Q&A Thursday!

Typo Edition

Hi Friends,

Let’s get to it!

K asks: I have exceptional grammar and never misspell words. I almost won my state spelling bee and was this close to going to Nationals. When I see a typo in a book or online it sets my teeth on edge. Aren’t I doing the writer a service by telling them about the typo? I should email them when I see it, right?

No. You should not email them when you see a typo. Ok, ok—I confess. I made up that questions. I am K above. You might have noticed a PS at the bottom of the last few newsletters telling you I am dyslexic and please don’t tell me about typos in my newsletter because it makes me feel bad. This is 100% true and 100% my specific experience. Other people might really, really like it and appreciate it! But I don’t. And I don’t particularly care about typos and/or if I have a comma misplaced here or there. The goal of writing is not perfection; it is communication. And if you can still understand the sentence whether I write dose or does, then we are ok. Imperfect, but ok. So please, for the love of god, do not email me about typos in my newsletters. Those of you who have, I do not harbor any ill will. I know in my heart you have the best of intentions and only mean to be helpful. But it is not your job to correct the world’s spelling and grammar. It brings you more pleasure to be right (I presume) than it does benefit the recipient of your correction and tbh, no one but you is keeping score on this. Some of the loveliest people I know are full-time copy editors and even THEY do not correct my spelling or grammar even though I KNOW it drives them batty. Because when we are texting or whatever, they are not on the clock and thus do not need to copy edit my work. You do not need to do free copy editing for people. Use your energy where it can be of better use. (Literally do not copy edit that document I just linked to jfc.) If the intensity with which I feel you should not correct people on the internet hurt you, I am sorry. But your messages about this hurt me. Please stop.

IF IF IF you see a typo or mistake in a printed book, and you MUST tell someone, do not email the author. They have no control over the typesetting of their manuscript. You can email the publisher’s customer service department, likely found on their website, and I promise someone will look at it. It could get changed very quickly in the ebook, but it could take a long time, if ever, for reprinted copies to make it into circulation. THAT’S OK. The world will not end over the wrong their/there/they’re.

Moving on….

H asks: Is it bad form to query fiction and non-fiction at the same time? I’ve been querying a novel for several months, and in that time I’ve also gotten to the point of being nearly ready to query a totally separate nonfiction project. Some of the agents I sent the novel to also do nonfiction, and some of the agents I’ve researched for the nonfiction also do novels. Is it better to wait until I either give up on the novel or find representation for it, or is it okay to do both at once and on the off chance one gets picked up, explain that I also have this other project out there?

Thanks so much for this newsletter! 

Good question! And one I’ve seen many times before. Writers contain multitudes, so it’s no shock you might want to query two books in different genres at any given time. My answer here goes for any scenario where you might have two different subsets of agents to query—not just fiction vs non-fiction.

First, you can totally query two books at the same time if you want. There’s no rule against it, even if I don’t usually recommend it. Your two submission lists may include some of the same agents, and that’s fine, too. In those overlap queries, you might say something like “Thank you for considering my novel, which I queried you on/you passed on/etc. I’m also working on X book.” and then proceed with your regular query. Agents may feel differently about this. I sometimes think oy I can’t sell all these books at the same time!!! and it feels a little overwhelming. But that’s just me and other agents might think oh goody goody more books! You cannot account for everyone so just go forth in good faith.

Second, you have to consider the best/worst possible scenario. It’s possible you get two offers of representaiton from two different agents, and each only wants one of the books. Let’s go with fiction vs non-fiction for ease here. Writers have certainly had two agents before and it’s fine. But it takes some fancy dancing and coordinating and you have to be the proactive one to keep each informed. What if both of those books go out on submission at the same time, to some of the same editors? Would they be able to buy TWO books from you? (We should be so lucky to have THIS problem.) Your book contract(s) have a “next book” clause which promises the publisher that they have your very next book coming out. You’ll then have to juggle the publication dates for each publisher, so that the fiction publisher knows that your non-fiction book is coming out first and that’s just how it is. Is that a problem? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ depends on the book and the author. This is a very unlikely scenario, so you probably don’t have anything to worry about. It hinges on both books being ready at the same time, bought at the same time, and published about the same time. Any part of that could change and be juggled and be fine. This is only one wrinkle that could come up. But do you want to deal with any of it? And do you want to manage TWO agents doing that? Wouldn’t it be easier to have one agent looking over all of it?

Ideally, you will have one agent interested in both your projects. That’s a high bar, but it can be done. I certainly have clients writing in multiple genres. At the query stage, I would cast your net wide and see what comes up. If and when you get an offer, talk to them about your whole body of work, and see what they say. You may have to make a tough choice about taking one path over another for now, i.e. focusing on non-fiction and letting the novel mellow for a bit, but that’s ok. Publishing is a long road.

Take care, friends. Be safe.



