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Lacking nonfiction platform

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Hello,
I've sent out dozens of queries and sometimes my book proposal and sample manuscript pages to agents. Some of the replies have expressed concern that I lack a sufficiently large platform that would interest publishers. I went through my copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction, but could find nothing about platform, nor is that term in the index. Could it have been discussed using a different term?

My understanding is that platform is more about author's credentials and public presence than about marketing. I'm not a professional in my subject matter, but I have received professional opinions, which have been mentioned in my queries.
#1 - March 15, 2018, 11:20 AM

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Spence, is this for a children's book? What genre? I write nonfiction PBs and have never been dinged for not having a platform. I write mostly historical or science-related stuff for the picture book crowd. I know adult NF authors are often asked to include their platform in their proposal. So maybe YA authors need that, to?

And be sure you are sending your queries to agents that rep children's authors. . . .

I hope others chime in, because I have not had that experience querying NF PBs.
#2 - March 15, 2018, 12:25 PM

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Platform is normally the term that would be used. Yes, NF authors are usually expected to have it. It's a measure of what sort of built-in audience you already have via being recognized as an expert in your field. I know an author whose publisher stopped publishing her after platform became a thing. They said, "We can't publish you any more on this subject. You don't have letters behind your name. You don't have a proven public following." In other words, there was a shift away from generalist writers researching a subject and writing about it to experts writing about the subject themselves, preferably already having an audience through a blog, show, public office, pulpit, etc. But this was writing for adults.

It does depend on the type of books. As has been said, NF PBs haven't required this, nor has children's NF work for hire. I don't know if things are changing for MG and older with regard to trade NF.
#3 - March 15, 2018, 12:42 PM
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It's a naked-eye stargazing guide and related astronomy, including my personal perspectives. The to-be-illustrated work was written to appeal mainly to older teens, but hoping others would also like it. I state in the query that it's meant to be informative, entertaining, and sometimes humorous, but not scholarly. No numbered footnotes or other formalities like that.

The reps cover YA and nonfiction.
#4 - March 15, 2018, 12:44 PM

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 An agent--I'll edit when I remember who it was--defined platform as "expertise plus reach."

They want to make sure your work is accurate. I found that even in fiction--the editor called and asked specific questions about the scientific accuracy of my sci fi novel before they bought it.  They wanted to make sure I'd done my homework.
 :goodluck
#5 - March 15, 2018, 01:18 PM
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Spence, I am both surprised and not surprised that a book about star-gazing for kids requires a built-in following. I know in the adult world it's expected but as a person who writes about all sorts of science for kids I am surprised. I don't have a platform per se. I have a personal blog but that came much later. And anyone looking at my blog would think I'm more interested in religion than in science and they'd be right, though now I'm also putting my fingers into history and social sciences. I am self-taught in many areas.

Have you approached editors directly? Your book might fit Nomad Press's needs (though you'd have to follow their format for the books). You could also try Boyds Mills Press. They like well-researched NF. Also try HMH--our own Betsy has a book with them called The Mysterious Universe. Very well written. I think stargazing is one of those fields that have many contributions by amateurs so I am surprised at the response you are getting. I remember reading your query a while back and it was very good.

Regarding the Anatomy of NF (I have the book) it came out before platform was a bigger deal. I'm reading a cute little book right now called Daily Rituals and it came about from a blog about daily routines of various artists. Julie and Julia (the book and movie) came about similarly after a successful blog on cooking. So yes, these authors had a large following and a readymade audience. There are many examples of this. I'm not saying you should make a blog or anything, because I don't think it's necessary, but just giving some examples of how a personal interest in a topic led to a book.

Good luck, Spence, and I hope you'll have some luck with the publishers I've mentioned.
Vijaya
#6 - March 15, 2018, 01:45 PM
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Many thanks for all the helpful replies. Vijaya, I'll try the publishers you mentioned.
#7 - March 15, 2018, 02:37 PM

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I've been writing nonfiction for years (and years) and wouldn't say I really have a "platform" -- but it hasn't stopped publishers from contracting my books. I too wonder whether the "concern" is more about reliability of information and sources. In your pitch, do you mention using extensive and multiple reliable sources for your text/ Perhaps you could even suggest providing an expert's fact-check (if, indeed, you'd be open to searching out an expert and probably paying for a fact-check review of your text)?

