American Society of Journalists & Authors, Client Connections pitch sessions May 18, 2018

The appeal of ASJA writers is their knowledge of what's happening now in their areas of expertise. They keep up with the news. As with any topic, they've done the relevant background reading; sometimes the question of why something is happening now can be informed by the past. But author/journalists are particularly adept at staying on topic and synthesizing the past with the present to produce books on what concerns readers now. 

What I like about journalists is their orientation towards stories. Many of us are drawn to true stories that read like novels or play like movies in our heads. To read exciting larger-than-life stories that are also true can be gratifying entertainment as well as a good use of our time (because they're true).

I'm looking for narrative nonfiction on topics that are current and are rendered with drive. The storytelling can be fast-paced--or not--but it must be intense and offer insight in ways that good books do.

As an agent I look for nascent book projects that can compete with other clever books that will be on display (with yours) in bookstores. What I like about ASJA's Client Connections event (May 18th) are the ten-minute sessions as opposed to three-minute pitch slams. We have productive conversations about their manuscripts and discuss strategies for building a readership. As an agent I appreciate this event because it gives me a better understanding of writers' projects and their submissions become more meaningful. 

To give attending writers a sense of the kinds of books I'm looking for, I went to B&N to browse the tables for new releases for titles that caught my eye. 

Wallis in Love, a biography about Wallis Simpson offers an intriguing slant on the story, but I'd rather read about today's royals. Wait, an American actress is marrying Prince Harry, but is her story intriguing? The best love stories have a touch of scandal. It's a mean truth that I hate to admit to, but a love story need this to me care. 

A note about topics from history. If your story is set in the past, how does it link to our concerns today? The pitch should give compelling reasons why others will want to read it. Sarah Vowell writes compelling narrative nonfiction about historical influences on the present.  

The new Tiger Woods biography was on display. Great cover that allows for a billboard-like display in stores. I'm not interested in golf. I think it's boring, but I don't get bored watching Tiger. I watch for those moments he makes a spectacular shot. He's a hero making a comeback and there's enough about his life outside the sport to make him book-worthy. I'm looking for celebrity stories with a new or intriguing slant.  

Buzz Aldrin has a new book. I stopped paying attention to news of space missions but a resurgence of stories about moon walks and intergalactic exploration captured my attention. With talk of budgets and the eventual end of our planet, I feel saddened by the idea that our accomplishments will disappear. Hopefully books by Buzz Aldrin and about others in space exploration (Elon Musk) will persuade Americans that space exploration should continue.

Patriot Number One appeals to my curiosity about recent immigrants making a new life in the U.S., but there was too much back story about their lives in China for my taste. Is it a collection of immigrant stories? I really want a book-length story about an immigrant's life here, like the movie Learning to Drive in which Ben Kingsley, as an Indian Sikh working as a NYC driving school instructor, falls for one of his students, a Manhattan divorcĂ©e. He begins to see his wife at home in Queens differently. He's angry, and urges her to get out more and learn English. A shy woman who seems to have remained the bride she was in India, is comforted and drawn out by her Sikh friends, who have their own opinions about their friend's marriage and American women. The story is fiction, but it's compelling for its currency about immigrant life in the U.S.

I have other interests that weren't present on B&N's tables: slice-of-life stories that we first think of as narrative nonfiction, books like The Orchid Thief or A Year in Provence. Can it be they don't write 'em like they used to?

For more on my areas of interests, please see the list of clients currently signed up link on ASJA's Client Connections page. See you there!