AREAS OF REPRESENTATION
The Zack Company is currently seeking new authors on the following Nonfiction subjects:
- Current Affairs/Events
- Defense/National Security/Intelligence
When you look at this list, think of authors like my old political science professor, John Mueller, or Thomas Barnett. I want serious consideration of these topics by serious people. You have to have the platform and credentials to write authoritatively about the subject. If Bill Maher would like you on his show, I’d be interested in your book proposal. If the New York Times would publish your op-ed, I’d probably be interested in your proposal. You don’t have to be wonky, but it probably doesn’t hurt.
I am also looking for works that might be complementary to those subject areas, specifically books having to do with the following
- Science & Technology
- Science & Nature, especially with an environmental or ecological angle
- Popular Science
- Journalistic nonfiction of an investigative nature
- Women’s Issues, from a woman’s right to choose to breaking through the glass-ceiling at work
- True Crime
To write in these areas, you really need to know your stuff, though you might not necessarily be a known quantity to the average reader. I have represented several authors whom I had never heard of when they first submitted to me, but when I learned of their credentials, I was very impressed. I can’t tell you who runs the various departments of the Smithsonian, but if one of them has a book proposal, I’d like to see it. I can’t name every national reporter from the Times (NY or LA) or the Wall Street Journal, but their background should be more than sufficient. Heck, the right local reporter writing about the right local story could be the right person to write about the local serial killer or corporate or political villain.
As always, if you have great credentials and are able to write well and in a compelling manner about your subject, I will be interested in learning more.
- American History and, in particular, 20th century American History
- European and/or British History (especially Middle Ages)
- Military History or History of Intelligence Services
- Natural History
- Cultural History
And, of course, we want you to be highly qualified to write history. You should not be just an amateur historian or someone writing about a subject that you just found interesting. You should be a trained historian or journalist. You should have a PhD or at least a Masters in an applicable field. You are, ideally, previously published and have received good reviews and, even better, good sales. You bring to the subject a new perspective or angle that has yet to be explored. You have access to primary source materials that have never been seen before. The subject of your book has not been, nor will it be, the subject of eight other books this year.
But, wait, we’re going to get even more specific here.
What does “American history and, in particular, 20th century American history” mean? For me, that means events or periods in history that are “turning points” for society. Does your subject represent one of those? Are you a known expert in the area? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you likely have something that will interest us.
Now, on to European and/or British history (especially Middle Ages). Again, focusing on “turning points” is good, and being an expert is great. But also, exploring a truly “new” fact is best. My old history professor once told the story of how he was in a dusty archive in the UK and came across what he believed to be a “new” fact. This was incredibly exciting for him, as it is every historian’s dream to find a fact that no one else has found. Alas, he subsequently found that someone else had found this fact before him. But, if you have found a new fact, or at least a new perspective or approach to an event or persons at this time in history, we’d like to know.
Let’s face it, there’s quite a bit of information going back to WWII that remains classified. Some day, we may find that FDR really did know the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. What secrets may still be untold about the Cold War? Were POWs kept in Vietnam or shipped off to Russia for interrogation? What would the archives of the KGB tell us?
Literally, military history or intelligence services history has to have this kind of impact. We’re not interested in the exploits of one unit on D-Day, though we might be interested in a unit history of the 442nd (if it hasn’t been done), given the cultural element of it being a Japanese unit fighting for America in WWII. That said, I remember reading the Long Gray Line and being fascinated. But the West Point class featured in that book was clearly part of one of those “turning points” I’ve described above. It might be interesting to apply that approach to the Class of 2006, most of whom probably ended up in Iraq. Where are they now? How did they feel as freshmen in 2002? Did they ever imagine that four years later they would graduate into a real, live shooting war? I suspect not.
Natural History, to me, is not just about dinosaurs, though I like a good work on how a new dinosaur was discovered as much as the next guy. But I’m looking for serious discussion of new scientific theories having to do with evolution, paleontology, and the like. I am not interested in creationism. I’m strictly a Darwinist.
To me, Cultural History can mean quite a lot of things. For example, you could look at the lives of Jews on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, or you could look at life on a US Army base. You could examine the culture of the inner-city high school or a Montessori school. What’s important is that your subject is fresh, of course, and that there’s something there to intrigue, fascinate, and educate the reader. Combine those elements with terrific qualifications to be writing such a work, and I believe you’ll succeed.
