Blogger: Mary Keeley
Last week I blogged on three criteria agents use to assess your readiness for representation (here). Today let’s focus on what goes into the first of these: your proposal. The following tips will be helpful throughout your career because editors use the same three criteria plus sales history in their decision whether to offer a new contract to published authors.
Every year publishers go through the tricky steps to determine how many books they plan to acquire in the next year. Editors, publishing executives, and the sales team have been monitoring reader and book buying trends throughout the year in order to determine how many publishing slots in each genre to schedule for the next year. Then they have to fill the right number of slots with titles already acquired through multi-book contracts. Finally, they assign budgeting dollars to each genre according to the remaining number of open slots.
Clearly this is an over-simplification of the process. Factors such as budgeting marketing and promotion dollars for the open slots and predicting sales potential for contracted books weigh into their number crunching. Since these publishing professionals can’t know the future, they will be conservative in their marketing commitment to new titles they acquire for the next year because the last slot they fill might promise to be the most lucrative. They’ll want to have more marketing dollars available for that one. Profit keeps publishers in business, and we surely want Christian publishers to be fiscally healthy. They are the surest means to continue getting our Christian content to the public.
So why did I go into such detail about publishers before getting to the topic of proposals? Two reasons: to show you the imperfect science of the acquisition process because of the unknowns and the care publishers have to take in deciding what they will acquire. Understanding the tightrope publishers walk should lead to your greater understanding. And a greater understanding prompts a positive attitude in writers who are determined to persevere. The open slots are yours to seize.
Finding those gems publishers will be eager to contract is primary to an agent’s job. Your proposal is the key to opening the door to representation. For mid-list authors it’s key to getting the next contract. Gone are the days when a mid-list author could secure a new contract on the basis of a synopsis alone. There are too many new writers with impressive proposals competing for a slot.
I’m not going into specific elements to include in your proposal today. You can go to our archives and look through past blog posts on writing book proposals for those details. I want to share several insights and tips for maximizing the effectiveness of the unspoken impression your proposal creates, which you may not have been aware of until now. Agents discern as much from the unwritten communication conveyed in your proposal as they do from the information on the pages.
Appearance and format. A contemporary, easy to read appearance whispers to the agent that you are up to date and current with professional style trends. A well-organized format, in which you progress your information purposefully to build a compelling case, shows agents you have the know-how to promote your book. There is no one-size-fits-all template for this. Other than the necessary introductory material, arrange your business section to build emphasis on the strengths of you and your individual book and platform.
Design for a quick read. Eliminate verbose sentences the agent must weed through to get to the main point. Your manuscript or sample chapters are where you demonstrate your writing craft. The business portion presents your business prowess. Use of bullet points and succinct phrases wherever possible conveys you understand that agents and editors are exceptionally busy people, who appreciate the facts in quick sound bites. A hint, between the lines, that you are a team player.
Voice and Persuasion. Projecting confidence is a skill that comes more naturally to some than to others and is easier to muster in some settings than others. Fortunately, a written document is one of those easier settings. Strong verbs, assertive statements, and business-friendly voice communicate confidence. Anticipate and provide compelling information to support the need for your nonfiction topic or desire for the unique angle in your novel. Items such as pertinent market research and reader benefits. This added effort demonstrates to agents that you are a go-getter who is willing to work hard to successfully market your book.
In what ways was this background information helpful to you? Encouraging to you? In what ways do you need to improve your current proposal? Any other comments?
Three ways your book proposal communicates between the lines. Make it compelling. Click to Tweet.
Book proposals reveal your business acumen in the written words and between the lines. See how. Click to Tweet.