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April 18, 2010

Parts of a Proposal: Sample Pages

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:54 pm

And last but not least, the text itself. No matter how great your proposal, how full of information and how well-researched, if your writing is awful, nothing’s going to happen with your book. Different places have a different standard of exactly how much they want (so I recommend you check before you send things in to see what they say) but the standard is usually the first three chapters or first fifty pages. Sometimes they will ask for the full manuscript, but that’s less common.

Whatever you send them, you’d better make it good. If your first chapter is boring, it often doesn’t matter how great the rest of the book is. The people reading your script sometimes get a hundred submissions a day, they have a lot to do (often besides just reading submissions) and can’t afford to waste any time reading something that doesn’t seem like it will be great. If you don’t grab them fast, you could lose them.

Think of it this way: your manuscript is evaluated a number of times before it is published. Only one no can send it to the garbage pile while you need a yes at every level to have it succeed. Every place works differently but here’s an idea of the process–interns tend to get the first look. They write up a report of what they read, providing a summary, providing the pros and cons, and giving a recommendation of accept or reject. Usually, if they say reject, that’s it. If they say accept it goes up to the next person in the chain of command, perhaps the assistant. If they like it, it goes up to the agent. If not, garbage. The agent then may have to pitch it to his boss and team or may have final say about whether or not to send it out (it depends on how hands on the president is and the exact system) but let’s assume they can accept or reject as they please and then send out. If they don’t like it, garbage. If they do like it, it’s time to submit to a publisher. There the process begins all over again. The assistant or interns reads it, sends it up to their boss if they like it who sends it to their boss if they like it. (Many agencies have relationships with specific editors so they may be able to skip directly to the editor.) Once the editor decides they like it, they typically have to pitch the book to the rest of the editorial staff at a meeting. If the group decides it’s a good idea, THEN it can go into production. So you can see, your writing has to be good enough to connect with A LOT of people. (Not to mention the actual readers who you want buying the book.)

My point in explaining all of this: MAKE SURE YOUR SAMPLE PAGES ARE PERFECT! If they’re not great, they won’t request to read any more.

And perfect doesn’t just mean in the story and flow of your prose either. If you make a bunch of grammatical and formatting errors early on, you make it look like you don’t care enough to make this a clean manuscript. And if you don’t care why should the agent? You’d be amazed at the small details that can get your manuscript thrown out. I have a friend who was a script reader and she would toss a script if she found five errors in the first five pages. Even if they were small errors. If you spent your time reading awful work after awful in hopes of finding the one occasional good book, you’re on guard for awfulness to the point where you may become extra critical. Don’t ever give them an excuse to get rid of your manuscript.


Parts of a Proposal: Table of Contents and Chapter Summaries

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 2:38 pm

This part is really only typical of non-fiction books. It shows that the book is well organized, clear, and informative. (In fiction, each chapter isn’t really a standalone piece of information and are divided more for dramatic effect that anything else.) It provides the agent/publisher with a better feel for what exactly is in the book.

The summaries should ideally be only a paragraph, showing that you can be clear and concise is always an encouraging sign. If you ramble in your summary, what will you do with even more space?

A table of contents is particularly great if your chapter titles are clever because it highlights this aspect of your writing quickly. It says “look I’m funny and I know what I’m talking about!” If the chapter summaries read as incredibly dull and dense, how much duller and denser will a full book be? Make sure you get your point across without overburdening the paragraph with information. Remember, this is not the actual book. You don’t have to explain all your concepts. You are just giving a taste of what’s to come so that they will want to find out more about the topics and ideas that you discuss.

And try to make the information interesting!

Parts of a Proposal: Publicity and Promotion

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:32 pm

This is the part where you talk about what you will do for the book. It’s where you discuss your platform if you have one.

For non-fiction you will want to reiterate a bit about what makes you an authority on the subject because this is a part of that platform. For example, as a world-renowned doctor, your very name carries weight and for that very reason other doctors and people in medicine may be interested in your book. In addition, your employers may being willing to aid in the promotion of the book in some way.

If you have a blog gets a lot of hits or a twitter account with lots of followers, these are important things to mention because they are tools that will easily let a large number of people who are already interested in what you have to say know that you’ve written something they may be interested in reading.

These and any other solid venues you may have to promote your book (such as a cookbook attached to a large restaurant chain or grocery store) are always helpful. They add an extra chance that word of this particular book will get out and be on demand.

Do you have any contacts you can utilize? Know people at newspapers, radio stations, magazines, etc who might be willing to help you out? Mention them. Have money you’d be willing to throw in, can’t hurt to say so? Willing to go on an author’s tour and hold speaking engagements? Got some places that have expressed interest in your final product?