Last but not least, if you are going to send us a work of history, it needs to be written in an approachable style that will engage the lay reader. While we may do a deal now and then with an academic press, we’re more often doing them with large, trade houses, and as such your work should appeal well beyond a marketplace of students or professors.
- Outdoor or Sporting Adventure
Publishers like to call this “armchair adventure,” because you get to sit at home in your comfy armchair and read about some poor idiot who lost his life—or certainly risked it. There have been more than a few such best-sellers, and publishers—and therefore we—are looking for more. So if you tried to sail around Cape Horn and got hijacked by pirates and left for dead on a deserted island, only to survive when you lashed together stale pretzels into a life raft, I’d like to hear from you. Or if you found yourself deep in an underwater cave, running out of air, facing off with a great white shark, please let me know.
Also, if you climbed a mountain and had to eat your climbing partner to survive, or raced to the North Pole and wrestled a polar bear along the way, I’m the agent for you.
Or anything similar provided that the adventure is of the nail-biting type and the writing is compelling.
- Nonfiction Inspiration and Spirituality.
Okay, I have to be careful here. I have no desire to offend anyone. But I also have no desire for crackpot religious types to be writing me. Everyone in publishing has seen these. If you don’t have a job, write by hand, and are sequestered in a tree house because it brings you closer to G-d, then I’m probably not interested. If you have faced a real trial and found that your relationship with G-d helped save you, then I would be interested. You can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Pagan, I don’t care. What’s important is that others will be intrigued, impressed, and inspired. And remember, one important word above is “nonfiction.” I don’t believe in “creative nonfiction.” I believe in the real thing. So if you’re making any of it up, embellishing, etc., I’m not for you.
- Religious History.
Are you a PhD in religious studies or divinity? Have something on Biblical history, philosophy, analysis, etc.? I’d like to hear about it. I’m especially interested in works that explore the historical basis of the Bible or look at Biblical places or events and try to tie them into real history.
- Judaism/Jewish Life.
Are you Jewish and writing about ancient or more contemporary Jewish life? I’d like to hear from you. Are you Anita Diamont? My phone number is. . . . But please, please, please have better credentials than just “I’ve always been interested in Judaism.” It’s not just about the subject. It’s also about the writer, and the writer has to have more going for him or her than a passion for the subject.
- Ancient Cultures.
Maybe it’s because I was addicted to Rome on HBO, but I would love to see more written about those times, but in an accessible manner, and perhaps not weighing more than an anvil. Again, you have to have the credentials to write such a work, and not merely be “passionately interested.” Hence, if you are not a trained historian, your work is likely not salable to a publisher.
Also, I confess to being very interested in Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. While not exactly “ancient cultures,” if you happen to be the next Charles Berlitz, bring it on.
- Health & Wellness
- Diet & Nutrition
- Fitness & Exercise
- Yoga & Meditation
- Alternative Medicine
As always, you must be qualified to write such a book. Preferably you will be a doctor, trained fitness specialist, or certified yoga instructor. And by “certified,” I don’t mean by your local yoga teacher; I mean by years of study culminating in national or international certification. For example, look at this site and all that it takes to become a “certified Iyengar instructor:” http://www.bksiyengar.com/modules/Teacher/certeach.htm. As a fitness specialist without a medical degree or other university degree, you should be at least ACE Certified. If you want to write about meditation or mind/body/spirit, you should have similar qualifications, be they from a university, college, or national certification organization. I am looking for years of expertise and an established platform on which to build with your book.
When it comes to alternative medicine, I’d like to see a DO (osteopathic doctor) or MD who has expanded beyond the strict sciences. The important thing here is to have the training to recognize the benefits of alternative medicine, but also the harm. Someone not really trained might advise a person to drink gallons of water a day to rid themselves of toxins. Yet a DO or MD would know that you can do as much harm overhydrating as you can by becoming dehydrated. Hence, if you are going to write about alternative medicine, you should know about medicine to begin with, and then explore alternatives.
