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01/31/2023

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EFB

I have never done it. However, when I was pitching my academic monograph to a major university press, they turned me down but said they'd be interested in a future trade book on the same subject. I wasn't in a position to do so at the time so they said to get in touch if/when I was. So my supsicion is that if you want to write a trade book with an academic press, you could approach them the same way you do a monograph. But I have no idea about non-academic presses like Penguin, etc.

Olle Blomberg

This fairly recent Daily Nous post, by Erik Angner, might be helpful:
https://dailynous.com/2022/11/28/trade-secrets-from-academic-literature-to-trade-books-guest-post/

Malcolm

A few years ago, I was pitching a trade book proposal and got partway through the process of finding an agent. I found them by Google searches, looking at Publisher's Weekly and other industry resources, and word of mouth from people I knew who had written trade books.

I got a couple of agents initially interested, but the challenge was narrowing the audience and the book's niche. This is important to consider carefully, since trade publishing is about selling a book, and the publishers want to know what group of people will almost definitely buy your book (which is not "philosophers" or "philosophy students").

In my situation, as I work on Indian philosophy, while I wanted the book to be on a "philosophy" shelf, agents told me that it would do better on a "self-help" shelf, alongside some of the modern Stoicism material. What I personally found challenging was that I did not want to write another "Secrets of Ancient Wisdom" guide to health, wealth, and happiness. I wanted to write a book that challenged existing categories--but then this makes selling the book difficult, since booksellers use those categories to sell your book.

Eventually, I decided I would write an accessible academic book (which I am doing now) and see if that might lead to trade oppportunities which align with my goals. I get the sense that it's hard to find the right sweet spot of being both engaging/profitable and scholarly/philosophically respectable.

Bill Vanderburgh

I am currently in the middle of crafting a proposal for a trade book. The best advice I've received so far is to read _Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction--and Get It Published_ by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato. It made a major difference to how I'm approaching things.

I'm also working my way through _The Business of Being a Writer_ by Jane Friedman. Her website has good resources too: https://www.janefriedman.com/

Those sources will give you more info than I can, but generally: Do not write the manuscript yet (though you will need to do a lot of the prep work), work on a proposal and sample chapter, shop those to agents, and then your agent will help you shape them further before sending to publishers. If a publisher gives you a contract, they will also want to shape the proposal. Then write the manuscript. That's for trade presses. University presses that publish trade books don't necessarily require an agent, though you'll probably find a better fit publisher and get a better contract if you do go through an agent.

Good luck! I think philosophers should do a lot more of this kind of writing.

DB

I'm an academic and, like Bill, I am writing a trade book. My experience with this has been complex, with many ups and downs (and in this sense resembles what Malcolm describes).

To answer the easy questions: yes, you absolutely need an agent if you want a trade press to look at a submission. An academic press with a trade division will talk to you without an agent, but it's still best to have an agent to negotiate on your behalf (especially at the contract stage, where he agent will know better than you what to push for in terms of how many copies printed, audio and paperback and ebook terms, etc etc etc.) Most important, a good agent will help you shape the book in a way that will sell. Your (academic) publisher can do this too, but having two people doing this rather than one isn't a bad thing.

In my personal experience, finding an agent isn't hard. I had no trouble at all getting an agent - I had signed a representation contract within about 24 hours of sending out my initial queries. Unlike Bill, I didn't look at Publisher's Weekly, nor did I start on Google; instead, I looked at the trade books that most resembled the book I want to write (not so much in subject matter, but in tone, seriousness, scope, heft, etc--my niche, as will be the case for most everyone reading this, is "serious nonfiction"). I hung out in bookstores looking at the "new books" section, and whenever I saw a trade book that seemed serious, I read the acknowledgments and identified the agent. I kept a list that ultimately had maybe 10 or 12 names. Once I had put my proposal together I queried the first three, and got offers of representation from two. (My plan, had I not gotten offers, would have been to tweak the proposal before sending it to the next three on the list. I thought moving in groups of three was a good idea. And btw, although I made my overall list based only on the "seriousness" of the books the agents represented, I chose which three to begin querying based on the subject matter of the books - I started with the three I thought would be most amenable to my project.)

As Bill says, you shouldn't write the manuscript yet. In my case, when I queried the agents, I didn't even have a sample chapter. I just wrote a very thorough and complete proposal. My advice is: work really, really hard to make the proposal fun to read. In my case, although I'm bad at "storytelling" in the trade-nonfiction sense, I wrote simple and *very* energetic sentences. I worked hard to be gently humorous, a bit self deprecating, have good timing, etc. The agent basically signed me on the strength of the writing.

I will add, as a cautionary note, that this was 6 years ago, and I have still not actually written a trade book. It became apparent soon after signing that the book the agent wanted me to write, and which she wanted to shop around to publishers, was a version of the book that I didn't want to write. Although I spent a looooong time trying to give the agent what she wanted (and she was very patient with me through dozens of failed attempts), I ultimately stopped and just wrote it as an academic book, which is being published this year. One barrier was that, as Malcolm pointed out, many philosophy books look to agents like "self help" books, whereas I insisted on writing a *philosophy* book. The result that we never got to the point where the agent was happy to take the book to publishers, and then the project fizzled out, I wrote other things (including an academic version of this book), and life moved on. But I'm still signed to the agent, I still send her things occasionally, and she still hopes for a proper trade project someday. I'm now again at work on a book that may end up as a trade book, or it may not (most likely, it will end up with a university press that dabbles in trade books).

So I guess this is to say that there is nothing to stop you from getting an agent - but that this is only step one, and the really hard revisionary work starts after that. And my advice, having been through that side of the process is that, if you have a choice of agents, it's better to go with one who is actually enthusiastic about your project. Maybe ask for their thoughts about changes they'll want you to make before you sign with them, so you have some idea of what kind of book they're willing to represent.

I will also add, more optimistically, that I've been amazed and inspired by the number of serious philosophy trade books that have come out over the past year or so...so I bet the publishing world (agents and editors alike) would be more amenable to another philosophy trade book now that they see it's possible to do it well and land a successful one with Penguin, FSG, etc. There does seem to be an audience of readers who want serious, philosophical trade nonfiction, and this is a great thing.

Good luck!!!

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