What Your Proposal Says about You
Blogger: Mary Keeley
Writers communicate volumes of information between the lines and paragraphs, in what is there and in what is missing in their proposals. Today, I’ll let you in on some of the first things agents and editors notice.
First impressions stick in our minds. We respond positively to a firm handshake and a warm smile. Chances are we’ll remember that person. Conversely, a weak handshake and no direct eye contact will leave a negative impression in a business setting. So it is with your proposal. Often at conferences, I talk to writers who view their proposal as a sort of introductory cover letter. But the truth is you need to put as much effort into perfecting your proposal as you do your book. It’s the first impression of your work for an agent. If you want an agent to get to your sample chapters, you have to make sure your proposal is a stellar representation of the quality of your book.
Now to some of the things agents notice.
Format and Style. The formatting is the first thing an agent sees when he or she opens your proposal document. When I come across a proposal that maintains consist formatting and clear style of headers, sub-heads, indents of bulleted lists—an orderly visual presentation—my first reaction is to continue reading. If the writer has followed our submissions guidelines posted on our Books & Such website by including all the requested information and samples, I’ll continue reading because:
1. The orderly formatting exhibits your professionalism in business communication. Remember, a book proposal is your offer of a business partnership.
2. Compliance with submissions guidelines indicates publishing industry professionalism and the potential you will be pleasant to work with.
3. The third reason, more subtle, is the writer demonstrated the effort and consideration to make the proposal clear and concise for the agent or editor to read. We struggle to keep up with what feels like a self-propagating stack of proposals. A well-organized format communicates your understanding of this dynamic.
RECOMMENDATON: Have your published critique partners review your proposal along with your manuscript. Purchase a book on writing a compelling book proposal. Attend a workshop on creating a compelling book proposal at a writers conference. First impressions matter!
Inclusions. Literary agencies and publishers have their own requirements regarding how much of your manuscript to include with the proposal and the information they want to receive. Rather than sending the same basic proposal document to all the agents you plan to submit to, modify it in separate documents according to each agency’s specific guidelines. It reflects that you did your homework, which in turn leaves the impression you did thorough research for your book and that you’re teachable and pleasant to work with.
Marketing Plan. Your marketing plan is one of the inclusions virtually all agents or editors go to quickly. This is where I see problems most often, yet it’s one of the most important and revealing areas of your proposal. Along with the standard items agents and publishers expect (quantified social media numbers, organization affiliations that will market your book, online or in-person book launch parties, and so on), here are some RECOMMENDATIONS:
- Use declarative statements. For example: “The following radio stations have agreed to interview me when the book releases” promises assertive participation in promoting your book. Saying “I’m open to doing radio interviews,” is passive and lacks initiative and passion for your book. If you aren’t energetic about your book, no one else will be either.
- Be creative. Think of unique ways you can market your book. What is the setting for your contemporary romance? List the names of local businesses, restaurants, libraries, and tourist bureaus in the area that you will contact about promoting your book. What is the core message of your nonfiction book? List appropriate interest groups and organizations you will approach to cross-promote your book.
- Be specific and creative. List churches, libraries, bookstores, and organizations you have connected with to schedule a book signing or reading.
Grammar, punctuation, spelling. I’ve harped on this subject enough. Anything less than stellar tarnishes your professional image.
RECOMMENDATION: If this is a weak area, study up and get help from whoever proofreads your book. It will be well worth the investment.
Submission. Agencies and publishers have their specific submission policies posted on their websites. Electronic submission in a Word document is much preferred. Following guidelines to the letter reveals your business savvy and cooperative spirit. Conversely, not following them communicates you, (1) are such a newbie that you didn’t know to look for a prescribed procedure, or (2) think you are so special you don’t need to follow the rules.
What in your current proposal could reflect positively or negatively on you or your project? How will you remedy it? What is the hardest part of writing a proposal for you?
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