Which came first? Miss Snark gets her fowling piece and takes a shot at the answer

A Snarkling contemplates her proposal and wonders:

Dear Miss Snark,

I am working on my first book proposal. I've consulted several of the various "how-to" books on how to put together a coherent book proposal, containing all of the different parts that prospective agents will expect to see. However, most of these books seem to be aimed at those writing their own "how-to" books; narrative non-fiction doesn't get much of a look-in. Several book proposal advisors recommend including sample chapters from different parts of the proposed book, e.g., Chapter 3, "The Kama Sutra and the True Martini," and Chapter 6, "The Ramayana and the Gin Fizz." This makes a certain amount of sense for a book on "Gin and the Seven Cocktails of Highly Spiritual People," but seems odd for a book with a more linear narrative arch. Would a proposal for a narrative historical biography fall further along the spectrum where novels live, meaning, should I send the first two chapters, rather than a chapter from the beginning and the death-bed scene?

Miss Snark favors starting at the beginning. (That’s cause she’s an Alpha snark) Miss Snark is one of those people who does not like to miss even the previews at movies (although the commercials are exempt from that obsession). I read books in a series in order. I hate prequels. While scattered chapters can certainly work in a non-narrative book I still like to read the first chapter.

Why? Cause that's what editors read, and that's what buyers read.

Now, there are agents and editors who just don't care. I've been on panels at writing conferences with them. They just read merrily along and if they like the writing, they like it. This makes Miss Snark weep with frustration.

It won't hurt you to send the first two with people who don't give a fig, and it WILL hurt you to send something OTHER than the first two to people who not only give a fig, they masticate it, swallow it and incorporate it into their aura ... so why not just send the first two and reduce your risk of rejection for sending the wrong thing?

And in a narrative form, reading chapter six when you haven’t read two through four is bound to be confusing if you’ve written it well.


Ira Rosofsky said...

"Thinking Like Your Editor" by Susan Rabiner is solely about narrative nonfiction. It includes a sample proposal for a biography.

"Nonfiction Book Proposals Anyone Can Write" by Elizabeth Lyon is mostly about how-to/self-help like most of the proposal books. It does include a thread on memoir proposals.

I found both of these books useful for my own successful (successful in so far as I have an agent)narrative/nonfiction proposal, although we're transforming it somewhat for the world of acquisition editors.

Do you have any opinion about either of these books, Miss Snark?

I also enjoyed "The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice for Writers" by Betsy Lerner, not so much for its practical advice but for its insider's perspective from an editor turned agent. (Hmmm? 007?)

Cyclus said...

I also endorse "Thinking Like Your Editor," an excellent guide for narrative nonfiction writers and great fun to read as well. It has a certain element of snarkiness about it.

Goodness, where have all these narrative nonfiction writers come from?

Miss Snark said...

Blame Truman Capote.