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Dara Kaye @DaraKaye
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Strap in, #amquerying and #amwriting Twitter! Time for some primo, uncut #writingtips from an agent.

Something I've been thinking about this week wrt a particular type of #nonfiction book proposal:

The one structured around Examples Of A Phenomenon.

For these, first proposal draft submitted to me is usually structrd such that 1 chapter = 1 example.

Intro: This book seeks to answer the eternal question "what is a sandwich"
Ch 1: Hot dogs
Ch 2: Burritos
Ch 3: Falafel pita
Ch 4. Choco taco

This is a dumb example on purpose, but you see what I mean--it's basically a listicle. The chapters could be anything: Countries Doing Austerity, Stolen Artwork In Museums, 10 X That Changed Y

And the form can work, but it's trickier than it looks because...

I almost always have to push authors over *multiple* drafts to consider 3 big questions to make these books work:




Let's get into this thing.

1. SELECTION CRITERIA: Out of all the varied Possible Sandwiches, why these 9 examples?

Authors can fix this by relying on an authoritative third party (Big Polling Company's list of most popular world foods) or--better--laying out their own criteria in the intro or overview
The criteria should be coherent, cohesive and clear. Readers should not be left wondering "wait why are choco tacos discussed but not regular tacos? Why cornish pasties but not hand pies?"


This can be tricky, because it's really two questions in one:

a) Why are you interested in writing about this topic?
b) Why are you an authority readers will pay $29.95 to opine on this topic?

Even authors who address a often neglect b.

Aye, there's the rub. What's the overall argument, and what are its broader implication or effects?

You can't just list some stuff and have a conclusion that's like "aaaand that is how I would categorize these foods!"

(SO WHAT? contd)

Few questions are interesting enough to maintain our interest alone for a whole book. We need q's to lead to other q's, and ultimately to a satisfying bigger point

Bonus points for tackling questions connected to WHY YOU.

(SO WHAT? contd)

If you're a food writer, what does the question of who defines sandwich mean for multicultural food society?

Economist, does it maybe change how corporations like Chipotle are taxed, or change retail landscape where noncompete clauses ban sandwiches?

@hels touched on a cousin of this issue in her terrific thread on structuring personal essays, though I think the difference (aside from the obvious one of scale) is that there, the writer needs to show an extra perspective shift; in books, the reader needs to *be persuaded*

While Examples Of Phenomenon structure appeals especially to new writers bc it appears simple/natural, these pitfalls claim plenty of promising ideas from experienced authors too.

I've written memos to 3 clients in the last 2 weeks touching on at least one of these issues!

If you're working on a book like this, now you know where similar projects most often go astray.

Knowledge is power!

Go forth, nonfiction writers, and revise.

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