Also you say the agents include YA and nonfiction. I suspect the nonfiction mentioned on its own in this way may refer to adult nonfiction --although I could be completely wrong. Perhaps clarify that the agents are indeed looking for children's nonfiction: search out agents or publishers who are aimed at primarily publishing for children, in addition to YA and children's nonfiction.
#8 - March 15, 2018, 05:50 PM
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Thanks, Susan. I did hire a fact checker and mentioned who in the acknowledgments. Maybe I should add that to my query.

Fiction seems to have age-related genres. like PB, MG, YA, but as far as I can tell nonfiction covers all ages.
#9 - March 15, 2018, 06:53 PM

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Fiction seems to have age-related genres. like PB, MG, YA, but as far as I can tell nonfiction covers all ages.

I'm not sure I actually agree with that statement. There are definitely NF PBs, NF MG, and NF YA. For example, a book about space for preschoolers or elementary school kids would definitely have shorter words and sentences and simpler ideas and explanations than one written for the YA audience. . . .
#10 - March 15, 2018, 07:01 PM

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I meant the term nonfiction,  not works of nonfiction. On agents' websites YA means YA fiction. I don't see YA nonfiction stated as such.
#11 - March 15, 2018, 07:16 PM

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Yes. So I think you need to be a bit of a detective in making sure you're sending the pitch to agents who do represent children's nonfiction. It's much more clear when you look at publishers submission guidelines. Have you sent the pitch to many publishers accepting unagented submissions and open to nonfiction?
#12 - March 16, 2018, 07:51 AM
most recent:
Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs-pb nf
What Happens Next-pb
Time To (series)-bb
Up!-pb nf
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Ah, now I understand what you mean, Spence. But, since I write a lot of NF PBs, I did search out and find agents who specifically say they rep children's NF. In fact, if you go to MSwishlist.com and search YA and NF or nonfiction, you will find quite a few.

Here's a link: http://mswishlist.com/search?q=%23YA+%23NF

But I agree, the number of agents for NF children's lit is a smaller pie. Sometimes going to publishers instead might be a good strategy.
#13 - March 16, 2018, 08:15 AM

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DK - Can't find a thumbs-up icon but if I could, I'd put it here!
#14 - March 16, 2018, 08:17 AM
most recent:
Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs-pb nf
What Happens Next-pb
Time To (series)-bb
Up!-pb nf
Making Canada Home -mgnf

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Susan,
I looked into the publishers that Vijaya suggested. Two are for readers younger than my primary audience, which is stated in the query,  and the other isn't accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

I have a couple dozen more agents to try. I read the submissions guidelines, but they're not always clear about age ranges for nonfiction. If I find  agents who represents YA and my nonfiction subject, I'll give them a go.

dk,
Thanks for the link.
#15 - March 16, 2018, 08:31 AM

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Spence,

I just went back and reread the subject and angle of your manuscript. You said it contains "my personal perspectives." Is it written in the first person?

Have you looked at secondary school curriculum content to see if it aligns with any subjects--or would this be for readers who don't have any previous knowledge of astronomy? Is it for hobbyists primarily?

When you say "older teens," I wonder what you mean--or do you mean this to distinguish it from appealing to MG? I guess I'm wondering if it would also appeal to adults?

Susan
#16 - March 16, 2018, 08:47 AM
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Susan,
It's written in a conversational style.  By older teens, I mean high school juniors and seniors. It's for those who may be curious about the stars and how they relate to us.  No previous knowledge is needed, and I relate the elements of the book to what is taught in science classes. I would hope that adults could also enjoy it.

Here is a passage after explaining how the star Procyon is becoming a red giant. Please let me know how young you think a reader could be and understand it.

Our future descendants may look up at Procyon and witness the final glories of a ruddy star, a thousand times brighter than now. Procyon is only twice the Sun’s mass. Since mass controls the evolution of a star, our own Sun can be expected to evolve in a similar way after spending a somewhat longer time in the family of main-sequence stars.

If humanity is to outlive our Sun, it will need to someday embark on its most important journey ever to a suitable planet circling another sunlike star. Yet even tonight, we can set flight to our imaginations, across the vastness of space and time, and mentally picture our ultra-remote descendants in their newly adopted solar system. While looking hopefully towards their future, would they not also feel a sense of melancholy as they gazed back and witnessed our aged and long-dependable progenitor and supporter of bountiful life becoming Procyon-like?
#17 - March 16, 2018, 10:13 AM
« Last Edit: March 16, 2018, 10:20 AM by Spence »

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Spence,

The passage strikes me as high-level, definitely pitched at an audience of perhaps 14 and above? Beautiful writing!

