing a book proposal, he/she has to think about all of these hurdles and whether or not the proposed book can successfully clear them.

TO BE CONTINUED.

My Agent Answers: Why Do You Need a Literary Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Due to the overwhelming number of writers seeking a contract with a major publisher, editors cannot possibly keep up with the hundreds of unsolicited submissions that come in every week. This is why most major publishers do not accept submissions directly from authors who are seeking publication.

Instead, they rely on a network of literary agents who understand the publishing business, have relationships with editors and know the subject areas and types of books that specific editors are most likely to be interested in.

Within each of the major publishing houses, there are dozens of editors, each with their own interests and “wish lists” for books.

A literary agent is usually the most efficient way to find the right editor, and the right publisher, for your book. An agent can help you improve your book proposal, resulting in stronger offers from publishers, and consider publishers you may not have even thought of approaching.

Publishing is a very specialized field, and book contracts can be especially complicated. Just like you should never sign a business contract without a lawyer, I don’t recommend you sign a book contract without a literary agent.

A literary agent can help you secure a better deal by helping you to select the right publisher and negotiating improved contract terms that will protect your financial and intellectual property interests.

Writer’s Digest: “5 Things Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters”

Whether or not you’re a novelist (I am not), consider the following tips. Maybe they’re useful for a current project or will help you in the future. Both fiction and nonfiction, in the end, rely on storytelling. Screenwriters work in a tight format. No fluff. We can learn from them.

These five tips are from a Writer’s Digest article. (Read the full article here.) The parenthetical comments are mine.

1. Your novel is probably too long. (That’s OK. Write it long. Then cut it. I’ve read that bestselling author Stephen King cuts a lot out of his first draft, something like 20 percent. The first draft of my next book was 105,000 words. I cut it to about 90,000.)

2. A story can be built in scenes. (And tight, well-linked scenes move the story forward. In novels or narrative nonfiction, these might be chapters.)

3. Tension must drive every scene. (In a larger sense, there’s conflict in your story–or should be–and it should seep into each scene or chapter.)

4. Plot and characters are not enemies. (Screenwriter David Magee calls them “two sides of the same coin. A character behaves the way they behave, and their behavior makes the plot.”)

5. You must bring dialogue to life. (Dialogue, or quotations in nonfiction, give voice and life to your story. It must ring true.)

Would you like more tips? Read “The 5s” found in the sidebar. (Scroll to bottom.)

Recommended Civil War Reading

My friend Peter Read moonlights as a Civil War historian. Recently, Peter gave an interesting talk at Jessie Peterman Library (Floyd, Virginia) on the Battle of Chickamauga. The timing of his talk coincided with the 150th anniversary of the battle, a Confederate victory that decimated both sides. Only the Battle of Gettysburg saw more casualties.

Peter also passed along a list of his favorite Civil War authors and titles.

Bruce Catton: The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, Never Call Retreat, Glory Road, A Stillness at Appomattox, This Hallowed Ground

Peter Cozzens: This Terrible Sound, The Shipwreck of Their Hopes

James McPherson: For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War

Steve E. Woodworth: Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns

Those of us who live in or near Floyd are looking forward to Peter’s next Civil War talk in November.