Inside the Book:
Author: Emre Gurgen
Genre: Literary Criticism
Don Quixote Explained focuses on seven topics: how Sancho Panza refines into a good governor through a series of jokes that turn earnest; how Cervantes satirizes religious extremism in Don Quixote by taking aim at the Holy Roman Catholic Church; how Don Quixote and Sancho Panza check-and-balance one another’s excesses by having opposite identities; how Cervantes refines Spanish farm girls by transforming Aldonza Lorenzo into Dulcinea; how outlaws like Roque Guinart and Gines Pasamonte can avoid criminality and why; how Cervantes establishes inter-religional harmony by having a Christian translator, on the one hand, and a Muslim narrator, on the other; and lastly, how Cervantes replaces a medieval view of love and marriage―where a woman is a housekeeper, lust-satisfier, and child begetter―with a modern view of equalitarian marriage typified by a joining of desires and a merger of personalities.
“AN ERUDITE EXAMINATION OF THE THEMES AND IDEAS IN DON QUIXOTE. I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED THE WRITING AND EXPOSITION OF THIS WELL-REASONED CRITIQUE. BUY IT AND STUDY IT. GERALD J. DAVIS, AUTHOR OF DON QUIXOTE, THE NEW TRANSLATION BY GERALD J. DAVIS” WWW.DON-QUIXOTE-EXPLAINED.COM
The Benefits of Agent Representation
Though it is possible to win a contract with a traditional publisher without a literary agent, if you are professionally represented, your chance of securing a book deal greatly increases
If you represent yourself to publishers. If you eagerly mail unsolicited query letters directly to a publisher the likely outcome is that these houses will place your letter directly in a slush pile, often times unread, never to be looked at again. If you are extremely lucky, however, and somebody does read your letter, this person is usually a novice reader, a student just out of college, who rarely knows what they are doing. Though, perhaps, intelligent, this person is extremely untested. Thus, they read your query letter to gain experience. That’s it. Nothing less. Nothing more.
But let’s say, for arguments sake, that this person, though junior, likes your book and tries to help. You may find that they lack the authority to get you represented. Even if they bring your query letter to the attention of a more senior editor, this person usually dismisses you, and your book, offhand, in favor of an established author. So you lose anyway.
Though, occasionally, you hear of the strange case of an author winning a contract directly from a publisher against all odds, the probability of this happening is slim to none, since most publishers will not even consider a new book unless it comes from a reputed agent. Getting a book deal without an agent hardly ever happens. It is the stuff of legends. Usually, what happens is that publishers want to make fast money on a safe bet. So they go with agent represented manuscripts, even if they are horrible.
Unless publishing houses are desperate for new leads, they will not even consider non-represented manuscripts, despite what they say in their submission guidelines.
Big box publishers, to repeat, rely on literary agents to make wise manuscript choices. Not authors shopping their wares. This is because publishers generally believe that agents will only pitch a new book to them if it is viable in the marketplace.
Commercial publishing houses, sadly, rarely consider manuscripts from inexperienced writers. And if the nature of your work does not synergize with their list. Forget it. You have no chance.
Furthermore, even if your proposal is a good one, it will probably get lost in the clutter, since traditional publishers receive tons of junk mail,
Penetrating the old boy network of publishing professionals is very hard, since agents and publishers enjoy reciprocal relationships based on a lengthy track record of success. Because both sides think they know what is sellable in the marketplace, they pass on many great books. Mine included. The cold reality is that many publishers will not even consider manuscripts that do not have an agent, since they want to back a book they think will succeed. To them, manuscripts that have a chance of success have already been vetted by literary agents. They have passed an initial screening round. Most publishers, alas, will only ponder manuscripts forwarded to them by literary agents, because they believe that an agent will not jeopardize their reputations by advocating less than impressive books.
So, if you want to avoid having you query letter go directly to the dreaded slush pile—the final resting place of many novels—I encourage you to get a literary agent.
Yes, you can win a contract directly from a publisher, without agent representation. But doing so is the exception, rather than the rule.
If you think you can do it, by all means, be my guest. Congratulations if you do. But if you receive one rejection after another, as most of us do (or, worse yet, no response at all) try hard to get a literary agent, since agent representation helps.