As always, it’s not just about what you write or how you write, but also about “Why would anyone want to read something you’ve written?” Do you have an existing platform? Are you the official doctor of the NY Knicks? Are you the Iyengar instructor to the stars? Is Oprah a personal training client? Are you the Chief of Medicine at Massachusetts General? Who are you to be writing this book and why will anyone else be interested?
That last question is a tough one and I think one that nearly every author fails to consider fully. It’s an unfortunate reality that some of what makes a book in these areas successful is not “what you know” but “who you know.” Someone like Oprah could have a personal trainer with little or no formal education or certification, but if he helped her lose twenty pounds and she put him on the show, publishers would want a book by him.
So ask yourself the important questions:
- Do you have the education or certification or experience to be writing a book?
- Will anyone not related to you want to read such a book?
- Are there not already plenty of books on the subject by people better qualified than you?
- Is there really a need in the marketplace for your book?
- Do you have a platform on which your book will build? Or are you hoping the book will build your platform? (If the latter is the case, the reality is that most publishers want the platform first and the book second.)
- Finance/Personal Finance
Finance is an interesting one. When I hear the word, I think about MBAs and business school. And that’s not quite what I’m looking for when I say that. I prefer books for the less-technical audience. Maybe there’s a middle manager out there who wants to get ahead. What does he need to know about finance? Let’s say I’m a small businessman looking to expand. What do I need to know about finance? I might have just been promoted to Marketing Director, but what do I need to know about finance? That’s what I’m talking about.
Personal Finance is another subject entirely. I have interns who come and go. But they all get the same speech: Lose your debit card. It was designed by the banking industry to lead you to overdraw your account and pay a pile of insufficient-funds fees. Use a cash-back credit card instead, whenever you can. Then pay that credit card off in full every month. Next, balance your checkbook. Don’t “look at it online.” Actually sit down and figure out the outstanding checks or debits, etc., so you know how much money you really have. Get Quicken or Mint and use it. If you have earned income, open a Roth IRA at Vanguard. Even if you just put in a few hundred dollars a year, it’s better than nothing and will compound that much longer with low expenses. Yada yada.
I have no idea if they listen to me, but maybe in a year or five they’ll be looking for a good book on the subject. I am looking for a good book on the subject to represent. Or several good books. How about a series? If you are a Certified Financial Planner or other suitably credentialed author, I’d be interested in hearing about your project.
Management/Stories/History. What’s with all of the slashes? Well, let’s just say I’m interested in Management Stories or Management History. Consider Henry Ford. Don’t you think a book on his founding Ford Motors would be interesting? How about a book on his management philosophy? Would it be relevant today? How about the next Barbarians at the Gate or a book on the history of Google? Remember when all those books came out on the history of Apple? Are you a business journalist for the Wall Street Journal or New York Times? Have you appeared a dozen times on CNBC? If this is who you are, I’d like to hear about your book ideas.
I’ve read that the fastest growing segment of business is small business. More and more people are leaving or being let go from their big corporate jobs and end up launching their own businesses. And they need your help. Whether it’s a new graduate trying to figure out what they want to do when they “grow up,” or a corporate veteran caught in the last wave of cutbacks, there are always people looking for work . . . and for books on how to look for work, find a new job, improve their current career, or start a business. If you are a veteran career counselor, a specialist in human resources, have a rėsumė-writing business, or other area of expertise that would apply in these areas, I’d be interested in your book ideas.
Ever hear about a little book called Freakonomics? How about Fast Food Nation? These are a couple of titles I wish I’d represented in the Globalization/Economics/Trade category. How about a book on the far-ranging impact of Wal-Mart or even Starbucks? Once upon a time, the most recognized American brand name was McDonald’s. Now there are other companies making their global mark. What does that mean to the business world? What does outsourcing to India mean for the American consumer and American worker? Did NAFTA work, or is that sucking sound I hear my computer that was assembled in Mexico and never worked right? Again, if you are a veteran journalist or a professor who can write for non-academics, I’d like to hear about your book ideas.
I already told you about my interns and my investment advice to them. Now it would be great to find someone who can give investing advice to me. I need a “diet book” approach to investing, please. A few guidelines (no carbs!) and some recipes (cream cheese roll-ups are yummy) and off I can go. So if you already write a column for Kiplinger’s, and you want to write a book, please be in touch.