All these things demonstrate a book’s viability as well as the lengths you will be willing to go to ensure your book’s success (and thus your dedication). It is more common for a new author in the non-fiction field to have (and be expected to have) a platform of some sort to promote their book. Any little bit helps. It will make an agent/publisher more inclined to want to work with you because it means a better chance at exposure.

Parts of a Proposal: Competitive Titles

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:22 pm

This section is similar to the market and audience section in that you are demonstrating the viability of your book. Because you likely do not have access to something like Nielsen Bookscan (where agencies and publishers can look up the exact sales figures for books in the market), sticking to best sellers and books that got a lot of media attention are ideal (though not always possible), particularly ones that have been published recently.

Your goal is to show that there are other books that are similar out there that have done well, thereby showing that there is an audience and a market for your book. Not only that, you want to show why your book is even better than those books that have done well.

Information you want to provide- title, author, publisher, date it was published, and price, along with a 1-2 line summary of the book. Then, you want to explain why your book is different and ideally better than that book. (Because of course, if it’s better, it should be able to sell even more books.) This does require a little research but Amazon.com can help a lot as well as just a general google search.

Parts of a Proposal: Market and Audience

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:15 pm

This part of a proposal is about knowing your audience. Who will read your book? What is your target audience? While you should have this in mind while writing the book itself, if you don’t, you’d better figure it out. The book needs to be age appropriate (adult books can’t be too simple, children’s book can’t be too complex or too gruesome). If not, the people who it is intended for won’t read it.

By being able to show that you know your who your target audience, you show that your book is viable in the market. For example, if you write a children’s magic series, you can point out some current, successful books, movies, and tv shows in that area. If you’re writing a fictional sports book, showing the love for sports stories is a good idea (you may want to point out how Friday Night Lights and the Blindside are both successful books turned into movies and a tv show, for example). If your writing a non-fiction book about raw food, then you may want to show the growth of the raw food movement, some celebrities in the news who are following it, some recent articles published about it.

The idea is to show that there is interest in the type of book you are writing and that you have an idea of who they can direct it towards. Of course, they made decide there’s an even better market you haven’t thought of, but as long as they see it’s viable, they will be more inclined to want it.

April 16, 2010

Parts of a Proposal: About the Author

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 3:38 pm

This is your space to tell the agent/publisher about yourself in a couple paragraphs.

Clearly you can’t tell them every detail of your life (a long, rambling letter about the way you grew up in a small community with ten siblings and were very close to your parents and went to public school until high school when you went to a private school for high IQ students and were part of the basketball team as the water boy because you had no aim and then went to an international college…). So what is important?

If you have any writing experience, make sure to mention it. If you’ve gotten any awards for your writing, majored in creative writing in English, write about it.

If you wrote a non-fiction book, your bio is particularly important. Who are you to be writing this book? On what authority? If you are writing a book about medicine, what qualifies you to write about it? Talk about your career and what makes you an authority on the subject.

Parts of a Proposal: the Synopsis

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 3:36 pm

If you write fiction, you will be writing a synopsis for your proposal. Whatever the hidden themes and ideas you may have in your book, this is not the place to explain them. Here you want to tell the agent or publisher what your book is about. And I don’t mean a three liner saying that “it’s about a guy who takes a journey into the woods to discuss who he is.” Think about it. Does this tell you anything about the book? From that description do you know the characters, the character arch, the villain (assuming there is one), the specific problems and what he does to fix them? No. Make sure to give enough detail that the reader can understand the heart of the story without giving away every detail.

A good guideline would be the back cover of books. The point of those one to two paragraphs is for people who are browsing to read them and think “this sounds great, I’m going to buy this book.” You are selling your book so make sure the synopsis is exciting, not like a dull summary. Catch their attention and pull them in.

Make sure that the synopsis sounds like you. If you are writing a book with a comedic edge, don’t say it’s funny, make sure that the tone of your synopsis is funny. If you claim your book sounds like one thing but it doesn’t come across in your synopsis, they may approach your manuscript with skepticism. Assuming they read your manuscript at all.

That’s something to keep in mind. Your synopsis is step one to getting them interested in your work. If they don’t know what the book is about by the time they read your synopsis, there is a good chance they won’t bother trying to read your actual manuscript at all.

Should you be writing non-fiction, your synopsis might become a bit more of an overview, which to me means making sure to give a slight explanation as to why this book is important and relevant today.

