By William Cane
A Writer's Strategy. If you have an idea for a book-length work of nonfiction there's no point writing the book first and then trying to get it published. If you complete the manuscript first, you'll probably wind up self-publishing rather than getting a publisher interested. The way professionals get their nonfiction books published is to use a three-part strategy. While it's possible to try other methods, most beginning and professional writers use this strategy because it works. I've outlined the three parts of the strategy here, and if you follow this advice you're likely to save yourself years of work.
Your first step is to write a book proposal. This outlines your idea for the book, talks about its potential market, and gives a brief pitch on why you're the person to write this particular book. The book proposal should also contain one or two sample chapters. The reason you write a book proposal instead of the entire manuscript is that submitting a book proposal gives an editor time to give you some direction, should he wish to do so, at an early stage of the project. A book proposal is also something an acquiring editor can use to sell the book idea to the sales and marketing force. Bottom line: don't sell the book, sell the proposal.
Your second step is to query a literary agent. Though some writers don't use agents, most beginning and professional writers do. (For example, Michael Chrichton, Tom Wolfe, and Bill Clinton all use literary agents to sell their writing. Even J.D. Salinger, who hated the publishing world, used an agent when he was publishing.) An agent can usually obtain a higher advance and better contract terms than you would be able to negotiate for yourself. Agents also have many connections and know many editors, so they can get your work in front of the right editors at the right publishing houses. The query to your agent should be perfect in every way. It should contains a brief summary of your book as well as a paragraph listing your credits and relevant prior publications, if any. The query should also ask whether the agent would like to see your book proposal. No more, no less. One thing making your life easier today is that most agents now accept email queries.
Your third step is to select the agents you wish to query. This is just as important as the previous two steps because if you select the wrong agents they'll reject you even before they finish reading your query. Keep in mind that some agents specialize in cookbooks, others in political books, still others in medical or self-help titles. Selecting a group of agents to query from the more than 600 agents available can seem like a daunting task, but it's worth your while to take the time to do it right. By following this strategy — writing a book proposal and query and selecting a group of agents — you'll have a significant advantage over others who are trying to get published. If you doubt that, keep in mind that this is the strategy used by almost every one of the current bestselling nonfiction authors. I cannot recommend this approach highly enough, and I'm convinced it can work for you. (Photo: Gellhorn and Hemingway, 1940. Robert Capa, © 2001 by Cornell Capa.)
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson