I have an agent who represents my fiction, but has a conflict of interest and isn't able to represent me on this topic. We've talked, and we both agree that I'll try to find a different agent for this book and for all of my non-fiction from this point onward.
Do I include this information in a query? Or should I wait until later in the process, if I get that far with an agent? Do I even have a chance at getting an agent when I'm in this situation? I want to handle this correctly, and I definitely don’t want to come across as unprofessional.
Any advice you have would be very much appreciated. I read your blog and have learned a lot through the years. Thank you for fostering such a great online community and being so generous with your time and expertise.
Let's start with the basics first: no matter what you do, you will not come off as unprofessional because you are not unprofessional. You've clearly realized this is not just barrel ahead, throw caution to the winds, see what sticks when you throw it at the wall; and, you're asking the right questions.
The next question is Do you have a chance of getting an agent? Sure. The question is can you get the agent who's right for you, and will be able to help you. That's more complicated.
If you were querying me, the first question I'd ask is "are you under contract to any other publisher right now?"
If you still need to deliver a novel on an existing contract, you'll need to finish that before you really dive in to writing the proposal for the non-fiction book.
Writing a proposal can take MONTHS of work. Several of my clients have standing weekly phone calls with me to send drafts of proposal sections back and forth. The most recent NF book I sold (not yet announced) was in draft from September - April. And that was with a proposal that the author thought was ready to go. In fact, he'd had a previous agent who subbed the book on that proposal.
The next NF book I send out will have been in draft from March-August.
And none of this even begins to talk about building platform.
So, yes, I want to know what your contractual obligations are, and how much time you'd have.
While it's not a deal breaker to need to finish a book, I'm always more eager for books that I can work on NOW rather than later.
Now, the big question: when do you reveal this info. As an agent, I want to know right away. As an author, I think you should leave it out of the query, and let your subject matter rise or fall on its own.
However, you MUST tell the agent before s/he starts to read or invest much time.
You'll need to provide the name of your fiction agent, the details (and probably a copy) of any contracts you've got going, and the time line you envision.
Here's the problem you didn't ask about: because you come with baggage, you're going to need to have something better, faster, stronger, smarter about your topic. Info that no one else has; source material that changes our perception of the events; new information on the topic. In other words, you're going to need to be worth the extra work.
To that end: you might have a list tucked in your back pocket of OTHER topics you want to write about. I can't tell you the number of times I've had a conversation with a writer about representation, and we've come away with a different topic for a book than the one we started.
Does this help?