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January, 2008

Word Wright

Neubauer's Nuggets
No writing problem is too big for our Joan
By  Joan R. Neubauer

Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer answers questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her emailbox at Subject: Neubauer Nuggets and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.

Q: Dear Joan:

I'm about to attend my first writers conference where I will have the opportunity to meet with an agent about my novel. Some of my friends tell me I should take my manuscript with me to give to her when we meet. Others tell me not to do that. Who should I believe? What should I do?

Donna Baker

A: Dear Donna,

First, let me say that it's wonderful you're going to a writers conference and that you're taking advantage of the opportunity to meet with an agent. Whether or not you can interest her in your manuscript, you stand to learn a lot. That said, I have to agree with those friends who say not to bring your manuscript with you. Do not hand your manuscript over to the agent.

I don't know how far this agent is traveling to be at this particular conference, but I can be fairly certain she doesn't want to leave with a totebag full of manuscripts. If you can interest her in your manuscript, she will ask you to send it or some portion of it to her after the conference. Remember, these conference meetings have three purposes: pitch the idea of your book to an agent or editor; gauge their interest; and get some professional feedback. You can optimize your meeting by doing five things.

First, prepare an "elevator speech" about your book. That is, prepare a two-minute description of your book that includes plot highlights, characters, and ending. Don't be afraid of giving away the ending. For example, if you've written a mystery, the agent will want to know who did it. Don't keep her in suspense. Neither you nor she have time for that sort of game, and the more games you play, the less professionalism you project. Be articulate and enthusiastic. Show what a great job you can do of promoting your book to the public by promoting your book to the agent. Make your enthusiasm contagious.

Second, give straightforward answers to the questions she may ask about your book or you. You only have a few minutes of her undivided attention, so make the most of it.

Third, if you have piqued her interest, she will ask you to send her some portion of your manuscript, or the whole thing. When you get home from the conference, send her only what she has asked for.

Fourth, take your cue from her words and/or body language. When the meeting is over, you'll know it. Graciously thank her for her time and hand her your business card. Do not have the words "writer," "author," "freelancer," or other such adjective on your card. If you belong to a large writer's organization such as National Writers Association or Writers League of Texas, it's fine to indicate your membership on your card.

Fifth, during the rest of the conference when you see the agent, be polite. Ask if she's having a nice time and if there's anything you can do to enhance her time at the conference. At any social times, make small talk about travel, weather, in short, anything but your book.

As a result of your good manners, when your manuscript lands on her desk, (with your business card paper clipped to the cover letter), she will remember you as a pleasant, professional writer, who enthusiastically and articulately presented her work; a good mindset for her to have when she reads your manuscript.

Have a great time at the conference.

Good luck,

Q: Dear Joan,

I'm in the process of writing a formal proposal for a nonfiction book. I know part of what I need to include in the proposal is a promotional plan. What should that include? And why should I have to do this? Doesn't the publisher do all the promotion for my book?

Gene Baker

A: Dear Gene,

When you present your manuscript or proposal to a publisher, you are in essence asking them to act as your investment banker. They, in turn, will want to know what you will do to insure a return on their investment in you; thus, the request for a promotional plan. When you write your plan, keep that in mind and give specifics of what you will do.

Here are some key points to include with your plan:

  • Write that you will do book signings and presentations in bookstores, at conferences, writers groups, civic organizations, and business events. Tell how many of these events you will book every month during the first year of your book's release.
  • If you intend to travel to do this, please include this information. Perhaps add that since you have lived in five other cities, you will place an emphasis on those cities. It's easier to sell books to people you know than to people you don't know.
  • Include how many radio and TV stations you will contact for interviews in that same period of time. Your success rate will likely be low, but you've got to try.
  • Tell the publisher if you will send out postcards, print bookmarks, and/or business cards.
  • Specify how many newspapers you will contact with press releases and/or requests for interviews.
  • Indicate how many books you will give away as review copies. If you can give a list of reviewers, so much the better.
  • Finally, if you have any sales experience or public speaking experience, make sure you include that little piece of information. That may just be the thing that can tip the scales in your favor.

Now go for it!

JoanIN Icon

Joan R. Neubauer is an author and works as a publisher at Visit her website at email at or You can sign up for WordWright's monthly email newsletter at the site as well.

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