How to Get a Literary Agent
Gaining and sustaining the interest of a literary agent so they sign a contract with you is easier said than done. The first step is writing an effective query letter.
Address your query to the right editor or agent with the right title. Format your query according to industry standards. Spell the agencies name correctly and get its address right. Pitch a great lead. Tailor your query to the specific agency. Offer a fresh idea. Be creative in your presentation. Tighten your query angle. Sweeten the pot with photos, graphics, illustrations or renderings: with sidebars, sidelights, and giveaways. Follow the submission guidelines of the agency exactly. Ensure that your letter begins with an opening hook, provides supporting details, links your qualifications to the book being pitched, and includes a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).
Once you have hooked a literary agent with a good query letter, the next step is to send them an outstanding book proposal.
A book proposal is written for one purpose only, to convince an agent that investing their time and effort in you, and your book, is a wise bet, one that will pay off. To get an agent, then, you have to persuade them that your book is capable of making real money. If they do not believe that, expect a polite brush off, at best.
Here are a few basics of a good book proposal. A clear book proposal consist of:
- a cover page, with the name of your book, and a table of contents;
- a short description of your book (4 sentences);
- a more detailed synopsis of your book, with a brief chapter-by-chapter summary;
- a marketing plan, stating how you will sell and brand your book;
- an author bio, connecting your occupation and life experiences to the nature of your book;
- an audience section detailing who will buy your book and why;
- a competition section differentiating your book from the dozens of other books out there on identical, or similar, topics .
- a description of follow-up books you are writing in a series, so they can make money from you again and again.
To reiterate, a strong book proposal should have a cover page. The cover page should have: the name of your book at the top; a by-line with your name; your manuscripts word count; the status of the manuscript (i.e. complete) and a numbered table of contents with the following sections: I. Description; II. Synopsis; III. Marketing Plan; IV. Author Bio; V. Audience; VI. Competition; VII. Follow-Up Books.
- On the cover page include your contact information, such as your office and e-mail address, your telephone numbers (i.e. office phone, cell phone, and home phone), so agents can correspond with you by snail-mail; e-mail; by phone; etc..
- The description section is a succinct three sentence description of your book noting its topic and theme. Generally, it attracts an agent’s immediate attention by noting how your topic is timely, original, and significant (i.e. why anybody would care).
- The next section of your book proposal is a more elaborate synopsis of your book which breaks down, in short paragraphs, each major section or chapter. Agents read this part to correlate the theme of your book to a hot topic extant in the real world. A good synopsis answers the “so what” question to literary agents. So what? Why should I read this?
- Then, comes your marketing plan. This section should detail, in bullet form, not only what you have already done to brand your book but what you will do in the future, too. Things to write in this section include participating in professional conferences, preferably as the key-note speaker. Any book signings you have completed or have scheduled. References to the URL of your personal author website (if you have one) which is stronger if it has: high-traffic; a blog with high-quality, viral, posts; an online store with a high click through rate; and an impressive CV. If you have a Face Book fan page connected to your website with thousands of genuine (not purchased) likes, mention this. If you have a dedicated twitter account linked to your book, especially one that fans are tweeting about incessantly, mention this. If you have a distinguished career connected to the subject matter of your book talk about it. If you host a radio show, with many listeners, discussing issues related to your book, tell them this. If you have professional, or social, networks in place that you can use to sell your books, highlight this. If you host a popular pod-cast centered on a relevant topic linked to your book, preferably a forum that can reach thousands of subscribers, let an agent know. In brief, the marketing section of your book proposal is the most important section to literary agents, since they want to pitch a book that will sell quickly and well. That’s it. They only care about you and your book if they think they can make money from both.
- Then comes an Author Bio Here is your opportunity to emphasize how your occupation, education, life experiences, and social connections, position you to have written the book(s) you have. This section should describe why people will listen to you? Are you an expert in the field? Do your life experiences qualify you to write about a certain topic? Why are you credible? Explain this.
