Know means no.
Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
What do you need to know to make it less likely an agent or editor will say no to your proposal?
KNOW who you are (and who you aren’t) as a writer.
You may be multi-talented, but does that mean your best chances lie in dabbling in a little of this and a little of that? Or are six of your seven passions well covered in the market already by other talented authors? That doesn’t mean you can’t write books on prayer, for instance. But can you write about the topic from a position of expertise, and in a way that rises above other books already published on the subject?
KNOW the other options readers have in your chosen genre(s).
Agents and editors are used to receiving proposals from writers who unintentionally reveal they are unaware of what’s on the shelves. They suggest ideas that have worn out their welcome among the reading public. Or they propose a premise recently tackled by a bestselling author. Thoroughly. Or they leave the “Comparables” section of their proposal blank because they’re under the assumption no other book is like theirs. Knowing the options readers have helps you prepare a more informed proposal.
KNOW what editors and agents expect in a proposal.
Although publishing houses and agencies differ slightly in the elements of a noteworthy proposal, many elements are standard. The Books & Such website recommends The Art of the Book Proposal by Eric Maisel as a resource. You can also check out advice from Rachelle Gardner, Jane Friedman, Writers Digest, or a familiar tome–The Inside Scoop: Two Agents Dish on Getting Published
When studying books comparable to yours, take note too of what readers and reviewers have said about those books. What have they appreciated? What approach resonates with readers? Can your book fill a gap?
KNOW what makes your book unique.
Are you writing about the importance of knowing our identity in Christ? Have you Googled “identity in Christ” to see how many books tackle that topic? It is an important topic. It’s been addressed in a variety of ways in recent years by people with small and large platforms. How will you convince an agent or editor that your angle is unique and adds to the conversation rather than duplicating it? Note: If you can’t convince an agent, the agent won’t be able to convince an editor.
KNOW the word count publishers expect of a book in your genre.
Is your book a novel or a novella? A word count of 100,000 words is typical for nonfiction, right? (Add the correct answer in the comments section.) Will a publisher think 50,000 words is too long for a children’s book?
KNOW the terminology that makes you sound professional.
If you call your book a “fiction novel,” the prospective agent or editor will cringe. A novel is fiction by default. No need for the redundancy. If you’re serious about writing, your self-study should include understanding a synopsis and its purpose, an overview versus chapter summaries for nonfiction, the difference between a memoir and an autobiography….
KNOW the details that will make your proposal stand out.
Neatness counts. Typos sting. Compelling one-sentence hooks make editors and agents lean forward with interest.
KNOW standard practices for agent and editor etiquette, including the difference between inquiring and pestering.
(That sounds like a good idea for a future blog post.)
KNOW your strengths.
KNOW your weaknesses.
But don’t spotlight or excuse them. Get help to overcome them.
Know means no. What you know can make it hard for an agent or editor to say no to your proposal or manuscript and easier to say yes. It’s worth your investment of time.
How have you added to your storehouse of knowledge about writing or the publishing industry this month?