I’m sympathetic regarding what a pain it is to create a proposal. When I was writing books, I felt grumpy when I had to do a proposal. That’s when I dipped into what I call Authors’ Magical Thinking.
That’s when we let our imaginations drift into a fantasy land in which we can take shortcuts because we’re “special” and don’t have to travel the long hard road everyone else does. Employing Authors’ Magical Thinking, we’re confident we can still arrive at the desired destination, riding a unicorn and wearing a gold crown upon our carefully coiffed head, greeting our fans with a regal wave.
When it came to proposals, my magical thinking went like this: It seemed as if I was trying to convince a publisher to like me. “Either you like me or you don’t; either my idea makes sense to you when I describe it in a few sentences or it doesn’t. Why do I have to agonize over all these details: title, subtitle, hook, description, audience, word count, comparative titles, bio, sales history, chapter summaries–even sample chapters, for Pete’s sake. If I wanted to be a salesperson, I’d apply for the job!”
Yeah, Authors’ Magical Thinking.
Recently one of my clients, who has more than 20 books published, sent me a proposal full of Authors’ Magical Thinking. My client thought that her long-term involvement in the industry, her recognizable name, and the power of her idea were enough to garner a contract. None of these reasons is strong enough to get a contract, especially in today’s hyper-competitive publishing world. If an author doesn’t want to do the work to create a compelling proposal (aka business plan for the project), the person standing right beside her is willing–and will get the contract.
The Results of Authors’ Magical Thinking
Failed to follow the template
Several years ago our agency instituted a template that all of our proposals must fit into. We did it because we wanted uniformity in proposals, which would communicate to an editor that the proposal came with the Books & Such imprimatur. But my client sent a proposal that bore no resemblance to the agency’s template.
All of the Books & Such agents are taskmasters when it comes to proposals because we know that no project will be bought if we don’t put forward numerous compelling reasons to offer a contract. We have only one chance to get a contract offer from a publisher on this project; we want to give the publisher every reason to say yes and no reason to say no. But this client was in a rush to send the proposal to me. So much so that “magically” she didn’t need to use the template.
For me to revamp the proposal’s format, considerable amount of my time would be spent on a mechanical problem rather than focusing on how to sharpen the proposals verbiage.
Hadn’t defined the project
Because she didn’t really know herself how her rough idea would look when it was fully shaped, she couldn’t communicate just what she planned her book to be. Her magical thinking lead her to believe that the vague idea would be powerful enough not to need specifics.
Didn’t look for comparative titles
This part of writing a proposal is such hard work because you have to search around among published books for whatever is similar to your idea. It isn’t enough to type one keyword into Amazon’s search tab. You really need to dig. Try several different words. Search your own mind for books sort of like yours that you’re aware of. Consider which publisher might produce a book like yours and search through their online catalog. I’m talking about using your research methods and digging deep.
Why? Because you might well find that your golden idea has occurred to a number of other people, who already have published books very much like yours. Many a project has bit the dust or been transformed into a unique offering during the process of finding comparative titles. Not to mention, it would be embarrassing for you if your agent submitted the project to a publisher who had just released a book very similar to yours by their most significant author–but that title didn’t make it into your comparative titles list.
For my client, she didn’t even cast her eye around to see what already existed. Magically, her idea was bound to be unique.
Didn’t match her sample chapters to the proposal description
As my client presented her project in the proposal, she committed herself to write a nonfiction book using several fiction techniques, which was a major factor to distinguish her work from anyone else’s, she claimed. But the chapters were short, undeveloped, and only vaguely novelesque.
An Agent’s Response to Authors’ Magical Thinking
I sent the proposal back to the client for more work. Was I being a prima donna? No, I was being a good agent who knew that magical thinking doesn’t sell a project. Hard work, diligence, creativity, and knock-’em-dead gorgeous writing does.
How have you engaged in magical thinking when it comes to your writing?
What do you hate most about writing proposals?
Do you have someone who holds you accountable to do the best proposal you can? If not, why not?
If working on a book proposal makes you shudder in dread, this blog post offers reasons to do the work anyway. Click to tweet.
Writers often engage in Authors’ Magical Thinking when it comes to book proposal prep. Read why that’s a big oh-oh. Click to tweet.
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