Now you have written your proposal it is time to think about whether you want to approach an agent or publisher direct. If you haven’t written your proposal see my blog post on How to write a non-fiction book proposal.
If you are in the UK the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook contains lists of agents and which areas they are interested in. Initially think about finding just a handful of agents who you think have similar subjects or authors on their books, you can usually find a list of clients on their website. Then look at their website, study their submission guidelines and adapt your proposal accordingly.
It is vitally important to tailor your proposal individually to each agent you approach as they will not read a proposal that does not meet the requirements set out on their website. When writing to agents they often like to know who else you have approached so that is why it is important to be selective and carefully target agents you think might have an interest in your book.
An agent is great if you have a very commercial book as they can contact the largest publishers on your behalf and ensure you get a great deal (although remember they will be taking a cut!). But do bear in mind that agents may not be interested in a more niche title and therefore you might be better served to approach a suitable publisher directly.
If approaching publishers directly, again find out which publisher handles books similar to yours. There is no point approaching a publisher if they clearly state on their website that they do not accept submissions – some publishers will only deal with agents. However if they are currently accepting proposals find their submission guidelines online and adapt your proposal to fit. Try and find the name of a relevant editor so that you are addressing your letter to an actual person.
Some publishers prefer you to send a query letter first, which is a short letter outlining your book idea and your credentials with an offer to send the full proposal if they are interested. If you have any existing contacts in the publishing world it might be worth sending them a query letter first as they may be able to pass you onto a suitable editor.
Don’t be discouraged by rejections, everyone gets knocked back at some point. If there is constructive criticism, take it on board and try again. However if every reply is a firm no, perhaps it is time to reconsider your idea or come up with a new one.
I had three ideas rejected by a number of agents and publishers before I finally found the right book for the right publisher. Rejection is tough but I learnt so much just from writing my proposals and going through the process.
Being a writer requires you to grow a tough skin as by its very nature you are offering your ideas up for judgement, the skill is to learn something from every rejection and use it to get better. Good luck!