Some friends wrote with questions about publishing their commercial non-fiction project. Thought I’d share my answers with you all:
Should we find an agent or contact publishers ourselves?
Definitely find an agent first. For that you’ll need a book proposal, which should include a few sample chapters, an overview of your platform, any persons of note who might be tapped to write a forward, an outline of the book, your market, etc. Basically, a package describing what the book will be (with examples), who will buy it, and why.
How do we go about finding a trustworthy agent?
There are lots of resources online, and Writer’s Marketplace is a great print publication. You’ll want an agent specializing in commercial non-fiction. You might start by looking up who represents authors of books similar to yours (this info isn’t always public, but check the acknowledgements section, and usually the author mentions their agent).
As far as trustworthy agents go, Predators & Editors is an invaluable resource. They should not *pay* an agent to consider their book. In fact, they shouldn’t pay an agent anything until there’s a book deal. Standard percentage is 15%, and you want an agent who is an AAR member.
When we find one, what is generally the timeline to publishing a book?
Long. Assuming your first round of submissions lands you an agent: Agent considers for 30-60 days, finishing the book takes another 3 months, then revisions with the agent take another 3. Editors consider for 2 months, then more revisions, then an additional year (at least) of promotion, printing, etc, before the book hits the shelves. As far as $$$ is concerned, advances often run 1/2 on execution of the publishing agreement, 1/2 on acceptance by the Publisher of the final draft of the book. Sometimes a portion is reserved until the book is actually published.
Hope this helps!