The following Q&A appeared in the the latest edition of the MEDIA CONNECT newsletter. To subscribe for future editions, click here.
MEDIA CONNECT: What information do you need from an author on their initial contact with you?
Tom Miller: I prefer to get queries by email first. In that query, the author should briefly include the proposed title of the proposal, the subject of the book, the main audience/s for the book, the author’s credentials, and the author’s marketing/publicity platform. The author should also say whether or not he or she has a full proposal and/or a partial or full manuscript. By the way, for an agent, having a proposal and one or two sample chapters is preferable to getting a full manuscript.
MC: Do you consider content or platform first?
TM: Business books are business propositions. Content is crucial, and it’s very important that the author’s proposed book has a clear subject, a sharp focus, a defined market and audience, and, ideally, a strongly articulated promise and benefit for the intended audience. The book should have a fresh new hook — something that seems new and different from what’s already on the shelf.
Regarding platform, the most successful business authors are regarded as thought leaders in their fields. Thought leaders almost always have big platforms. With all commercial nonfiction, which business books almost always are, an author’s platform is just as important as the content. When a project’s author doesn’t have a good platform, a publisher will often turn down the project even if the content is excellent.
MC: What are the key ingredients to a business author’s platform these days?
TM: Ideally, a business author should have a large built-in audience. Publishers love business authors who have huge email lists to whom the author can send email blasts alerting their readers to a book’s availability. Also very important is for an author to have a robust speaking schedule, speaking to the book’s intended audience. Other media platform elements — a magazine, website, newsletter, and/or regular TV or radio show — are also important parts of the platform. And finally, it’s great when an author has lots of top corporate connections — these companies can be approached for sponsorship, special sales, and/or custom or premium publishing opportunities.
MC: What is the market like for business books these days?
TM: The business bestseller lists are dominated by evergreen bestsellers, so it’s hard to break out a new bestseller. There’s been a lot of consolidation among publishers, so there are fewer houses to send projects to. Only a handful of business publishers are paying strong advances for business books these days. It isn’t impossible to build a new business bestseller, though, if the book has a great hook and contains great content, and if the author uses his or her strong platform proactively to promote the book.
MC: What are some of your recent successes?
TM: I’ve been an agent since September 2014, and I’m in the process of developing some very strong business book proposals, which I’ll be submitting to publishers this spring. Before that, I was an executive editor of business books at McGraw-Hill, where my biggest successes were Steve Forbes’ Money and Wes Moss’ You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think.
MC: What trends do you see in business books?
TM: Each major business book publisher has a different focus for its business book list, but overall, what I’m hearing is that personal finance and real estate books are on the decline and that leadership books, innovation books, “big think,” and cutting-edge business self-help books by top thought leaders are on the rise.
MC: How is the international market these days for business books?
TM: Our wonderful foreign rights director tells me that leadership books by top CEOs and innovative business self-help books that are not too US-focused are in demand by our foreign publishers.
MC: Are you doing any sideline publishing of your own?
TM: Now that my creativity has been unleashed as an agent and I don’t have to attend so many meetings as an executive editor at a big publishing house, I’m about to start writing that novel that’s been bouncing around in my head ever since I went into publishing years ago! I’m excited. I still passionately love publishing, perhaps now more than ever.
Tom Miller joined Greenburger in September 2014 after three decades in senior and executive editorial positions at major publishing houses including Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins.
At Greenburger, Tom represents primarily nonfiction projects in the areas of business, wellness and health, popular culture, psychology and self-help, diet, spirituality, and narrative nonfiction. Over his career, Tom has worked with both bestselling and prize-winning nonfiction and fiction authors including Jared Diamond (winner of a Pulitzer Prize), Dr. Loren Cordain (author of “The Paleo Diet”), Deepak Chopra, Steve Forbes, Ginger Rogers, Erica Jong, Judy Collins, Oliver North, Jack Cafferty, Brian Wilson, and Shirley Temple Black.