Are you writing a book proposal? Have you included everything an agent or editor might need? Great. Have you gone through to make sure you have left out the parts an editor or agent won’t want or need to see?
Consider this list of excesses, unnecessaries, and too much-es:
Leave out the fancy.
Doodads and frippery are fine for costume parties and handmade greeting cards, but they’re a distraction in a professional document like a book proposal.
That includes a wild array of fonts and colors.
Don’t make an editor or agent wade through cotton candy to get to the meat. (See what I did there?)
Eliminate the grandiose.
Anything that can be construed as boastful or pie-in-the-sky needs to go before you hit SEND. “You’ve never seen anything like this project!” “I can guarantee this will be a bestseller!” “I will be willing to go on an all-expenses paid world book signing tour after the book releases.”
And…that’s a no.
Some authors slide their one-sheet onto the front end of their proposal, but it’s all information that is already expressed within the proposal. Agents and editors have expectations of what they need to see. They’re looking for the hook, brief description, target audience, takeaway, author bio, author’s platform, etc., but don’t need to read the same words repeatedly.
Find a way to make your longer description or synopsis not sound like a copy-and-paste-and-add-some-more version of your brief description. Any book, fiction or nonfiction, should have more than one way to describe it and highlight its features.
You can leave out anything that looks like an apology.
“Sorry, I’m new at this.” “I wish my platform numbers were higher, but I’ve been going through some family stuff.” “I know you asked for this a year ago, but…”
An author’s newness may well show up without it having to be said. Platform numbers won’t change because of extenuating circumstances. It’s unlikely the agent or editor has bitten their nails to the quick waiting for your proposal to arrive. They’ve been involved with a passel of other responsibilities.
No need to apologize. Just send it.
Leave out ambiguity.
Ambiguous sales numbers (My first book sold well), target audience (anyone who likes to read), or marketing strategies (I’ll promote the book on social media) are of no value to an agent or editor considering your project. We need numbers and concrete ideas.
Delete potential endorsers with whom you have no real connection.
If you include highly influential people in your list of potential endorsers, also include how you are related to or connected to that person. Having heard them give a speech once is not a connection. But if you were invited backstage for a one-on-one interview and casual conversation over dinner or you served as their intern for two-years, that’s a relationship that will register with an agent or editor. If you highly admire someone, but they’ve never heard of you, feel free to leave that name off of your list.
Leave out uber-precise word counts.
Editors and agents are looking for “close enough” in only one arena–word count. They aren’t concerned if the word count of your manuscript is 80,014 words versus 80,000 words. If you add another sentence, do you need to change the word count? No. A close estimate is close enough. The exception is children’s picture books, which has a tighter word count expectation.
You can leave out how you think the book should look in its finished form.
We sometimes receive proposals that list the author’s vision for the trim size of the book, hardcover or paperback, suggested retail price, and other details. Those decisions aren’t the author’s to make in traditional publishing. If your proposal is for the traditional publishing market, adding those details to the proposal makes it look as if you’re trying to play their role, inadvertently.
When submitting a proposal, leave out the whole manuscript.
If an editor or agent requests a proposal with three sample chapters, send them…wait for it…a proposal and three sample chapters. Only send an entire manuscript if an agent or editor requests it. That’s not because we don’t want to read what you’ve written, but that we need to know that the project will interest us, fit our needs and publisher requirements, and that a reader can become quickly engaged with the book. Sending eight chapters rather than three “to give you a real feel for the book,” means I can’t connect with the book within the first three chapters, which means the reader won’t either.
Has this been helpful? We talk often about what a proposal needs. But what are you free–and encouraged–to leave out? Include a comment of your own below if you’ve discovered another element an author can leave out of a proposal…like typos and coffee stains. Although, admittedly, coffee stains on proposals are far less frequent with digital submissions.
Thanks for this helpful post, Cynthia! Very timely, as I’m working on my proposal.
Grateful it was helpful!
Thanks for this helpful and timely post, Cynthia!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Dear Sintheeuh Rutchtea,
Thank you for sending your agreement to represent my work via a recurring dream. Last night’s slumber revealed that today is the day that opening my manuscript is going to sprain your pinkie finger which is going to send you out to get a finger brace which is then going to save your life from an unexpected lightning strike! I am graciously sending my submission a few hours early so that if you hurry, you have time to save your five dogs and thirty-two parakeets.
This story has the power to do more than swerve you away from exploding houses. It will also heal minor skin abrasions, settle gassy digestive systems, and calm angry cats if read slowly and with perfect diction.
I am willing to tour up to 427 humane society locations to highlight its cat-calming abilities. But please know that I am unable to adopt any of those cats at this time.
God bless as you replace all of your charred furniture and I hope to hear from you soon!
Chreesten Goey Wiilkes
P.S. There might be one of two things here that one should avoid.
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, dear Kristen, for making me smile.
Feel free to send me any Persian cats you come across. 😉
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
Kristen Joy Wilks
I will be sure to send all the Persian cats your way … while enjoying my book tour of course!
Way to go, Kristen! You made the “fancy and excessive” list! 🙂
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, dear Cynthia, for the sweet reminder to leave our cotton candy at home.
Yes, this was helpful. I’m going to scrutinize my proposal for repeats and vagueness.
Concise is nice.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
P.S. Congratulations on your latest book: Spouse in the House. 🙂
Concise is nice. Love it!
Hello Cynthia! I love the idea of stating how I know potential endorsers. I’m currently expanding the marketing portion of my proposal, so I appreciate that advice. You always choose the best photos to illustrate your writing. They make me smile!
Thank you, Andrea! I do spend time searching for the right images! 🙂
Great. Now I have the inexplicable urge to add a coffee or tea stain to the next digital submission to my agent… 😉
Show us the image when you get that accomplished!
Virginia Sue Graham
Great comments, Cynthia! Thanks for passing them along in such a fun way that make the messages “stick.”
I know my words to you are tardy,
but I hope they will be read,
for although my hope is hardy,
my energy is gone for dead,
but please do not just pass this by,
this proposal’s no ‘nonymous fish;
if you care to cast an eye,
I will make us both quite rich
with my ‘more words than Tolstoy’ opus
that will call to young and old,
and Kirkus will make a fuss,
discovering a work so bold
to let the world at large know that
you can psychoanalyze your cat.
Kirkus will make a fuss. Love it!