Q&A: Literary Agents for Non-Fiction

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Thank you for starting the Muslim Writers Club and coordinating the open call.

I have thus far emailed 60-odd agents and the vast majority of those who have responded agree that my book is a good idea but they don’t specialise in non-fiction + current affairs and therefore are unable to help.

In fact from the email exchanges thus far, I gather this open call seems to be more for fiction works by Muslim authors but where does an aspiring non-fiction author with a timely book go to, given the evident lack of interest thus far?

Of course, I realise its only been 2 months and most authors have to wait much longer to get published however could I please suggest you kindly consider putting out a call in April for literary agents that are interested exclusively in non-fiction works by Muslim authors?

Dear Readers: Please contribute your insights by leaving a comment.

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Amel is an experienced freelance writer, editor, and Arabic to English translator. She started the Muslim Writers Club as a means of sharing useful information about the art (and business) of writing.
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  1. As-salamu Alaykum,

    Masha’Allah, it is wonderful that you have taken the initiative to contact such a large number of agents. This is the type of drive and enthusiasm that all writers should have.

    As you have discovered, however, literary agents typically work within their own specializations. An agent specializing in children’s fiction, for example, is unlikely to want to represent a non-fiction current affairs book aimed at adults.

    Although I am not sharing it here, you sent me a copy of the query you sent to a specific agency. I took a few minutes to browse their website and found that they mostly represent fiction and only two types of non-fiction (memoir and true crime). They specifically say that they do not want other types of non-fiction.

    Then I looked at the webpage of the specific agent you queried and found that this agent doesn’t represent non-fiction at all.

    When an agent or agency communicates this type of valuable information, you should not approach them in the hope that your book will be the exception.

    Simply cross them off of your list and search for agents who represent your genre.

    Yes, it is often a long and time-consuming process to find the appropriate agent, but this is part of what it takes to get published. Always take the time to research the agents and publishers you approach. There are literally thousands of them out there – and you can even outsource this task to others if you are too busy to do it yourself.

    Many of the agents on the Open Call list do, however, represent non-fiction. A quick search of the agents showed me that at least 43 of them work with non-fiction.

    Again, though, you have to spend some time identifying the ones who might be interested in your work. Non-fiction is a very broad umbrella that includes numerous genres. True crime and memoir (mentioned above) are just two examples. Cookbooks, encyclopedias, travel guides, textbooks, business books, humor, science books, etc. are all non-fiction, and yet they have nothing to do with the book that you have written.

    I myself am a writer of non-fiction, so I sympathize – but you really need to narrow down your search and focus on agents who specialize in your niche of current affairs. Again, there are a few of them on the list, but considerably fewer. So, I would definitely advise you to broaden your scope outside of the Open Call, which is a wonderful initiative but should not serve to limit Muslim writers to this specific list of agents.

    ManuscriptWishlist.com is one place to start your search. You can also approach publishers directly, especially those which accept unagented submissions.

    I often advise writers to “work backwards” by visiting physical bookstores or browsing Amazon.com to find books similar to those they have written. This allows you to identify publishers who are interested in the type of work you are doing.

    Beyond this, it is also wise to send out your queries in smaller batches so that you can test out how they are being received. If you are getting a lot of rejections from agents or publishers who specialize in your niche, then you may need to change something about your approach. The fact that you have received some encouragement from the agents you have corresponded with is a positive sign.

    Although I’d love to coordinate an Open Call specifically for non-fiction (thank you for the suggestion), I’m not sure I have the resources to do that at the moment.

    One of my short-term goals is to enhance my list of Book Publishers of Interest to Muslim Writers, which will eventually include more mainstream listings.

    I will also consider creating a separate agent directory for non-fiction. You (and other readers) can help me out by sending me relevant information to include in these listings and directories.

    Finally, on a technical note, I did not coordinate the Open Call. I merely publicized it for the benefit of interested writers.

    Amel – MWC Admin
    Amel recently posted…Featured Book: Tried & Tested, by Umm JuwayriyahMy Profile

  2. Amel,

    After seeing and reading about the Muslim call list. I narrowed down a couple of literary agencies that I believe would be interested in my work. Since that time I have aggressively try to get things moving and shaking with my full-length creative nonfiction manuscript. I actually hired somebody to also help me edit part-time. Do you have any idea how long the window for the Muslim call maybe? I know that it is not necessarily deadline base however I’m just afraid I’ll miss this opportunity if I take too long. Trying to plan accordingly.


  3. Salam F,

    It is great that you are taking concrete steps to move towards your goal of publication. So many of us dream of being published but don’t actually want to do the hard work it takes to get there.

    As I recently said in another post:

    The nice thing about this opportunity is that it doesn’t just represent one opportunity with a set deadline. It is actually multiple opportunities with dozens of agents. Agents are always on the look-out for the next best-selling book, so this is an opportunity that won’t come to an end so long as there is interest from the reading public. Right now, people want to read diverse voices in general, and this includes the Muslim perspective and experience. Parents, educators, and librarians all want diversity for their bookshelves, and agents will continue to welcome submissions that serve this demand.

    Having said that, you should work quickly if interested. I’ve noticed that some of these agents are currently closed to “general” submissions but are keeping their inboxes open for this open call. You don’t necessarily have to think in terms of a specific deadline, but don’t be complacent either. Trends change very quickly in publishing, and we also don’t know how many stories/manuscripts each agent is seeking. If, for example, an agent has ten slots available for this type of work, these slots may fill up quickly while some of us are still contemplating our next move.

    So – keep pushing ahead, but without compromising quality. Even if the open call “comes to an end,” you’ll still have a well-written manuscript ready to show agents and publishers when the time is right. Remember that we are not now (nor have we ever been) limited to this specific list of agents.

    Amel – MWC Admin
    Amel recently posted…Q&A: Does My Book Qualify for the Open Call?My Profile

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