When I wrote my first book proposal, I relied on three books about how to actually write the all-important document that helps you land a contract with a literary agent and with a publisher. One of those books was agent Sheree Bykofsky’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, which is now in its fifth edition. Sheree was also one of the first agents I ever queried.
Recently, I had a chance to reconnect with her, and she agreed to let me interview her. I’m honored to provide in this post her answers to my questions about literary agents, book proposals and getting published.
In the changing publishing environment, how is the role of an agent changing?
I have heard that some agents are actually becoming publishers and e-publishers. Many authors are going the entrepreneurship route as well. But, I have found my role to be very consistent. Sometimes new questions come up, though, regarding subrights such as apps, and more and more authors find their book and author information mangled on the web and beyond the power of the publishers to fix.
Do aspiring authors still need an agent?
In this brave new world, authors need agents more than ever. Frequently I see the contracts that publishers deliver directly to authors, and I wouldn’t have my worst enemy sign them.
What purpose does a proposal serve? Why does an aspiring nonfiction author need one?
A great proposal is an efficient and compact blueprint of the whole book. It helps a publisher know what will be in the book without having to read over two hundred pages. It also gives structure to the author and, as such, is an all-around wonderful tool that lays out a plan for the book’s future marketing and successing.
Is it true that fiction authors are now beginning to write proposals that are much more similar to nonfiction proposals (and why)?
I have heard of it, but it isn’t that common. That said, fiction authors do need to recognize that, beyond writing a great book, the more they bring to the table in terms of a willingness to market and publicize with social media especially, the easier it will be for them to get published and to keep their books in print.
What are the primary features of a great nonfiction book proposal—one that will land a book deal?
A great nonfiction book proposal includes a compelling hook, a thorough overview, some fascinating features and highlights, a great marketing plan, an up-to-date and comprehensive competition analysis, a relevant and impressive bio, a thorough and detailed table of contents, and representative and interesting sample chapters.
What type of platform does an aspiring author need to have to attract a NY publishing house?
Authors need to show that they are uniquely qualified to write their proposed book, with qualifications both in writing and in their area of expertise. They need to demonstrate that they are willing to market and publicize and use the Web and social media frequently and effectively and do whatever it takes to make their books successful.
How is the role of the author changing?
They need to market and publicize more than in the past, and as always they need to be professional and, yes, good business people. Publishing is a business and books are products.
What can an author do to increase his or her chances of being published traditionally?
I’m not saying this because I am the author and I want to promote my book (but I do, of course), but authors who are knowledgeable about the business of publishing have an exponentially greater success rate. So I am recommending that authors read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, 5th Edition. (It is absolutely not for idiots!)
Also, I recommend authors attend writers’ conferences where they will meet agents, editors, and other writers; learn the business; enhance their craft; and figure out their own personal best next steps. I will be giving an all-day workshop at the North Wildwood Beach Writer’s Conference on March 23, 2013. Please visit nwbwc.com to register.
About Sheree Bykofsky
Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc., AAR, represents hundreds of authors in all areas of adult non-fiction as well as literary and commercial fiction. Her non-fiction specialties include popular reference, business, health, psychology, poker, spirituality, self-help, humor, cookbooks, pop culture, biography, women’s issues, decorating and crafts, music, and much more. Among Sheree’s non-fiction clients are Howard Kaylan, Taro Gold, Cy Tymony, Jennifer Basye Sander, Paul Mladjenovic, Mark Ryan, Jane Eldershaw, Bill Walsh, Mike Matusow, Margo Perin, the late Albert Ellis, John Carpenter (first millionaire on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”), Dr. Roberta Temes, Supermodel Roshumba, and Richard Roeper (of Ebert and Roeper). In the area of fiction, Sheree’s clients include Tom Gammarino, Bruce Holbert, Donna Anders, and Leslie Rule. (See “Books Represented by Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc.”)