Blogger: Rachel Kent
Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
What “when” questions do you need to ask before writing your proposal?
Here are the two questions I believe are most important:
Question 1: When is my book set?
This is mostly for fiction, of course, but you need to establish the setting of your book before you jump into writing it. Be sure to do your research if you are writing a historical. If you are writing a contemporary, you can date your book by going into too much detail about the technology. If you describe a cell phone, or a web program, or a computer in any detail your book will “expire” in 1-2 years and some books take 1 to 2 years to release. Be careful!
Question 2: When will I complete my book?
If you are a debut novelist, you need to complete your book before you look for an agent or for an editor. If you’re writing nonfiction, be realistic about how long it will take you to complete the entire manuscript.
If you have had at least one book published in the past, you often can get a contract–even a novel–based on a proposal and sample chapters. Sometimes one published novel isn’t enough, especially if you are changing publishing houses, but talk to your agent about this.
If your circumstances call for just the proposal and sample chapters, you will need to estimate how long it will take you to complete the project after contract. This is very important! You are predicting your deadline, so be sure to give yourself enough time to write the book with life factored in. Missing a deadline can be a career killer, so you need to be sure to put a realistic date of completion into your proposal.
Have you ever had to update a book because of rapidly-changing technology? Has technology ever caused plot problems for you?
Rachel, I have a “when” question about writing a series. My first book in the series is complete. I’m in the process of outlining the two other books, but don’t want to write them until there’s interest in the first. Is this a sound idea?
You talk about additional books being sold on the basis of a proposal and sample chapters. Would you recommend that I go ahead and write the first three chapters of each of the remaining books before I send out a proposal on the first? How does it work when there is a series to sell? When do you do more than write a synopsis or outline for the remaining books?
Though I’m writing historicals, technology is still a problem–it doesn’t have to be electronic technology.
I have to know the dates of inventions and how long it took for them to become a part of everyday life. I have to know if my characters would be the kind of people who would use the latest technology, and if not, what technology would they use. Travel brings up all sorts of questions.
Rachel, I’m finding my children a wealth of knowledge! Having one in college and one about 10 years younger, they both keep me grounded in the realities of current lingo and kid-speak. (And I thought our oldest would never stop laughing when he messaged me on Facebook, and said…”You gotta hit “enter”, Mom,if you wanna IM me.)
I’ve learned it’s either “go with the flow” or rust in the dust!
Oh, and Rachel, and Jill K. if you’re reading this…how do you go from twitter pansy to twitter pro in three easy steps? My apologies, that’s probably off topic. : )
With my subject matter, I don’t have to worry too much about the technology in my book. Any of the technology mentioned should take at least ten or fifteen years before it becomes dated.
My biggest worry is that my teenage main character was raised by his WWII veteran grandfather. I worry this could make my book dated as the years go by.
Lindsay A. Franklin
I started writing a short piece over the weekend that’s a prequel of sorts to my main series. The MC in my prequel is one of my series MC’s mentors. So I counted backwards and figured out that my prequel’s MC was a sophomore in high school in 1995. I purposefully avoid much technology in my stories, so it’s not that big of a deal, but I have to be careful here. Kids didn’t carry cell phones, there was no such thing as texting, people listened to CDs, not MP3s… even the Internet wasn’t widely used in the home. I remember my older sister and her friends had pagers in 1995 and they thought they were pretty cool. 🙂
Lindsay A. Franklin
Rachel and Jill K. may have other tips, but I’d recommend you check out Laura Christianson’s site, http://www.BloggingBistro.com. She’s the mistress of all thing Social Media and has tons of great info about Twitter. Happy tweeting! 😉
Great question, Sandra! Outlining the ideas for the two other books is enough until you are offered a contract for the series.
You should start working on completely new idea while you are submitting the current proposal.
Lol! Cynthia, the ladies in the office are laughing that you asked me about Twitter. I’m not known for my tweeting skills. I think Lindsay’s link is a good place to start. Also, follow Tricia Goyer on Twitter and learn from her. She is a tweet-pro.
Great tips again, Rachel. As for when will a book be completed, what do agents and publishers really like to see? What I’ve been reading for non-fiction is about six months from time of acceptance, though it seems most would rather have it finished in three or four months. Is this about right? Is there a general consensus on “definitely no longer than __ months?” I imagine it depends on individual circumstances, but what time frame do you personally prefer?
Thanks for your guidance this week!
Great posts this week, Rachel!
I especially liked your comments about technology. I always get a kick out of reading my old favorite books and seeing references to cassette tapes or video tapes. And now DVDs and CDs are becoming old news already.
As for the Twitter guidance, I’ve found an amazing resource in Kristen Lamb. She’s written a best-selling book, “We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media”, and she has an awesome blog full of Twitter and blogging tips. Here’s the link for anyone interested: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/
Caroline, I’d say six months is ideal and no longer than a year.
I’m right there with you Lance. Since my books are set in the mid- to late 1800’s, I really need to do my research.
Here’s a question for you Rachel, I used the word “tick” in my current fiction WIP because that’s what they were called. You stuffed them with straw and laid them on a wooden bedframe. My adult critiquers didn’t know what that was, and this book is geared toward 8 – 12 year olds. Should I avoid using that kind of terminology? It’s not like I could call it a mattress because that’s not what it was. Do I need to include a glossary at the back for readers?
Thanks for the great posts and interesting discussions this week.
Thanks for the information, Rachel. That was the plan. I just wanted to be sure it made sense.
Great posts this week. I’m filing all the information for future use!
Technology is not part of my first manuscript..however, I agree with Lance…it’s really important to know about the era you are writing about. My grandchildren had never seen a record until we bought a phonograph and brought out our old record collection…
Thanks for all your help!
My fiction WIP is set in modern times, though the threat against his wife is keeping the main character from using any technology to reach her.
Again, thanks for the questions that force me to clarify!