Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Yesterday I wrote about a client who engaged in magical thinking when it came to creating a proposal. She thought she could dash off some vaguely formed ideas and get a contract. Today I want to tell you about another client who developed a proposal that just wouldn’t do. But her story is the flip side of the other client’s.
Here’s what happened.The project was complex, with lots of elements to explain in a proposal, including the possibility of a video accompanying the book. She had a powerful idea of how to make the story vivid for the reader. But she had to visit the locale of the book and conduct several more interviews before she could envision its precise structure. Therefore, the proposal was a challenge to create.
When I first read the proposal, I realized that the order in which the elements of the project were presented tended to muddle how the story would be told rather than clarifying. So I did major cutting and pasting rather than trying to communicate what needed to be done to my client. It was simpler just to do the work.
I also added quite a bit to the proposal to help to explain the book’s idea. I’ve found that often an author doesn’t know how to talk about his or her project in the most compelling way. I see it as my job to massage the proposal to highlight what I think are the strong selling points. I always expect the author to do his or her best to figure out the book’s hook and its uniqueness, but when the author fails, I step in.
I invested days in honing this proposal, but I handed it back to my client after I read the sample chapters. They had the essence of what they needed to be, but I thought they were overly literary to the point of obfuscation and too wordy. I did some editing but mostly provided direction to the author.
A short time later, the proposal was back to me along with thanks for the work I’d done. (It’s nice to have hours of work recognized–not a requirement to make me happy, but still gratifying.)
I read over the chapters and found them gaining ground, but they hadn’t arrived at their destination yet. So I dug out my editing pen (figuratively, of course) and went to work. I really overhauled the chapters. By the time I finished, they gleamed.
I sent the proposal off to my client so she could see what I had done. Then I worried. Would she be upset that I had used such a heavy editing hand? Would she think I had exceeded my role?
I’m thankful to say that she responded with a clever email about her overwrought writing, recognizing I had pulled the chapters into the shape she would have formed, if she knew how to get them there.
Now, I have to be careful not to take the chapters beyond the point the author can take the entire book. This particular author has strong writing skills; she just needed help to find the right voice and pacing for this project.
So what can you learn from this example of a good client?
- She was able to see us as a team, putting together the most effective proposal possible.
- She was responsive to suggestions for change rather than defensive.
- She recognized that I was helping to take the project to where she wanted it to go.
When an author and an agent work together hand in hand, it’s a beautiful thing. And everyone benefits.
I do need to add that I want my clients to have the freedom to say, “Um, that’s not what I intended.” I’m not a mind-reader, and I can misstep or overstep.
So,of course, the answer to the question, Who shapes the proposal, often is both the author and the agent. Agents love it when they can read a proposal and proclaim, “Perfection!” But if the proposal’s not there yet; I’m willing to help make it so.
Do you want an agent who would “fiddle” with your proposal? Why or why not?