Literary Agent Input: Katherine Boyle
Hi Katherine, can you hear me?
Hi, I can. Hi, Sally.
It's good to see you. Thanks for joining us today.
Happy to be here.
Awesome. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your agency and the types of books you like to represent?
Yeah, my name's Katherine Boyle, the agency's Veritas. We've been at it for about 20 years, a little over 20 years. And there's another agent, Michael Carr and a scout, Kiara. As for areas of interest it's kind of funny, we broke the gender stereotypes. Michael's the one who acquires the women's fiction. I do most of the serious non-fiction. Micheal does a little non-fiction too. And for non-fiction, our main areas are memoir and narrative non-fiction of all stripes, women's studies, pop culture, popular science, health and wellness, and then on the fiction side Micheal does the genre fiction, mainly the sci-fi, the fantasy, suspense novels, thrillers, and I do mainly literary graphic novels and some children's.
You guys do everything, th...
We're generalists, yes.
Yeah, right on. Okay, so here are my questions for you today. Should an author have the entire manuscript available before pitching, if it's a non-fiction book?
Yeah, you know for non-fiction, no, because the point of a proposal, as far as I know, is that you want to get a publisher and you want to get some funding. You want an advance so publishers don't expect you to have the manuscript ready. You know for something like a memoir, they do want to see a good chunk of text and those are your sample chapters, and you know if you're a new author, obviously you want some sample chapters in your proposal, but no you don't have to finish the whole thing. And I know a lot of authors are confused about that. I know you all hate writing proposals, but.
They're going to love writing proposals after this class though, of course. So we talked a little about this with the class earlier, but I'd love to get your input. Should all authors include their social media stats in their proposals?
Um, you know, if they're really weak and I have sympathy for those authors who have weak stats because I'm not really that active on social media. I don't think you need to include them. I mean if they're really big, like half a million, we have an author who had massive stats, and that's probably a large reason why the book went to auction, but if you don't have those kind of figures, I don't think it's necessary. There's ways to work around it. I mean obviously any agent is going to ask you, and what you can provide is a plan. I mean I think authors need to show that they know that social media is important, even if they're not established. So you want to say I will start a Twitter account. I will have a Facebook page for the book. I will have a dedicated website. And if you have contacts or you know people who do have a massive social media presence, by all means bring them into the proposal. You can name drop a little bit. I'm thinking of a client who was buddies with Tim Ferriss. And Tim Ferriss ended up having him on his podcast, and that gave, you know, their work a huge bump. So it's okay to bring that in, and the other thing that you might do if you don't have good stats, is make sure to get your blurbs, even at the proposal stage if you can. If you know any famous authors or people who will blurb your work or at least look at the proposal and give you a quote knowing that it might change a little, you know once they see the final manuscript.
So blurbs, meaning endorsements from existing authors?
That's right, yeah, those can be really powerful. I mean I even sometimes put them in the pitch letter if the person is high-profile enough.
That's good to know. What's the most memorable proposal you've ever received?
This is, this is a bad example because it wasn't polished at all. In fact, I'm thinking of the proposal for Sickened by Julie Gregory, which was a memoir about her relationship with her mother who had Munchausen by proxy, which is a condition or really a behavior where you maim or poison your child in order to get attention from doctors. And so it was just a startling story, and but the proposal was really raw. It was, you know, she was pulled out of school a lot because her mother was always making her sick, so she never got really the fundamentals of grammar, so her sentences were kind of backwards and it was a little muddled in places, but despite that, the writing was incredible, I mean just really lush and lyrical. And she was a fantastic story teller, so I think for agents and editors sometimes finding that diamond in the rough, you know, that really sort of brilliant work that needs polishing can be really exciting, but I don't want to recommend that your students do that. You should polish your proposal.
Okay, we've got to start moving along here, but I have a couple more questions I definitely want you to hit. We're about to dig into query letters, what's the biggest mistake you see in the query letters that hit your inbox?
I would say authors spending more time on hype then or sort of using marketing language to sell their book then on just telling us what's in the book and showing that you have some good solid material.
And then should authors follow up with agents if they don't hear back?
It's okay, yeah, it's fine to do that. I mean the worst case scenario, you get ignored because, you know, most of us are snowed under. But I don't think it can hurt. I do think if you've given someone a really lengthy proposal or even a full manuscript, give them a few months.
That's been my experience too. Okay, any other advice for aspiring authors?
Yeah, I think I would just go back to what I said about sort of the marketing and the hype because we can see right through that, and we're not interested in that. It's kind of our job to sell your work. We're more interested in sort of seeing that you have enough material for a book because it's a very common reason for rejection from agents and editors is that this seems more like a long form article. It doesn't seem like there's enough material for a book with non-fiction. So you really want to kind of show that in your query.
Okay, terrific, alright, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
Okay, take care. (applause) Katherine Boyle, helpful stuff. And again a little bit contradictory to some of the things that I have said. I feel like what she meant by hype is more the my book will be the next Eat, Pray, Love blockbuster, you know, comparing yourself to other wildly successful titles. Because I do still feel pretty strongly that your book proposal is a marketing piece. You do want to want to convince the person reading it that they want to be a part of this project.