- Then comes a competition section emphasizing how your book is different from, or better than, recent books on the same, or a similar topic. Be careful here. Emphasize the strengths of your own book, in relation to the marketplace, rather than criticizing the competition. Differentiate your work and convince an agent why it will sell, especially if the topic has already been done, many times over. If you are in the fortunate position to have written an important book on a topic that is little explored, or underexplored, but also has a large audience, definitely emphasize this. Then pat yourself on the back. This is rare. If you write a strong competition section that conveys the originality, timeliness, and relevance of your book in relation to what has already been done on the subject, agents and publishers will want to acquire your book. In short, if your book explores an old topic from a new angle, or pioneers a groundbreaking analysis of a new hot topic, congratulations, you deserve a book deal. Hope you get one. If not, go back to the drawing board. Start again. Maybe, you can get a book deal with your next novel
- Then comes an Audience section detailing who will read your book and why. The wider the audience the more likely agents and publishers will sign you. Since publishing is a risky business, a gamble that produces frequent flops, publishers need to be reassured that your book has a chance of success. (One friendly word of advice: be realistic when evaluating your audience. Give specific statistics about who will buy your book and why. Not vague promises. Typically, literary agents have built in BS detectors. So, whatever you do, do not jeopardize your credibility with ridiculous claims. After all, most literary agents only represent books if they think they will do well in the literary marketplace. If you make sweeping, unrealistic claims, you can do more harm than good by shooting your credibility).
- After this section comes a follow-up books In this section, outline how other books can flow from, or spin-off of, your proposed book. Since agents want to pitch introductory novels to publishers with the promise of more books to come, it behooves you to pitch your book to agents as part of a larger narrative, so agents do not view your novel as a one-hit wonder, or a no-hit flop. The truth is that agents are more likely to represent you to traditional publishers if you are able to deliver popular follow-up books. So, if you have written, are writing, or will write follow-up books, speak-up. Remember, the first billionaire author, J.K. Rawling, wrote 3 Harry Potter books, in trilogy, before she even approached publishers. Learn from this woman.
If all this is too abstract for you, and you want to view a sample of a decent book proposal, please visit my personal author website at www.don-quixote-explained.com and click on the book proposal tab.
A marketing plan, in short, will tell an agent what you will do to sell your books. How, put simply, you will attain and maintain readers’ attention.
A well-conceived marketing plan consists of many things. A lecture circuit helps. If you have delivered, or will deliver, speeches in prominent forums. Talks that have established you as an expert. Mention this. Also, if you have driven around the country, selling your self-published books, like John Grisham did, speak-up. Agents love hearing that your book is already on store shelves. If you are a reporter, a journalist, a regular columnist, a magazine editor, or a writing professional, mention that you have a potential network of colleagues you can call on. Agents want to know how you plan on getting publicity / reviews for your books. If you have a popular blog, with a high SEO, that is highly ranked by google algorithms and has an impressive click-through rate as well, broadcast this immediately! If your blog posts have gone viral, or are commented (not spammed) mention this. Agents are interested in getting people to talk about your book. If you are ready to put your money where your mouth is by buying your books tell a publisher this. If publishers believe that their print-runs will be bought by you, that there is no downside risk for them whatsoever, because you yourself will be their main customer, sure, they will publish your book, since they have nothing to lose and the world to gain. If you are ready to fulfill consignment orders to book stores from your private supply of books, mention this. It may help. If possible, tout positive book sales before you even ask a literary agent asking to represent you. If you can, they will probably sign you.
Write Books in a Series
Big name publishers sign multi-year contracts with writers, not just because they have written one great book, however stellar, but because a writer can consistently produce best sellers, at the rate of one book a year: Follow-up novels that are as good as, perhaps better, than the original. In other words, big box publishers often form contracts with writers based on them authoring multiple books in fairly rapid succession. Thus, if you write one book, then another, then the next, and so on, building a larger and larger audience with every publication, just like John Grisham did, eventually, you will be in the enviable position of having publishers approach you to publish your books, not the other way around.
Emre Gurgen, the author of Don Quixote Explained: The Story of an Unconventional Hero, has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Pennsylvania State University. Currently, he lives in Germantown, Maryland, where he is writing a follow-up Don Quixote essay collection and study guide.