1. 1.How do I get my non-fiction book published?

If you want to publish a non-fiction book, you need to craft a complete and well-organized book proposal. See ProposalGuidelines.

If you have written a novel, you must write a one page, jacket-flap style synopsis and a brief biographical sketch. In either case, you should send a one page query letter and SASE to a handful of selected agents picked from Jeff Herman’s Amazon.com: Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and ...  


Bear in mind that multiple queries are fine, multiple submissions are not. Busy agents require exclusive submissions. Allow 3-4 weeks for a response.

  1. 2.Do I need an agent in order to get my book published? 

Writers of mass market, general interest commercial fiction and non-fiction manuscripts need an agent, because publishers of such books seldom consider unsolicited material submitted by an author “over the transom.”

You do not necessarily need an agent if you propose to write a textbook, an academic treatise, or a book aimed at an extremely narrow niche. An agent runs a business and cannot afford to take on a book that will make little or no money, such as Introduction to Brain Surgery, The Anatomy and Physiology of Arboreal Quadrupeds, or How to Build Model Railroad Bridges.

  1. 3.How do I interest an agent in my work?

You can best impress an agent with a well-written clear, concise and compelling query letter. Make three main points: describe your topic; explain why people need information on this topic, and establish your credentials to write about it. Do not oversell yourself or your book idea. Agents are allergic to hyperbole, such as, “My book is the next Gone with the Wind” or “I love to write and know you will enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it  By the same token, agents love to see complete, well-organized book proposals.

  1. 4.What qualities attract an agent to a new author?

Professionalism, trust, loyalty, respect, patience, humility, gratitude, a sense of humor. You form a relationship with an agent the same way you build a friendship. Agents think of their authors as “family.” Treat your agent the way you treat a trusted family member. You are not hiring a plumber. You are entering into a business partnership governed by powerful emotions. Your book is your baby. Both you and your agent want to find a publisher who will fall in love with it and nurture it into the marketplace.

  1. 5.Why do I need to write a book proposal, especially if I have written a complete manuscript?

You cannot attract investors without a bulletproof business plan. Taking your proposal to an editor is just like approaching a banker to invest in your scheme to mine the Lost Dutchman Mine. If you amble into her office with a sketchy, hand-scrawled map to the gold in “them there hills”, she’ll throw you out of her office. But if you stride confidently through her door, fish a leather pouch from your shirt pocket and scatter gold nuggets on her desk, she’ll be reaching for her checkbook. Your proposal is your collateral, your little pouch of gold nuggets.

  1. 6.How do I evaluate an agent and decide whether we will make a good team?

Reread the answer to Question #4. Do not act as if you are trying to hire the best plumber in town, and do not create a competition for your work. Imagine walking into a pub, meeting a bright and attractive person of the opposite sex, chatting for an hour, then saying, “Wait here. I may want to go to dinner with you after I’ve checked out all the other potential companions in the room.” That’s a sure way to destroy a potential marriage of minds.

  1. 7.Do I sign a contract with my agent?

What would you put in a written agreement? “I hope to write a book; my agent hopes to sell it.”  A piece of paper does not make a marriage. Two people who like and respect and trust one another do.

Our formal, legal relationship with a client becomes a clause in the publishing agreement, whereby the author appoints us their sole and exclusive agent with respect to the Work. Unlike most other agents who act in a fiduciary capacity, collecting and distributing funds to their clients, we arrange for direct payment to the author and H. Michael Snell, Inc. This insures a direct financial link with the publisher that continues even if we get hit by a truck or the agent-author relationship sours. No one need worry about receiving any monies due or to become due under the terms of the publisher’s contract.

We receive no other compensation, unless we provide developmental services. In that case, we negotiate a fair arrangement with the author. Basically, we do not make 15 cents until the author earns a dollar. That propels us to find a good home for your book. Did we mention we run a business here?

  1. 8.What happens after I begin working with my agent?

Your agent submits you proposal (in some cases multiply, in some cases exclusively) to appropriate publishers. It can take anywhere from one day to never for us to sell your book. Although we do sell 80% of the projects we take on, sometimes we fail to find a good home for a book. We hate it when that happens. Rest assured, however, that we will wallpaper your den with rejection letters before we throw in the towel.

  1. 9.How long does it take to go from book idea to bestseller?

Typically, the publishing process works at glacial speed in geologic timeframes.

Let’s say it takes you 3 months to create a compelling proposal and 3 months for us to secure a publishing agreement. The publisher will not want the manuscript for a minimum of 3 months and a maximum of 12 months, even if you have finished a complete manuscript. Every publisher’s production and marketing processes move slowly because it takes several months to turn the manuscript into a book and to prepare the marketplace for the finished product.

Once the book reaches Amazon or Barnes & Nobel, it will take another 6-12 months to find out if all your hard work will pay off in the form of a royalty check. Bottom line answer: 2 years (and that’s  on a fast track schedule).

  1. 10.Can you predict how much money I might receive in advances and royalties?

Zero to a million dollars. Who knows? We have seen a rather mediocre nag turn into a racehorse and sell hundreds of thousand of copies, while the son of Secretariat breaks its leg before it leaves the chute and just lies there and groans. So much depends on how well you brand and promote yourself and your book. Rule of thumb: Do not quit your day job. If you want to publish a book just to make money, you probably won’t put much in the bank; but if you write it to help people, to solve their problems and maybe even to enrich or save their lives, you just might strike it rich.


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