Nathan here! I recently had lunch with literary agent Tess Callero from Europa Content, and we talked a lot about pitches and the importance of nonfiction authors really nailing the introduction/overview. (See also: how to write a nonfiction book proposal). I invited her to participate in an interview, and here it is!
Nathan: What’s life like for a literary agent these days?
Tess: I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but for me, no one day is the same. One of my favorite parts about the job is that I can spend one morning fully immersed in a line edit for a YA, then in the afternoon be looking over a contract, coordinating with a client’s publicist, or helping an author outline their proposal. My brain is constantly being thrown in different directions that require different skillsets, which means I’m almost always being challenged in a way I find very refreshing.
What do you look for in a book project (both fiction and non-fiction?)
Fiction: exceptional writing, a distinct voice, a compelling pitch with relevant, fresh comps.
Nonfiction: platform, writing, and layers (meaning does a project fit one, specific audience, or is there a way to scale an idea to capture an even bigger readership than what feels obvious on the surface).
One of the keys to a successful nonfiction book proposal is really nailing the introduction/overview. What do you think are the crucial elements?
I like to be involved in the proposal-writing process from the start, but if an author queried me with a solid introduction, I would definitely be open to reading more of their proposal.
The key to nailing an introduction is storytelling. Tell me who you are and why you are the person who should be writing this book, but in a way that gives me access to your world and immerses me in the story. By the end of the introduction, I don’t need to necessarily know what the book is in its entirety, but I should feel compelled to keep reading in order to find out.
What’s the best thing an author can do to get your attention?
Perfect the query. I really do read every query myself, and I always look for professional, concise pitches that (again) have fresh comps. Comps should have been published or released within the last 5 years and should communicate the audience for the book. I’ve read great queries that included outdated comps and have passed because it indicates that the author doesn’t understand the market in which they wish to publish.
Here’s more information about comp titles and how to present them in a query letter: How to come up with good comp titles for your book
Thanks again to Tess!
Tess graduated from Indiana University with a dual degree in Marketing and English. She moved to New York in 2014 to combine her love of both fields and become a literary agent. After spending four years at Curtis Brown, she moved to Europa Content in March 2019. Tess represents clients across genres and categories, from young adult and adult fiction to select nonfiction projects.
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