Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Significance of the Query Letter

Among the hundreds of queries I receive each week, I must uncover those that are engaging and marketable. I receive queries from prison inmates on a regular basis but to date only one seemed viable. An initial query letter from Michael G. Santos, an inmate at a minimum security federal camp in Colorado, immediately piqued my interest, based on his continuous accomplishments under incarceration. He earned a bachelor's degree from Mercer and an M.A. degree from Hofstra. The college degrees, coupled with three books published by prestigious academic presses, deserved my attention. His publications were much too academic for the general interest reader. Given the the astounding and growing number of American prison inmates, I believed that I could sell a straightforward nonacademic account of living in prison that would inform the reading public about conditions in American prisons.

I am a firm believer in the importance of a well-executed, professional proposal for nonfiction works. The days of editors like Maxwell Perkins, who were able to publish their authors of choice, no longer exist. An editor, no matter how enamored he or she may be about an author's work can no longer make a unilateral decision to publish a book. Instead, he or she must face his or her associates in a "pub" meeting and convince them of the viability and marketability of the book. Often the sales department can put the kibosh on a project they do not believe they can sell. Therefore, the author must provide the editor with as much ammunition as possible. By presenting the concept, competition, marketing strategies, etc., along with at least two or three sample chapters, the author provides the impetus for agreement among the editorial staff.

I suggested to Michael that he check out books on publishing that guide writers in the preparation of a book proposal. Often, templates of solid outlines and ideas are suggested and when followed result in the development of a winning proposal. Michael did his homework and followed up with a dynamite proposal for his book, Inside: Life Behind Bars in America. Within ten days of making multiple submissions, I received a call from an editor at St. Martin's Press expressing interest in the work. A contract was negotiated and St. Martin's published the book in 2006.

My advice to authors is always query first. Then if you are asked to send a proposal, do your homework and get that winning proposal off to the agent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Books by My Clients: Inside: Life Behind Bars in America, by Michael G. Santos

From a federal inmate in his more than twenty years of continuous confinement comes a controversial expose of the shocking details of life in American prisons. American jails and prisons confine nearly 13.5 million people each year, and it is estimated that 6 to 7 percent of the U.S. population will be confined in their lifetimes. Despite these disturbing numbers, little is known about life inside beyond the mythology of popular culture.

Michael G. Santos, a federal prisoner having served two decades of continuous confinement, has dedicated the last eighteen years to shedding light on the lives of the men warehoused in the American prison system. Inside: Life Behind Bars in America, his first book for the general public, takes us behind those bars and into the chaos of the cellblock.

Capturing the voices of his fellow prisoners with perfect pitch, Santos makes the tragic - and at times inspiring - stories of men from the toughest gang leaders to the richest Wall Street criminals come alive. From drug schemes, murders for hire, and even a prostitution ring that trades on the flesh of female prison guards, this book contains the never-before-seen details that at last illuminate the varied ways in which men experience life behind bars in America.

Michael Santos was convicted in 1987, at the age of twenty-three, of crimes relating to his participation in a drug-trafficking scheme and sentenced to forty-five years in prison. He has earned a bachelor of arts and a master of arts, and was pursuing a Ph.D. until the Bureau of Prisons rules blocked his progress. He contributes to an extensive Web site at as a resource for families of people behind bars. Based on his impeccable disciplinary record, he looks forward to his release next year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Books by My Clients: The Cul-lud Sch-oool Teach-ur, by Sandra E. Bowen

Our Agency seeks out books of socially redeeming values. "The Cul-lud Sch-ool Teach-ur," (Seaburn,2006), describes a period in American history not fully understood by many young adult Americans. There was a time when colored teachers were revered by practically everybody in their communities, both white and colored. Being a colored teacher in the South was a kind of status. That day extended from its post-slavery beginning to World War I, for a period afterwards, certainly to World War II, and is said to exist in some remote places till today. These respected mentors were predominantly female and taught in public elementary schools where the bulk of southern school attendance was concentrated. Traditionally these women were CCC - the "cream of the colored community," their character without public flaws; dedication to the classroom their faith and religion. They were choice ladies sought after and targeted maritally by a coterie of colored men, many who had not completed the elementary grades, and were low wage earners, whose "thang" was to marry one of these women distinguished by their roll books and having principals as immediate bosses. Most of these men were decent, and some loved the women who would elevate them to statures they would never attain otherwise.

Bowen narrates a story of deep insight and understanding into some little known aspects of the culture of African America.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Our Agency and the SONY Personal E-book Reader

Welcome to the Schiavone Literary Agency, Inc., blog. This is my first entry and I'm writing about a relatively new device which I have been using over the past two years. In 2007 I purchased the Sony portable reader system model PRS-505. As a literary agent I'm naturally an avid reader. Like most avid readers I purchase many books, read them, and then add them to my personal library. Alas, like most readers, one soon runs out of shelf space. Often friends drop by, "borrow" a book which is never returned, and subsequently frees up shelf space. Many books do not lend themselves to repeated reading, so the shelved books need periodic dusting, and remain in place for years. With ebooks there are no storage or dusting problems.

Reading ebooks resolves the space problem, and enables the reader to carry dozens of books on the airplane, to the doctor's office, etc. It has proven a boon to my office operations as a literary agent. Not only can I purchase and download the latest books, I can also invite prospective author/clients to email their work to me via attached files. In the past I have never been able to read full manuscripts from my computer screen because of eye and back strain and prolonged sitting in the office chair staring at a screen. The Sony device is particularly useful to the agent since the email files are swiftly downloaded to the personal reader, making it possible to carry around numerous manuscripts and proposals conveniently, while avoiding the problem of having tons of paper in piles around the office.

Having the capacity to accept email attachments saves my authors time and the expense of printing and shipping their work to me. Recently, most of the major publishing houses have purchased ebook readers for their editors. While one cannot edit with the device, it streamlines the overall reading process. This speeds up my ability to get my submissions to the editors who now often prefer electronic submissions.

Of course I comply with my editor's requirements for either electronic or hard copy submissions, so that I utilize both approaches. I have been pleased to learn that many of my editors at the larger houses prefer electronic files. When a book is sold, the author must eventually provide an e-file anyway, so it is convenient to have one prepared. I must caution my readers that I only accept query letters. If the query interests me I will invite the author to send more via email attachment. We do not open attachments unless specifically requested. Please do not send anything other than a query letter by email or post.

It appears to me that the future for e-book readers and e-books will be prosperous. I encourage my author/clients to avail themselves of this exciting technology.

James Schiavone, Ed.D.