Another thought is to look at which publishers have been publishing award-winning NF for teens and see if any of them are accepting unagented submissions: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/nonfiction-award

I'm pretty sure Scholastic just launched a new upperlevel NF brand as well, although they perhaps only look at agented submissions. Not sure but you could check.

Some of the smaller regional US publishers might also be open to taking  a look.

If the elements in your book do align with the curriculum, mentioning this in a pitch could make it more appealing, especially with schools being such a huge market for many trade publishers -- but I'm sure already knew that!

When you mentioned that your pitch says the manuscript is "not scholarly," did you mean it isn't meant to be an educational-text book but more of a resource book?
#18 - March 16, 2018, 11:17 AM
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Susan,
Yes, it's casually informative, not meant to be a textbook. I'm modifying the query to be more specific about age, and as you suggested, relating the book to curriculum.

It's really heartwarming, not to mention helping me steer an effective course of action, from all the support given here!
#19 - March 16, 2018, 11:38 AM

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Spence, your example is lovely. Although I've read many NF books geared towards high school kids, I think the MG market is more robust. The reason I say this is because by the time kids are in high school, many have already gone on to read adult NF. So something to think about when pitching your book. Another thing to consider is pitching those who publish memoir, if you can ramp up the personal part. :clover :clover :clover
#20 - March 16, 2018, 12:50 PM
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Vijaya,
Thanks for your appreciation and advice. I've found that astronomy-themed books are often geared towards adults or PB/MG.  Although older teens can often feel included in the audience of books for adults, as you say, mine was written with them in mind. I mention that in the proposal in the section on comparative books. I also want the focus to be on our relationship with the stars and the greater cosmos with me along as guide and, at times, thought provoker.
#21 - March 16, 2018, 01:27 PM

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I wonder if the term older teens isn't confusing things. Older teens are adults (18, 19.) Upper YA might be clearer (15-18). But I worry that upper YA readers interested in this topic will know the basics. My 13 yo has read Steven Hawking: the popular works, not the scientific studies. In the adult market, you're competing with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tough competition. Gearing toward the younger end of YA, ages 12-15 might be better. Remember that the YA category covers ages 12-high school graduation or the summer after it. Anyway, if agents read Upper Teen the way I did, they're thinking adult market. For an adult NF, you need a platform. I hope this is helpful.
#22 - March 16, 2018, 08:16 PM
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Hi Spence,

Chiming in late. You have received such fantastic advice from this crowd!

I'll offer one more piece of advice. I would go to the bookstore or library and look for books similar to yours. Write down the author, title, and publisher. Using Publisher's Weekly, you sometimes can reverse engineer the agent by putting in the title of the book and the author. Often it will pull up the deal announcement. If you have a membership to Publisher's Marketplace, you can do this there too much more easily, but it is expensive. You can also use QueryTracker to search author names and find out who the agent is.

If you can't find comparable books to yours in a bookstore or library, that's often a red flag indicating the market may be limited.

I think part of the challenge is what others have noted -- by the time you get to YA nonfiction, your book competes with adult nonfiction, where platform is much more important. That may be some of the pushback.

I hope not! Best of luck.
#23 - March 17, 2018, 06:47 AM
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Thanks, Debbie. I was thinking pre-college, 16-17, as the intended audience. From yours and other's opinions here, I could probably push that a bit younger, 13-14. I agree that 18-19 have mostly moved on to the adult market. But, on the other hand, a significant number of adults are said to read YA.

#24 - March 17, 2018, 06:50 AM

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Thanks, Kirsten. I've done some of what you advised in my book proposal. I'll never have the resources or time to establish the professional credentials and platforms of experts like Dr. Tyson. The only thing going for me is in the telling. Easier for those like me to establish a platform after proving having enough satisfied readers, but tough to get to those readers without first a platform to get past the gatekeepers.
#25 - March 17, 2018, 07:06 AM

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Adults read YA fiction. I'm not sure any YA nonfiction crosses over in that direction. I think it goes the other way and the young adults read adult nonfiction.  I hope taking the age level down to cover all of YA instead of just the upper end will help you sell this.
#26 - March 17, 2018, 06:22 PM
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Thanks, everyone, for all the help given here.
#27 - March 18, 2018, 07:49 AM

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