Query Letters for Non-Fiction

A Nuts and Bolts Post

Hi friends,

As promised last week (if you’re a subscriber, you saw the Q&A Thursday about this) we’re going back to basics and talking about query letters specifically for non-fiction projects. If you’re new here, you can go back in the archives and read the 4-part series I did on query letters in general starting here.

But since we’re all busy, I’ll summarize it and add in what we need to know about non-fiction. My take on query letters (and it’s only MY take, this is not gospel) is that there are 4 main parts:

  1. Salutation: this is were you say Dear Kate McKean instead of Dear Agent or To Whom it May Concern. Please use my name, please spell it correctly, please do not assume anyone’s marital status or gender if you are unsure. I think it’s kinda silly that this even counts as a real part of the query, but people seem to muck it up so much. No one is going to reject you outright if you misspell an agent’s name, but getting it right show you are paying attention to detail. Nothing is different here between fiction and non-fiction queries.

  2. Intro: I think query letters should start with the title, genre, and word count. Is this the only way to start? No, but I like it. Yes, you should have a title. Give it a good think and come up with the best one you can. Note: it could change before publiction, but that’s ok.

    Then, put your genre. If you’re unsure what genre your book is, read this, and then imagine what shelf your book would go on in a physical bookstore. (Remember those?) That’s the broadest expression of your genre so start there. You can add up to TWO adjectives to that, but that’s it. Adding a thousand adjectives to your genre (a non-fiction memoir family saga political expose´) acutally narrows your audience instead of expanding it.

    For non-fiction, your genre is likely to be fairly straightforward. If it has recipes in it, it’s likely a cookbook. If you are talking about things from the past that happend to other people, it’s likely history. If you’re teaching the reader something, it could be self-help, or how-to, or the like. Yes, yes I know you want to put your grandma’s muffin recipe in your memoir, but that does not make it a cookbook, but come on—you know what a memoir looks like and what a cookbook looks like. Use common sense.

    I will tell you right now, though, there is no such thing as a fictional memoir, or a non-fiction novel. I get that real life events might have inspirired your novel, or that you invented some dialog for your memoir. Both of these things happen every day in things labled Novels and Memoirs. No one remembers conversations verbatim 20 years later, so the reader expects that those things will be approximated by the author. Readers also always assume that what happens to characters also happened to the author of matter he genre, so there’s no need to say your novel is also “non-fiction.” I mean, that’s kinda contratdictory. So don’t do that.

    With word count, you might be saying Kate, I haven’t finished my book yet and only wrote one sample chapter. I don’t know what my word count will be. Don’t worry, everyone in publishing knows about this probelm. It’s OK. Estimate best you can. Take the word count of your sample chapter and multiply it by the number of chapters. If that first chapter is a little short, add 10% more. If you don’t have chapters, make your best guestimate. It is very unlikely you will be so far off that it will affect the publication of your book. I promise this is ok. Remember, this is word count NOT page count.

  3. Summary: In the next paragraph or two, if you were writing a novel, you’d tell the reader what happens in your book, the plot, and yes, even the ending. When you’re writing non-fiction, I like to flip this to say you need to tell the reader your thesis. Don’t get freaked out if you hated writing papers in high school. I mean, it’s kinda like that but less fraught, imho. Your book has to have a point. In the middle 2-3 (MAX) paragraphs in your query letter, tell the reader what your point is. What will your book show or prove or illuminate? If you’re writing a history or memoir, it’s likely your summary will read like a novel. Things happend to people, so tell me what happened to them. If you’re writing something more prescriptive, you need to tell the reader what they’re going to be able to do by the end of the book and how you’re going to get them there. In these 10 easy steps, you’ll be able to ask for a raise or confront your boss or nosy coworkers without breaking a sweat. If you’re proving a kind of point, your summary must indicate what your point is and how you’re going to prove it. Twitter is sowing the seeds of unrest in America and this is how and why. See? You need a thesis. If your thesis is hey look at all these things I noticed and want to tell you about then… you don’t have a thesis.

  4. Bio and Platform: This is arguably the most important part of your query letter. And while many agents won’t outright reject you based on this section, it does go a long way in our overall evaluation. Read this post on platfrom if you’re writing non-fiction STAT. No really, go read it. It varies from subject to subject, i.e. you don’t necessarily need a platform for memoir if your story is just out of this world, but if you, say, want to be a diet book guru, you need a huge, huge, huge platform. Just think about how the reader shops for books. If you’re in a store (one day!) and you want a diet book, which one are you going to choose? The one by some person you’ve never heard of, or a person you’ve read articles by, seen reposted by your friends on social media, even caught the tail end of their segment on the Today Show. Does every author need to be on the Today Show to get published? No, but in some areas , like diet, exercise, health, cooking, a high profile platform is a MUST. I’m sorry, but it’s true. And it’s not an arbritrary rule made up by publishers and agents. It’s the reader who wants this.

