Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
If you follow the Books & Such Blog you may have been expecting to hear from our fearless leader, Janet Kobobel Grant, this week. Because of her schedule, Janet will be taking the week off and I’ll be blogging in her place but let me hasten to reassure her faithful readers that she’ll be back dispensing her signature wisdom next month. In the meantime. . .
I’m going to be talking turkey about book proposals this week. (I can almost hear the collective groan.) I wish I had a dollar for every time a writer has confessed that he hates writing the proposal. I’m guessing I’d be close to paying for a cruise with those dollar bills. Last month Janet touched on this subject with her post on Magical Thinking but I want to take it further. This week we’re going to do a mini proposal clinic here on the blog. Today I will answer the perplexing question “why do I have to write a proposal?” Then the next four days we’ll talk about the four major parts of a proposal.
Let’s start with first things first. What is a proposal?
- Your book proposal is actually your business plan. Like a traditional business plan it will outline the “product”– that is, the book itself; identify the “customer”– better known as the reader; profile the author, giving his past sales history; sketch out a marketing plan; analyze the competition; and offer a sample of the product.
- The book proposal is the blueprint of choice in publishing. Many an author wishes he could just submit his book and let the work speak for itself. Publishing is a business however. When an author submits his book to a publisher he’s asking for a business partner– someone to help him manufacture the product, market and distribute it. It’s going to require a significant investment of money on the part of the publisher. The proposal answers, in advance, all the questions the decision makers will need to ask.
- Much of the content of the proposal is the raw material the publisher will eventually use in marketing the book. The author bio, the book descriptions, the hook, the back cover copy– all come from the proposal.
- The proposal ensures that your brilliant idea is communicated through layer after layer of decision makers. Let’s say you want to skip the trouble of a formal proposal and you communicate your vision verbally to an agent. That agent then communicates to an acquisitions editor. The editor must sell the editorial team and then the pub committee. If the book is acquired, the information needs to be communicated to marketing department and then to the sales team who will have to sell the book to the buyers who need to explain the book to the store personnel who will finally hand sell the book to the reader. That’s nine layers. If just a little excitement or detail leaks at every layer you’ll hit ho hum long before the sales team. A powerful proposal carries that excitement through every layer of the publisher and provides the detailed information the marketing department needs to take it the rest of the way.
Why do we write a proposal?
- For agents and editors. This goes without saying. This is how we make decisions.
- For the author. This may surprise you but the proposal is invaluable to you. Many a book has been reshaped or abandoned during the process of detailing the competition. As you do the hard work of building the business plan for the book, it helps to creatively shape it, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. The work you do on this end of the project will save you much aimless wandering on the other end.
What does a good proposal do?
- It answers all the questions a pub committee might ask
- It gives a solid overview of the book
- It tells why the book is needed
- It tells why the book is unique
- It tells why the author is the person to write the book
What is the magic formula?
- Is there a standardized proposal format? There is no shortage of books on how to format a proposal. At our agency we’ve developed a Style Guide for our proposals. We feel it’s important for all Books & Such proposals to have a certain format, a recognizable look. We like to think that when an editor gets a proposal in our signature format it makes them smile, thinking of all the great books they’ve bought from us in the past that have looked similar. But if you are creating a proposal on your own, just make sure it has all the important parts and looks professional
- Can we get creative? It’s always a risk. We’ve all seen too many “fancy” proposals that have no substance. But if your book calls for some creativity and you are willing to take the risk. . .
What if I’m “beyond having to do a proposal” in my career? I think Janet answered this one in her post on magical thinking. The proposal is a tool, as much for you as for the agent and the editor. It’s like a builder saying, “I’ve built so many houses in my career, I don’t need a plan or blueprints on this one. The subs all know what I do more or less.” Scary.
Your turn: Do you agree? How do you feel about writing proposals? Do you feel like the proposal practice saps the creativity out of writing? Has the process of writing the proposal ever highlighted potential problems with the book long before you ever submitted it?