Getting Published: Parts of a Proposal

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: — ax20 @ 12:54 am

This is just a quick explanation of the next series of about five posts I will be doing. Basically, each post will be a discussion on a single section of a proposal. The posts will be written in the order of how I’d recommend you order your pages they will include:

1. Synopsis/Overview
2. About the Author
3. Market and Audience
4. Competitive Titles
5. Promotion and Publicity
6. Table of Contents and Chapter Summaries
7. Sample Pages

(You can click on each of those topics to go directly to the topic.)

Keep in mind while you read these posts that each book is different and so the exact information that goes with it will vary. Genres also matter, fiction and non-fiction will have different submissions. Also, while you want to be sure that you are thorough, you should also be sure that you don’t write such a long proposal that they aren’t interested. Your cover letter/query should provide the basics and the other information is sort of like an added bonus.

Getting Published: Do Your Reaserch!

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: — ax20 @ 12:43 am

There are two different parts to this idea.

The first is that the book itself should obviously have proven facts and vivid detail. This is particularly important in non-fiction where you are teaching something. If you’re telling me about health, I need to see proof that eating meat is actually bad for you, not just be told it. This goes for any story. If you send your characters to China, the national language should not be Spanish. That’s an obvious statement but there are smaller details that done accurately make the story more realistic. You don’t want an unnecessary mistake due to lack of research be the reason that a reader is pulled out of the story. It lessens your credibility when your facts are off.

The second part is that your proposal should involve careful research. Beyond just who are the appropriate agents to send it to, the information provided should be correct. This means in terms of the submission guidelines, proper formatting, and actual content. When the agents/publishers see that the author is serious, they are more inclined to work with you. Who would want to work with someone when they know that person is not willing to put in the time and effort? By providing an in depth proposal (I will be writing a serious of posts about the different sections of a proposal soon), you show that you know what you are talking about, that you have some familiarity with what is going on, and that you are willing to put in the work. Not only will they not have to start from square one as far as explaining how things work, but they also will know that you are unlikely to be that difficult author who can’t be tracked down when they really need something.

Getting Published: The Industry Dynamic

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 12:27 am

The publishing industry is somewhat unique because the line between who is offering services and who is the client is blurred. It’s not like in, say plumbing, where somebody hires a plumber to do the work and then pays the plumber. In that case it’s clear who is working for who. In publishing things are trickier.

Authors submit their work to an agent. If the worked is accepted, the agent then submits the work to a publisher. Once accepted by a publisher, the publisher works to turn the text into a book and then sends it to a printer…Ultimately, the publisher, agent, and author gets money (or at least the vast majority of their money) based on the final project and how it sells.

I like to think of publishing as more of a partnership than everyone else. All three parties are responsible for different things but all jobs are essential for the final result to be successful. All three parties have made a commitment to each other.

As the author, it is your job to respond to questions, send information and corrections in a timely manner. As the agent you are responsible for submitting the book to publishers in a reasonable amount of time and keep the author informed on the status of the work. As the publisher, you need to make sure that everything is ready for the book to get to the printers, to the distributors, and promoted. If any one pf these people don’t do their job, the book won’t happen and all parties lose.

An important thing to realize is that your relationship is very important. Watch what you say and how you say it. (Of course this holds true for every business but it is especially important when everyone holds the fate of everyone else in their hands.) Don’t place blame. There is a big difference between saying “have you had a chance to write that synopsis, I need it by tomorrow” and “you didn’t write that synopsis, I need it tomorrow.” As an agent or publisher, if you’re obnoxious or neglectful, it could cost you a good writer (who wants to be know as the one who lost the next “Harry Potter” deal?). As an author, rudeness could cost you the chance to get your book picked up as well as make your editors less inclined to work hard to make your book the best it can be.

You also have to be realistic. Courtney is key. When emailed, you should acknowledge the email, give a reasonable time frame for which you can deliver what is requested. And don’t nag! Nothing is worse than an author who calls every hour to talk about their book–they are taking up the time that the agent or editor could actually be working on their book! That’s not to say never check in, but be reasonable and give them time to get back to you.

But editors and agents need to understand that for authors, their books are their babies. While agents and editors work with hundreds of books over their career, it may be an author’s only book and their life’s ambition. It will likely be very personal and close to their hearts. They are very anxious and excited. Keeping them in the loop will save you time because they won’t be calling a lot and it will save both of you stress. The author will be more accommodating if they have an idea of what you are doing and can see tangible results.

As an author, by understanding your role in this complex dynamic, you will find that agents and publishers are more willing to work with you and are more determined to make your work a success.

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