• Sally Collings

Three ways to a literary agent’s heart.


In the past year, I’ve collaborated on three nonfiction book proposals. All three have been picked up by leading literary agents within a week of submitting.


The projects included a memoir with an autism focus, a meditation book with a twist, and a travel essay collection. Varied, you might say.


Last weekend I spent some time pondering just how these three very different book proposals all rang the right bells—and how they did it so quickly. Despite the variety in the subject matter, here are three attributes all three authors had in common.


1. Be Focused

Trying to please EVERYONE is a serious trap for newbie authors. Literary agents and publishers want to know specifically who will buy your nonfiction book, and what it will do for them.


Pleasure for the armchair traveler? Great. Authoritative new insights into ancient wisdom? Bring it on. A young man with a message about thriving with autism that is already attracting attention? Send it my way.


Each of these book concepts was very clear and specific about what it was, and who it was for. Though let me tell you, it took some sweat and tears and time to achieve that level of clarity. (Wipes brow.)


2. Be Decisive

Most book concepts contain way too much material. The author has so many ideas and doesn’t want to leave any of them out. The result? Sheer confusion.


All three authors I worked with had to prune their ideas, HARD. We comforted ourselves with two thoughts: 1) the author clearly had more than one book in them (publishers love that), and 2) they now have plenty of fodder to use for social media, articles, speeches, and workshops.


3. Take Good Advice

As crazy as it may seem, some authors who choose to work with me on their book proposals are reluctant to take my advice.


Let’s say I tell them their author bio needs more personality: “But this is what I use on my website and everyone loves it.”


If you go to see a brain surgeon, you don’t tell them where to make the first incision. I’m not always right, but book proposals are my specialty. I’ve been in the publishing game for more years than I care to admit, and my success rate speaks for itself.

If you have someone else you trust for their informed advice on writing and publishing, that’s cool too. Listen to them.


Undoubtedly there are more factors in the success of these three projects. Luck, for one. Good timing, sure. In publishing, nothing is certain. But a combination of clarity and flexibility will, I believe, get you far.

If you’re working on a book proposal for your memoir, join me and writing coach Joanne Spataro on October 27 for a micro-retreat: a 2-hour small-group webinar to explore what makes for a successful memoir proposal.


How to Write a Book Proposal for Your Memoir

A Micro-Retreat with Joanne Spataro and Sally Collings

When: October 27, 2021 at 1pm PST / 3pm CT / 4pm ET

Where: Zoom (on signup we will send you an invitation to join the meeting)

Pricing: $399




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