Have you got a new and exciting work of non-fiction on the go and are ready to begin your search for an agent? Well, we’re here to help!
WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST?
Non-fiction is any literary work with the goal of providing information for the reader. It is fact-based and requires a level of knowledge and expertise of the author, in order for them to be an authority to educate on the chosen topic.
When literary agents are looking for non-fiction, they are often looking for the topics that will sell. If something is too niche, you may be better off going directly to an appropriate publisher. The most popular non-fiction genres include:
- Historical non-fiction
- Memoir, biographies, and autobiography
- Popular science
- Politics and current affairs
- Celebrity-led projects, anything written or endorsed by a celebrity
- Interesting travel stories
- Motivational and self-help works
One of the most important things to remember as a non-fiction author is that your work should always be entirely rooted in truth and fact, and that you should be qualified to write on your chosen topic. These are things that not only readers are looking for, but literary agents too. You need to be able to demonstrate why your book is special and why you are the person to write it.
Few agents focus solely on non-fiction projects. Most agents will build a fiction and non-fiction list, just as they would cultivate a literary and commercial list. The important thing to remember is that it’s the quality of the agent that really matters, not whether they specialise in a particular genre.
How Do You Know What Literary Agents Want?
This can be split into three categories:
- Firstly, know what you need to query agents with.
For fiction submissions, you need to have written the whole book before querying agents. With non-fiction submissions, you can often get away with sending a book proposal, which is basically an outline of the book you intend to write, first.
If your book is story-led (think memoirs), then it would be worth writing the whole book before you submit to agents.
But if your non-fiction is subject based, then it‘s fine to start with the book proposal.
- Secondly, deliver a saleable manuscript.
As I mentioned above, the only thing agents are really looking for is a manuscript that will sell well and make money. This means you need:
Strong, popular, entertaining writing – even if your subject is interesting, if the writing is poor no one’s going to want to read it!
To write for the market. Obvious, yes, but a surprisingly high number of non–fiction authors don’t know who their intended market is. So, if you don’t know yours, then go to a bookstore or local library and find out.
- And finally, get professional help.
If you keep getting agent rejections or just want to perfect your manuscript first, then it’s time to ask for help. There’s lots of information out there. We’ve helped non-fiction authors in their writing journeys, and we can help you too. So, get in touch.
Let’s look at the most popular non-fiction genres a little closer:
Historical non-fiction is any piece of literary work that looks at a specific time or event from the past. This could be delivered in a very fact-based way, or in a narrative way (such as The Five by Hallie Rubenhold), and can explore very wide and general topics (such as the Romans, or the Elizabethan era) or a very specific person, event, or niche topic (even something as obscure as salt – no really, it exists. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky).
Food And Cookery
Non-fiction that focuses on food and cookery is a staple of many households. Recipe books would be the most common form of this genre, but it can also include crossover books that explore the history of food (such as Scoff by Pen Vogler), or food-based memoirs (such as Stanley Tucci’s Taste, or Grace Dent’s Hungry). This is a varied and diverse genre, full of useful tips and interesting facts.
Memoirs can encompass a wide range of books, from the food-based memoirs I mentioned above of celebrities Stanley Tucci and Grace Dent, to a memoir of a postman (Please, Mister Postman by Alan Johnson). If you have an interesting story to tell, then there is space for you on the memoir bookshelf. That’s not to say it isn’t difficult to get there. If you’re not a celebrity, then you need an incredibly interesting story and a true way with words in order to reassure a literary agent that your book will sell.
Mind, Body, Spirit
This genre is an interesting one. It spans topics of mindfulness, meditation, astrology, the paranormal, and much more, and can be quite divisive (depending on an individual’s beliefs). Whether you are a doctor writing professional advice (Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? By Dr Julie Smith), or you’re writing based on your own experiences (The Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof), it’s important to demonstrate the value you bring, not only to the genre as a whole but to the readers picking up your book. It is likely that readers of Mind, Body, Spirit want to learn something new about themselves, or how to approach the world we live in and our daily lives.
Politics, Society, & Current Affairs
Politics and current affair books can cover many things, from political history to a focus on an individual, or a deep-dive into a specific political event. Bestsellers like Owen Jones’ The Establishment (exploring British politics), or Watergate: A New History by Garrett M Graff, explore popular topics at the time of their publication. One of the most important things to remember when writing political non-fiction is to remain current and relevant, unbiased (unless your work is biased, in which case it’s important to make that clear), and to ensure your book is fact-based (as far as facts are available at the time of publication).
