Thursday, March 05, 2009

Non-Fiction queries: platform

Most of the ranting I've done here applies mostly to queries for novels.

The biggest reason I turn down interesting non-fiction queries is platform-lack thereof

If you want to write non-fiction (excluding memoir) you must have platform.
No exceptions.

You need to tell me this in your query letter.
No exceptions.

If your idea is anything less than 100% ohmygod, I must have that (and figure you're in that category just for safety sake) I won't write back and ask "what's your platform."

The reason is I don't want to get involved in a long drawn out discussion of what is/isn't platform and why this idea is so great you don't need one.

Experience taught me that the less likely I am to take or like the book, the longer the email exchange.

You can understand then why I don't even want to start.

Any questions?


Superfast said...

Well since you asked...

Do you query/summary a memoir like it is fiction?

Janet Reid said...

only in that you do not write a proposal for it as you would other types of non-fiction work.

The query letter for a memoir should focus on what makes the story interesting or unusual.

Yes, you survived cancer (so did a million other people)

Yes, you survived the heartbreaking loss of a child (so did too many other people)

Yes, you dated a celebrity (so did everyone)

Baldly put, the next question is then: so what? You need the answer to the so what question.

Abby said...

So, Janet, which celebrity did you date? ;->

Jessica Milne said...

It would be a different story if you were recovering from cancer treatments while dating a celebrity who then caused the heartbreaking loss of a child, though, right?
[Just my view, but I have zilch when it comes to non-fiction.]

Eric said...

What about: My threeway with Brangelina cured my cancer and saved the life of my child?

Marjorie said...

Janet, can I query you? I am serious. I wrote a memoir and it is all in my blog. The photos in my blog are my are my "so what."

No other memoir comes close to my bizarre photos and stuff, in my opinion of course. Not "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn" or "700 Sundays" or "Running With Scissors" or "51 Birch Street" or "Must Read After My Death."

The documentary filmmaker Alan Berliner has called my blog: "your astounding blog, and once again, (I) think you are doing an amazing thing -- (sharing) memoirs, and ... personal history in ways both literary and photographic. bravo."

Yes, I toot my own horn. Why not? So many rejections and yet so many people love it. I want to put it out there, for everybody to enjoy in all ways that I can. And even if my memoir lives forever in just a blog, so what? As long as people read it and laugh and love it... I am happy.

David said...

I was so very ready to object to the "No exceptions" statement in your comment, Janet, that I decided to wait a while and think about your post. So few questions arise about nonfiction in agent blogs (which puzzles me) that I thought it worth easing off and giving the idea some consideration.

My great exception would have been one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But, then, that is very much a memoir, even though highly structured as a philosophical statement (Pirsig surely had the credentials for that) plus a carefully organized memoir.

My objection to your insistence on platform came out of my own preconceptions about the word "platform." It doesn't necessarily mean a track record as a journalist, historian, scientist, economist, or whatever. It means demonstrating that you have the authority to cover your subject so that readers trust what you say.

And that's liberating for people like me who are more inclined to be Robert Pirsigs (oh, I wish!) than authorities of the academy or Fourth Estate. How well do you know your subject and what do you bring to it that gives you a singular perspective no one else can match? Isn't that the essential core of platform?

I hope so--along with the gift of writing about it so well that it keeps readers absorbed in it, one way or another.

two darts said...

what about - I have suffered a cot death, I have looked after my severely handicapped child until she died, by the hands of another, at fourteen years old. Also,I did my best to be a mother to my remaining daughter whilst her father suffered for two years with schizophrenia and, finally, hanged himself from the loft at home.

I can understand that each element has been endured by many other people, but all endured by one person? I believe it is that that makes my 97000 word memoir different, but how do I get it published!!!