Blogger: Mary Keeley
The fact there is more competition for fewer publishing slots makes the goal of getting your book published by a traditional publisher more challenging. So let’s address that elephant in the room right off the bat. My word for you today is: Don’t linger on that thought and let it discourage you. You have the power to make your proposal and your book and YOU stand out from the crowd if you’re patient and willing to do the hard work.
An editor commented to me this week that good books the publisher might have said yes to five to ten years ago are no longer getting contracts. But you’ll continue to have opportunity with traditional publishers as long as they are still acquiring. I say that tongue in cheek because of course they’ll continue to acquire new books. Repackaging their backlist will never bring in enough revenue to keep them in business. Publishers have to remain competitive, just as writers do. They look to agents to help them find those rare gems to which they will offer contracts. There are three criteria for you to master that will make your work get the attention of an agent.
Personally, I would rather receive a formal proposal than a query at the outset. It’s a time-saver. A scan through a proposal provides more information for an initial impression. It tells me if the writer has done his or her homework by researching the Books & Such website and following our agency’s posted submission guidelines for content and delivery.
TIP: Follow the unique set of guidelines for each agency you approach. Don’t assume they are the same for all. Agents review many proposals and can spot a lazy shortcut.
An agent can also tell if you have invested time in your writing career by following professional and author blogs, have attended writers conferences, and/or have read how-to books to learn what is involved in creating a professional book proposal. How? You’ll have picked up publishing language and presentation terminology and used it accurately in your proposal. You’ll exhibit an understanding of the business aspect of the industry.
TIP: The business portion of your proposal is often the first section an agent looks at, especially if you are a nonfiction writer. Agents receive many proposals, and time constraints force us to go to these quick indicators of your readiness for representation:
· A great title
· A hook that makes me sit up straight and forget what I was doing a minute ago
· A brief description of a fresh, new idea within the appropriate genre
· A well-organized format free of typos, grammar and punctuation errors
· A marketing plan that shows you have done the pre-submission work to grow relationships with your reader audience for your novel or a broad platform for your nonfiction book and have prepared for creative ways to promote your book.
Continue doing the hard work of writing draft after draft until every word is perfectly chosen and necessary, the story line and plot weave seamlessly to achieve a complete and satisfying resolution at the end. Granted it will probably take you longer than you’d hoped to achieve your publishing dream. It may help to remove self-inflicted pressure by adjusting your goal from getting your book written by a certain date to consistently improving until you are convinced, through editor or critique feedback, that your manuscript is the gem agents and publishers are seeking.
When I’ve come to know a writer through our Books & Such blog community or was impressed by the writer’s professional presence at a writers conference or received an impressive proposal and well-crafted manuscript, I’ll schedule an initial phone call and consider representation if:
1. I the writer demonstrates teachability and a commitment to his or her writing career long-term,
2. the nonfiction writer has a competitive platform or the novelist has already grown an audience for the story,
3. I sense we would work well together and I have a passion for the writer’s work.
I occasionally take on a new client before the manuscript is ready to submit. If the other two criteria are present and compelling, and I have a gut feeling about the writer’s promise of success, I have been known to prayerfully take the risk. Now if publishers would be more open to taking qualified risks too, it might revitalize the industry.
Which of these criteria do you need to work on? What steps have you already taken to meet the challenges of getting published? How are you doing at attracting your audience or building your platform?
Three criteria for assessing the impressiveness of your book proposal. Click to Tweet.