    (And listen, I know it is going to be tempting to get in the comments here or email me and say WELL this person I know had no platform and got published anyway so THERE. And yeah, I get it. This is not a LAW. This is an industry standard. Of course there are going to be exceptions. But, as I’ve said 100 times before, expections don’t mean you get to opt out of the hard work. )

After that, you’ll end your query with a closing, something like I look forward to hearing from you, Sincerely, Author Name. Simple is fine here. Don’t stress about it. Non-fiction writers can also take just about any and all other query advice pointed at fiction writers. Be direct. Proofread and proofread again. (Do as I say…..) Follow submission guidelines. Where fiction query letters depart from here fiction is the summary, aka thesis, and the bio. Otherwise, they’re very similar.

Good luck with your queries, your projects, just getting through the day. It’s so hard. I see you.



P.S. I am dyslexic and there are going to be typos in this newsletter. Please don’t tell me about them. It makes me feel bad.

Q&A Thursday

What it's Like to Go on Submission

A little play-by-play, but for books

Hi friends,

I thought I’d do another nuts and bolts publishing post today. We haven’t had one of those in a while, and hopefully this will help some of you about to or hoping to have an agent send your book to editors one day. So, what happens when that happens? Here’s a little overview.

When a book is ready to go on submission, here’s what’s already happened. The author has written the book or proposal and I have edited/reviewed it. Some things need more editing than others so that process varies. Either way, we have a clean, done product. Then, I will have made the submission list. I go through all my contacts and databases and pick the 10-30 editors (roughtly, each book is different) I think will like this book. There are different rules at different houses about who I can send what, so I double check against that and finalize the list and share it with the author. Then I write a pitch letter. This is very much like a query letter, excpet my audience is an editor. But really, I use a similar approach to what I suggest writers do for query letters. My goal is to give the editor all the basic info they need and entice them to read it right away.

When all this is ready and I’ve gone over everything with the client, I start sending things out. I’ll email or call the editor (emailing much more now that editors are working from home) and tell them about the project or send them the pitch and the manuscript/proposal. And that’s it. Pitch and send.

And then we wait. And wait and wait and wait. Sometimes, a few days later, an editor will start making noise. They’ll ask who else at my house has this? because different houses have different rules about who can bid against each other, or whether they can enter different bids at all. That doesn’t mean this editor is automatically going to make an offer, but they’re scouting things out, getting their ducks in a row.

Then they’ll let me know, often but not always, that they’re taking the project to their editorial board. This is the first hurdle. The team has to agree that this is something worthy of pursuing. Every publisher is different (sensing a theme here?) but ed board or acquisitions as it’s sometimes called, is often made up of editors, marketing people, sales people, and/or the bosses and the interested editor distributes material so that everyone can take a look before they discuss it in a meeting. Sometimes everyone reads (part of) it. Sometimes the editor can just say I want this, what do you think? to their boss. Say it with me: every publisher is different.

If everyone agrees, then the acquiring editor draws up a P&L (profit and loss statement) to see how much it will cost to make the book, how many copies they guess it will sell, and thus how much they can “afford” to give the author as an advance. This is basically the fuzziest math on the planet (which we’ll go into later) but there are actual numbers behind those advances offered. It’s not just a number pulled out of a hat.

When the P&L is approved, the editor makes an offer to the agent and everyone takes a deep breath and crosses their fingers. The editor hopes their offer is accepted (after some counteroffers, of course. That’s built in there, too). The agent hopes this means there could be more than one offer (which we’ll go into later), but either way it’s an OFFER! The agent then tells the client and then alerts all the other editors still reading that there’s an offer on the table, and if they want this project, they better hustle. The other editors don’t get to know the details of the offer on the table, but once they know there is an offer, they definitely sit up and take notice.

What happens next is a topic for a whole ‘nother newsletter, which I promise to do. But some other things that might happen along the way during a submission are: we may set up a time for the author and editor (and agent) to talk, to get to know each other a little and ask questions. The editor may ask questions, in a call or just in an email to the agent, that lead to some tweaks or revisions to the work. The editor might make a pre-empt, which is an offer so big and nice that it takes the whole project off the table and away from other editors. But we’ll get into that another time, too.

And sometimes, we hear back from every editor and every note is a pass. It’s just the way it goes. There may be other editors to go to in a second round of submissions or that might be it. I do not practice any port in a storm style submissions, so I don’t just send to any publisher just to get a deal. A bad deal is worse than no deal, I promise. There may be comments in the editors’ notes (which are thin at best and that’s ok) that point to a place where the project can be revised. We can’t go back to the editors who have passed, but we can revise and try new ones, if there are any to go to. And sometimes, we reach the end of the road and there’s nothing else to be done. It sucks, but it happens to everyone. It’s happened to me as an agent and an author. It happens to the best of us.

But, more on what happens when there’s an offer next time on Agents & Books!

If you’re a paid subscriber and have questions for Q&A Thrusday, send them on!

Stay safe friends,


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