Parables are an interesting business phenomenon and I can’t say I understand them completely. At least, I’m not sure why people buy them, other than that, perhaps, they put complicated issues into simpler terms. And by doing so, they make the reader look at the issues a bit more clearly. But I think you need a special kind of author for these. The author has to have not just the credentials to back up their writing the book, but also the ability to write well and communicate complex ideas in simpler terms. And that’s a tall order. If you think you can fill it, please let me know.
Now, wait. Rein in that impulse to start querying me. Let’s talk a bit about what works and does not work in those categories.
First, when it comes to biography, the subject of the biography is the most important thing. Living or dead, the question is always going to be, Are readers interested in this person? The next question is, How can I quantify for a publisher that readers will be interested in this person? When my client, Kathleen Winters, came to me with a new idea for a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, it wasn’t a struggle to think that was a good idea. There had already been a huge one, but that book almost completely overlooked Lindbergh as a pilot and as crew on her famous husband’s flights. So know that your subject is marketable and be prepared to prove that in your proposal.
Next, who the heck are you to be writing this biography? If you are writing about an historical figure, it’s always nice to have a background in history. Perhaps you don’t have to be a PhD in history, but it doesn’t hurt. Kathleen was a pilot with a background that included writing about flying. In all honesty, her book might have sold more quickly if she were an historian or a reporter in the aviation industry, but it sold in the end and was wonderfully reviewed. Still, the writer’s résumé counts. Be sure that yours is appropriate for writing such a book.
On the subject of autobiography, one must always wonder, How big an ego does this person have? And do they deserve to have it? Bill Clinton’s autobiography? Sure, I can see the justification. A Kardashian’s? Not so much, though I’m sure it would sell. If you are going to pitch me on representing your autobiography, you should be someone I recognize and am honored to represent. Or you should have such an incredible story, such an amazing life, so many lessons to teach, that I am humbled by all you have done. Otherwise, you most likely have a project that will best be appreciated by your blood relatives. No offense. It’s just business.
I think the same can probably be said of memoir. You must have an incredible, amazing life that leaves readers shaking their heads in awe. Or your experience must be so original, so unlike what others have experienced, and your viewpoint so fresh and original, that readers will be attracted to your memoir, informed by it, and inspired by it.
Oh, and by the way, did I mention, you must know how to write! I don’t care if you are a Kardashian. If you can’t write, you cannot succeed. That said, Ms. Kardashian, I can find you a writer to help you. Still, if you have never appeared in People magazine, it’s unlikely you have an autobiography or memoir that warrants being written with a ghost writer.
I apologize if this seems harsh. I don’t even know any of the Kardashians. Heck, I had to Google how to spell it. But I get a ton of queries every year from writers who feel they have something to say and are convinced the world wants to read it. And I have rarely agreed. In fact, I have agreed three times. Mark Patinkin’s original articles, on which his book Up and Running (reissued as Just the Way He was Before) are based, left me crying at the kitchen table so often I kept having to stop and regroup. Kathleen Winters’ proposal for what became Anne Morrow Lindberg was exciting and truly seemed to show a fresh viewpoint on a fascinating historical figure. And Paul Offit’s proposal for what became Vaccinated left me shaking my head in awe that I had never heard of Maurice Hilleman and that he hadn’t won several Nobel Prizes.
I think, in the end, I would like more books like Vaccinated. Figures in science and medicine are fascinating to me and I’m sure I’m not alone. But I am also interested in military figures, both recent and historical. From Hannibal to Petraeus, I’m interested. And then there’s politics and current affairs. I’m fascinated by the movers and shakers and by those who shape our country. I think we could all benefit by seeing the Dead Certain (the George Bush biography by Robert Draper) treatment applied to far more political figures. And let’s not forget business biographies or autobiographies. Surely there are more business leaders we’d like to know more about. Steve Jobs was not the only brilliant guy in business.
For nearly every nonfiction interest I have, there is likely a biography, autobiography, or memoir subcategory to be filled. Just make sure you have the credentials, yourself, to be filling it.
