What Your Proposal Reveals about You
Blogger: Mary Keeley
Writers communicate volumes of information between the lines and paragraphs in their proposals, both in terms of what is presented, and in what is missing. Today, I’m going to let you in on some of those things agents and editors notice.
Format and Style. Agents and editors struggle to keep up with what feels like a self-propagating stack of proposals. The formatting is the first thing an agent sees when he or she opens your proposal document. When I come across a proposal that maintains consist formatting and clear style of headers, subheads, indentations of bulleted lists—an orderly visual presentation—my first reaction is, Ah, this shows promise. If the writer has followed our submissions guidelines posted on our Books & Such website by including all the requested information and samples, the proposal will progress to my “Shows Promise—Read Further” pile. Why so quickly, you might ask, without first reading about the project itself? For several reasons:
- The orderly formatting exhibits your skill in business communication. Remember, a book proposal is your offer of a business opportunity.
- Compliance with submissions guidelines indicates publishing industry professionalism and the potential you will be pleasant to work with.
- The third reason, more subtle, is the writer demonstrated the effort and consideration to make the proposal easy for the agent or editor to read.
RECOMMENDATON: If you think you might need to brush up on formatting a business document, do it. First impressions matter!
Inclusions. Every literary agency and publisher has its own requirements regarding how much of your manuscript to include with the proposal and the information they want to receive. Rather than sending the same basic proposal document to all the agents you plan to submit to, tailor it in a separate document according to each agency’s specific guidelines. It reflects that you did your homework, which in turn reflects the possibility you did thorough research for your book.
Marketing Plan. Your marketing plan is one of the inclusions virtually all agents or editors require. But I’m mentioning it separately here because this is where I see problems most often; yet it’s one of the most important and revealing areas of your proposal. Along with the standard items agents and publishers expect (quantified social media numbers, organization affiliations that will market your book, online or in-person book launch parties, and so on), here are some RECOMMENDATIONS:
- Use declarative statements. For example: “I have contacted the following radio stations about my book, and they have agreed to interview me when my book releases” promises assertive participation in promoting your book. Saying, “I’m open to doing radio interviews,” is passive and lacks initiative and passion for your book. If you aren’t energetic about your book, no one else will be either.
- Be creative. Think of unique ways you can market your book. What is the setting for your contemporary romance? List the names of local businesses, restaurants, libraries, and tourist bureaus in that area that you will contact about promoting your book. What is the core message of your nonfiction book? List appropriate organizations you will approach to cross-promote your book.
- Be specific. Include a bulleted list of churches, libraries, bookstores, and organizations you have made contact with to schedule a book reading and/or signing.
Grammar, punctuation, spelling. I’ve harped on this subject enough. Anything less than stellar tarnishes your professional image.
RECOMMENDATION: If this is a weak area, study up and get help from a proofreader. It will be well worth it.
Submission. Agencies and publishers have their specific submission policies posted on their websites. For instance, electronic submissions are most common now, but usually following a request from a writer’s query. Some publishers still require hard copy submissions formatted in a specific way to save paper. Following guidelines to the letter reveals your business savvy and cooperative spirit. Conversely, not following them shows you (1) are such a newbie that you didn’t know to look for a prescribed procedure; or (2) think you are special and don’t need to follow the rules.
What hadn’t you noticed before in your proposals that could reflect positively or negatively on you or your project? Is there anything in this information that surprised you?