Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
A misconception writers have about agents is that, when a client submits a proposal, the agent downloads it, adds his/her contact info to the submission and blasts it out that same day to every even-vaguely possible editor. Speaking for myself (and the other agents at Books & Such)…not so much.
Here’s what I do to prepare a proposal for submission:
- Make sure the author used our agency’s template. Yup, all of our proposals have a specific look and format. We want editors to recognize the distinctive look of our proposals. That’s payoff for years of working hard to establish a strong reputation of sending viable and targeted projects to editors. If my client doesn’t want to fuss with taking the time to put the proposal in that format, ultimately said client is asking me to do that work. And while I know how to quickly create the headers and toss other easy stuff into the mix, some aspects of our proposals require a lot of thought about how to present THIS project. Sometimes I can spend hours moving proposal pieces around to highlight the idea and the author’s strong points. And the client who has decided to use her own idea of what a proposal should look like, including all sorts of bells, whistles and other doo-dads…it could take me weeks to shift through all the glitter to get to the gold.
- Think through how to tell what the project is in the most compelling way possible. I’m pretty critical when it comes to how the manuscript is presented: Does the proposal provide a strong hook for the book; is the book’s description clear, succinct, yet compelling; has the author shown why the book will appeal to the selected audience; is the project’s title and subtitle the best possible?
- Dig into the detail. What about grammar, punctuation and spelling errors (you’d be surprised how often well-known potential endorsers’ names are misspelled); does the marketing section stand up to scrutiny; has the author showcased where he/she is strong in social media; are obvious titles listed in the competitive section; is the competitive section a true examination of what makes this project unique or does it skim over the top in a pretense of looking at the competition?
- Add the author’s past sales figures. Many clients don’t keep track of each title’s sales history. If I were an author, I’d turn into a cranky accountant when it came to these numbers because they foretell much about the agent’s ability to garner a new contract, but many writers seem to prefer not to know. Fine. I add these numbers in since the editors need them and will ask for them if I leave them out. If I were an editor, I’d suspect the numbers aren’t good since they aren’t being given up voluntarily.
- Make sure the author has highlighted the most relevant aspects of his/her bio. Reading bios in proposals is a reminder that we tend to be inept when it comes to writing about ourselves. Clients frequently don’t know what’s important to put in a bio or the order in which to present the material (and, surprisingly, the correct name of awards they’ve won).
- Envision how the idea unfolds through the synopsis or chapter summaries. If the book’s idea feels helter-skelter, the proposal will need to go back to the client for some additional thinking. I’ll make suggestions of what might work better, or how to use the organizing principle in a way that isn’t as heavy-handed, etc.
- Are the chapters in tiptop shape? If the writing isn’t ready, then in essence, nothing is ready. The proposal heads back to the writer for additional work based on my comments.
Now, aren’t you glad I didn’t just whip that proposal on over to a long list of editors? If even a small percentage of these aspects of a proposal aren’t ready, my client and I are begging the editor to turn down the project.
Every proposal I send out involves, at minimum, hours of work on my part; some involve days; others weeks. And many pass between my client and me several times. The process of readying a proposal, like many aspects of publishing, requires patience, diligence and dogged determination to get it right.
As I often tell my clients:
You only have one chance to get a yes from an editor. Don’t squander it.
Which part of the proposal is hardest for you? Which part is the easiest?
Why lit agents don’t submit proposals immediately to editors. Click to tweet.
What do agents look for in book proposals? Click to tweet.
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