Nonfiction books related to:
- Death & Dying
- Grief & Bereavement
But one can’t focus too much on death, as life is for the living. So I’m also looking for the following:
- Parenting & Childcare
- Cooking & Cookbooks
- Entertaining & Food
- Entertainment-related projects, including books about film & TV, music, and sports celebrities
As always, you must have the right platform and credentials to be writing about these subjects. You need to be an expert in your field and have the experience required to make readers confident that your opinion or advice is authoritative. If you want to write entertainment-related projects, you should have credits that include the majors, such as People or Entertainment Weekly magazines, or have published successful books in this area before.
- Career improvement
- Popular Reference
- Small-business How-to
- Practical Nonfiction
Whether you’ve got the next How to Win Friends and Influence People or the next What Color is Your Parachute? I’d like to hear from you. If you can write about leadership in life or in business or simply how to become head of the PTA, you may have a market. Can you write How to Write Crossword Puzzles or Snorkeling for Dummies? We might be able to find you a deal. Are you an expert quoted regularly in Entrepreneur magazine, then perhaps there’s a market for a book by you. Can you write practical nonfiction on a topic or topics people want to know more about? Let me know.
Of course, I have to beat the dead horse and say You Must Know What You Are Talking About! And You Must Be An Established Expert In Your Field! And You Must Be Able To Write! Writing a book will not establish you as an expert. Being an expert may be enough to help your book get published. Owning Microsoft Word does not mean you know how to write. Be confident in your abilities but humble enough to recognize that if people don’t know who you are, they might not want your opinion. Successfully writing in these areas boils down to a topic of wide interest, credentials that show you know what you are talking about, and good writing. Period. If you can fill that bill, let me know.
- Animal-related books (nonfiction)
- Pets & pet care
Are you a talented writer with a talented dog? This might be one of the few areas in which you don’t have to have some pre-established platform or be previously published. You just have to be a damn good writer and have a very, very entertaining and endearing story to tell.
But if you want to write about pets and pet care, please do be a specialist, a vet, a certified animal trainer or the like. If someone is going to drop $16.95 for your opinion on how to care for their pet, they obviously want to be confident you know what you are talking about. And, of course, you need to be a clear communicator and good writer. I don’t believe you need to be Hemingway, but you do need to explain the whats and whys of what you are advising in a manner the reader can understand and follow.
But what kind of humor? It has to be funny. Really funny. And you have to have the platform to make the book appeal to readers. Now, I am a funny guy. My wife tells me that all the time. But I don’t think a book of humorous essays by me would sell. I don’t have a high enough profile. Thus, if you aren’t a nationally or regionally syndicated columnist, or if you don’t have a website that gets thousands of hits a day, you probably don’t have the required platform..
So what do I want? Books, like A Walk in the Woods, or collections of essays or short stories like those by David Sedaris. If you are as funny as those authors, please be in touch.
Recently my wife said to me, “I’d heard there was a handy Jewish man. I guess you’re him.” You see, Jewish men do not have the best reputation for being handy around the house. I’m not sure why this is, but my dad spent about fifty-five years in the building materials business and I don’t think there was ever a “handyman” that stepped foot in our house. My dad actually had me on the roof of the house without a safety line at about ten years old (What were you thinking, Dad?), working on the heating wire that we installed to stop ice dams from forming. Plus, working for that “before there was Home Depot” chain, he got a lot of free paint brushes and tools and stuff over the years. Perhaps this is why I am such a fan of This Old House. Love that show. Want to be on that show! But I don’t think it will happen. Certainly not anytime soon.
Thus, in the meantime, I am looking for books on…
- Home Improvement
Are you Norm Abram? Please call. I’d love to do a book by you. If you are the next Martha, I want to work with you.
Have you remodeled your house from scratch and have laugh-out-loud stories to tell? Tell me. Can you help me figure out what’s eating my plants? Tell me. Please.
But—and this is a big BUT—you have to be writing about your subject in a manner that would not be found on the Internet. You see, most people looking for help in these areas are going straight to the web for help, not the bookstore. So your book has to somehow cover the topic in a manner that the web will not. Being a celebrity would help. Writing in a narrative fashion, instead of strictly “how-to” style, would help. Having a TV show would really, really help.
And, of course, you need to be able to write well and in a clear and informative manner. It’s a trifecta of what you know, who you are, and can you write well. Hit all three of those and you’ll be on your way.
- Historical Fiction
But what is “historical fiction?” How far in the past does something need to be set to be called “historical fiction?” I’m going to try and make this easier. For me, historical fiction is set prior to the 20th century. Simple, right?