Popular science is a genre that makes current scientific discoveries and theses accessible to the average reader. Anyone should be able to pick up your book and come away with a greater understanding of the topic than they did coming into it. Popular science can cover any topic (especially ones that are of particular interest or relevance at the time of publication), from space, psychology and medicine, to astrophysics and our understanding of death. Anything that is current and of interest to the general population. Once again, one of the most important things when writing in this genre is to have demonstratable expertise, and to be able to explain why YOU are the person to write this book.
Travel writing can encompass everything from a travel guide to a travel memoir (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert). Books in this genre can do a deep dive into a specific city, or they can give general advice for camping or backpacking. They can be food based (One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake) or based in history (Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton). Whatever your expertise or experience, it’s important that the writing of your book lines up with it’s aim. If you are writing a guide it should be informative, whereas if you’re going for a more narrative interpretation it should be able to strike the balance between fact-based and interesting.
Popular culture is those topics, beliefs, themes or objects that are dominant and widely known in society. This can encompass books, film, music, art, fashion, and much more. Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties: A Book does an excellent job of capturing the popular culture of an entire decade, while Matt Alt’s Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World focuses on an entire nations historical influence. The importance when writing works of pop culture is to remain current and relevant, alongside the emphasis on being fact based. You can deliver a serious discussion on a topic, or a more tongue-in-cheek satirical view, but whatever you do it’s important once again to demonstrate your expertise and why it will be of interest to the mass readership.
Narrative non-fiction describes a piece of literary work that is fact-based at its foundation but presented in the style of a fiction novel. Take Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five. This is a book that explores the history of the victims of Jack the Ripper, providing facts and citing her sources. Hallie takes creative liberties in her presentation of this story, using the facts to create a fleshed-out narrative of the lives of these women; in this way the narrative element suits her book as she seeks to humanise them. When writing narrative non-fiction, it is important to strike this balance between fact and fiction. Your book should read like a story, but remain entirely fact-based. This form makes the writing accessible and interesting to the mass readership, and they can go away having learnt something new (sometimes without even realising it).
Business And Finance
This genre can provide business advice, explore historical aspects of business and economics, look at finance analysis, marketing and management, or encompass cross-genre books such as politics (Butler to the World by Oliver Bullough), or memoirs (We Can All Make It by Sara Davies). Where you are an expert in your field or have personal experience to draw on when writing your book, you should demonstrate not only that you are the best person to write it, but that there is a space and interest for it.
Health & Lifestyle
This genre focuses on all aspects of health and lifestyle, from dieting and working out, to mental health, relationships, and careers. Whatever your focus is, it’s important to make sure your book is relevant, well-researched, and that there is space for it in the current market.
Self-help falls into similar categories to Mind, Body, Spirit, and Health and Lifestyle. These books all focus on the individual and encouraging personal development, but self-help sits apart as more of a guide. Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy and James Clear’s Atomic Habits provide information and advice for how the reader can go about making the relevant changes in their own life. They are their to evoke a positive response in the reader and to provide them with something that will remain even when they put the book down. Once again, relevance and expertise are required when writing in the self-help genre.
Sports non-fiction covers everything from guides to biographies. They cover any and all sports you can think of, and can either be an interesting read or a tool for the reader to develop their own skills. Whether you’re considering the social influence of sports, specific individuals, or the history of sport, it is important that you can demonstrate your knowledge and whether there is interest for your book.
This genre covers a wide range of topics, including art, photography, fashion, music, film, crafts. They can work incredibly well as coffee table books, or as an exploration into an individual (A Life of Picasso by John Richardson) or a movement. They can provide a collection of creative work, a historical exploration (The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair), or offer advice for beginners (Read This is You Want to Take Great Photographs by Henry Carroll).
Also categorised as Gender Studies, this genre explores a variety of topics, from feminism to medicine, history to race. Books that focus on women’s issues attempt to evoke change, and often look at social discrimination and inequality. Books like Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women and The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart use data and facts to inform the reader, and offer up ways we can make change for the future.
This is a very broad genre that encompasses a variety of topics and crossovers. From memoirs (What if Feels Like for a Girl by Paris Lees), to essay collections (Gender Euphoria by Laura Kate Dale), and from histories (The Pink Line by Mark Gevisser), to guides (Queer Up by Alexis Caught). The aim of this genre is to inform and to evoke change, both for those readers who are queer, and for those who aren’t. From appeals for change to uplifting real stories, this genre is as diverse as its authors and topics. It is important when writing in this genre to remain relevant (is there a market for your book), fact-based, and to have personal experience of your chosen topic and be able to demonstrate why you should be writing it.
AgentMatch And How To Use It
There are plenty of agents who love non-fiction, but you won’t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for non-fiction is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.
With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. your non-fiction genre), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.
US Agents For Non-Fiction
To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents generally looking for non-fiction:
We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!
Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!
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