Written by Carl Rosenberg; copy edited by Meagan Kus
On Saturday, February 25, Editors BC will present Trena White, who will give a three-hour seminar on editing non-fiction book proposals. In this session, participants will learn how to help authors assemble book proposals that will open doors with agents and publishers.
Trena is co-founder of Page Two, a Vancouver-based publishing agency specializing in non-fiction books, and an associate agent of Transatlantic Agency. Before launching Page Two, Trena was publisher of Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone Books, and a non-fiction editor at McClelland & Stewart. She is an adjunct professor in publishing at SFU.
Carl Rosenberg, a volunteer on Editors BC’s communications and social media committee, spoke to Trena about her advice on book proposals.
Hello, Trena! Thank you for taking the time to chat with our readers. Tell us a bit about how you came to your career as an agent, publisher, and editor.
I’d been circling around the industry for a while, knowing I liked words but applying that interest in a corporate communications job. One day a friend gave me a brochure for the Master of Publishing program at SFU. The heavens opened up: it was possible to build a career making books! As part of that program, I interned at McClelland & Stewart, and then became an editor there. That was the beginning of my love affair with book publishing.
When—and why—is it important for non-fiction authors to have a thorough book proposal?
You need to have a really strong proposal before approaching publishers, and ideally before approaching agents too. We receive a high volume of submissions (McClelland & Stewart used to get over a thousand a year), so we need to be pretty ruthless in our reading. If we have to do too much work to figure out what your book is or whether there’s an audience for it, we’ll often just delete it. It’s the professional, thoughtful proposals that get read—and that lead to a further conversation with the author.
What ingredients are needed for an effective book proposal?
A book proposal is a sales tool. The author needs to demonstrate that she has deep authority in her subject, that there is a market for the book, and that she has the research and writing chops to pull off a book that will sell. The industry is risk-averse these days, so a proposal should anticipate any objections to the book and give them confidence in you.
On a lighter note, what are a few of your favourite books and publications, business-related or otherwise?
We have a subscription to the New Yorker, which my husband reads as soon as it arrives. Then it piles up week after week by my bedside until I read a handful of them on a long weekend. Favourite books? That’s a difficult question for someone who works in books. I just finished Patrick deWitt’s latest novel, Undermajordomo Minor, which I loved. His writing is such a wonderful combination of hilarious and dark and fanciful. Right now I’m reading Stuck in the Middle With You by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a memoir about parenting as a transgender woman, and The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.
Trena, thank you very much for sharing your experience and expertise. We’re looking forward to your seminar on February 25.
Thank you! So am I.
Carl Rosenberg edited “Outlook: Canada’s Progressive Jewish Magazine” from 1998 to 2016. He has a diploma in Latin American studies from Vancouver Community College and a bachelor of arts in Spanish language and literature from UBC. He has recently begun volunteering with the communications and social media and committee of Editors BC.
Meagan Kus is a freelance copy editor and proofreader with an 18-year background in arts administration.
Photo provided by Trena White.