But historical fiction is one of those genres that breaks down to many different sub-genres, for example, there are Mysteries, Thrillers, and Romance novels that all fall into Historical Fiction. There could be Historical Military Fiction and Historical Literary Fiction. Please keep this in mind, as all could be of interest.
Those of you who are very familiar with The Zack Company know that historically (yes, the pun was intended) we have not handled very much in the way of . . .
- Commercial Women’s Fiction
- Literary Women’s Fiction
- Romance Fiction, including Romantic Suspense and Paranormal Romance
- Chick Lit
- Smart women’s fiction that isn’t Chick Lit or Romance
. . . but now we are. Why is that you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons:
- I’m married now and wifey needs more to read;
- The majority of my interns are women and many are fans of these categories;
- Fifty percent of all books sold in the United States each year fall into those categories.
In short, it’s good business. Do I have the track record in these genres that I have in others? No. There is no hiding that this is new territory for my firm. Which may make us very attractive to many authors. We are not as jaded and cynical as many hardcore women’s fiction agents may be. So try us out. I think you’ll be glad you did.
- Mysteries, especially Cozy Mysteries
- Suspense Fiction
But keep in mind that I want books that are as much character-driven as high-concept, with strong characters likely more important overall. Suspense or Thrillers with a Paranormal Element are also good. But—and this is very important—plots that involve intellectual puzzles that allow the reader to try and figure it out with the protagonist are of great interest.
Of course, you have to be a compelling writer and be able to keep the reader turning the pages. And, other than with paranormal stories, I think you have to keep things within the realm of plausibility and also avoid being cliché. You also need to get the details right. Too often I get submissions in these genres that have the FBI guarding the president, rather than the Secret Service. Or they create some super-secret unit of the military when there are already units that would fill the bill. In short, if you aren’t willing to do the research and get it right, then perhaps you’re writing in the wrong genre. But if you are a research junkie who can also make the pages turn like the wind, I want to hear from you.
- Military Science Fiction
- Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction
- Hard Science Fiction by people who understand the science and make it feel real
- Romantic Science Fiction, or “Speculative Romance” that actually goes in the Romance section
- Urban Fantasy
- Traditional, First-Person Science Fiction
- Humorous Fantasy in the Terry Pratchett vein
- Contemporary Women’s Fantasy that would more likely be put in the Romance section
- Epic, Tolkien Fantasy
Obviously the writing has to be really great. If writing science fiction, you really need to know your science. If writing fantasy, you need to be original. I may say I want epic, Tolkien fantasy, but if your book is just a clone of something already out there, it won’t fly.
As always, compelling characters are vastly important. If you can’t make your reader invest emotionally in your characters, your book will not sell. If you can, let me hear from you.
But keep in mind I mean Erotica and not porn. There is a huge difference and if you don’t know it, you probably aren’t writing erotica. If you know that you are writing erotica, and you know what the market for your work actually is (don’t say “people who like erotica,” as there as many flavors of it as there are at Baskin Robbins), I would like to hear from you.
I’d love to find some great Multicultural Fiction in the following areas:
- African-American fiction
- Native-American fiction
- International fiction (as in fiction in translation; though it must already be translated or have translated samples available)
I’m also looking for…
- Graphic novels
Keep in mind that most of the successful manga and anime out there are tie-ins to other media properties, or are imports. There’s not a lot of material getting published by the mainstream publishers for the first time. That said, if you think you have something, I’d like to be queried. If you’ve been publishing already, say as a comic book but now you want to do a graphic novel, sales figures and reviews of that previously published material are very important.
Last, but not least . . .
Clearly there’s a movie audience. Do I think the book audience is as large? No. But a really well-written horror novel will always get readers’ attention. I think the best horror has a strong psychological element. I love Supernatural on TV and I’m sure the novels do just fine, but when I’m thinking horror, that’s not quite what I have in mind. I’m thinking bigger, meatier stories, with layers of plot and very, very strong characterizations. I’m going to date myself, but books like Carrion Comfort, The Keep, and Ghost Story come to mind. Also, I confess I’m a sucker for anything related to the Antichrist, e.g., The Omen.
Before submitting to The Zack Company, please read the Submission Guidelines.