So you’ve done your market research (what sells right now, what agents prefer my type of novels etc.). You’ve done your product development (wrote the book). You’ve written your business plan. Now it’s time for Sales and Marketing. Not to your readers, not yet. To get your books into the hands of readers, first you have to sell it to agents/editors. In order to do this, you’ll be creating a very important batch of marketing materials—the proposal.
What you’re trying to say with your proposal is this: “This is the best dang darn book you’ll ever read!”
What the agent/editor wants to discover in your proposal is this: “This book will make so much money to the agency/publisher that I’ll get a huge promotion!”
If you want someone to help you achieve your goals, help them achieve theirs. What do you think is the goal of the average publishing house? If you guessed increasing literacy and entertaining readers, or promoting wonderful new voices, you’re only partially right. Business (any kind of business) has one primary goal: to make money. (That’s why most NY publishers are corporations instead of being non-profit organizations.)
So make sure that your proposal hits some business/marketing keywords and is not a simple summary of your story.
(A quick aside: How do you know that your book is ready to be published? -An editor will buy it.
Seriously, that’s pretty much the only dependable sign. Otherwise, you don’t know. But some other fairly good signs are: You win contests consistently. You get personal rejections/or revise and resubmit letters.
You won’t know how good or bad your current writing is until a year or two from now when you’re at the next level and can look back. Right now I’m writing at my current best ability. I cannot see beyond that. If I could, I could write beyond it.)
So what goes into your marketing package/proposal?
1. QUERY LETTER
Sometimes this is all an agent/editor is willing to look at in the first round. A query letter is not supposed to be more than a page long, although nobody will throw it out for being a page and a half. The most important thing is to get all your talking points across. (The main things that the agent will use to sell your book to an editor. The main things that the editor will use to convince people at the editorial meeting that your book should be published.)
The query letter should accomplish three things. You can neatly arrange these into three paragraphs. J
-Tell the agent/editor about the writer (you)
What makes you the right person to write this book. Past publications. Anything relevant to writing (e.g. if you have a degree in writing). Contest wins. Professional memberships. This is where you show the editor that you’re a professional and have been working on your craft. You haven’t just decided yesterday to write a book, knowing nothing about it. The query is your resume. It’s the only item in your three-part marketing package that tells the agent/editor about you.
-Tell the editor about the story
What is the book about (your high concept pitch)? Genre? How long is it? Is it finished? (It better be if you want serious attention.)
-Tell the agent/editor about the book’s marketing potential
Why is your book right for them? Is it similar to other books they publish (list names)? Does the book have wide appeal? If you have a huge social network, mention it here. If you have an advertising budget, mention it. Etc.
Some basic dos and don’ts:
Don’t say what you don’t have, say what you have (don’t say “I’ve been writing for 10 years but haven’t been published yet,” say “I’ve been writing for 10 years, this is my 5th completed manuscript”—shows that you’re not a one book writer). Editors want serious, prolific writers. They’ll put money into advertising your name and building name recognition for you, so they’ll want more than 1 book out of you. If you’re prolific, mention this in your query letter. (They’ll want to leverage the $ they spend on you over a number of books.)
You should have some writing credits. Good news is, you can build your query letter actively, just like you would build a resume. The ways to build your query letter is:
- -contest wins
- -membership in professional writers organizations
-anything else that shows you’re serious about writing and put effort into it
The synopsis is the summary of your story.
- -it proves your story has beginning, middle, end
- -it proves you know what type of books they’re looking for
- -ideally it should be similar enough to fit in with the line and different enough not to be trite and overdone
- -it proves you have fresh ideas
Don’t leave the editor in suspense, do tell them the end. This is not the same as a cover blurb.
3. FIRST THREE CHAPTERS
This is the most important piece of the partial!!!!!!!!!!!
Everything that comes before just shows them you’re a professional. The chapters show them whether you have writing talent.
(Ideally your partial would start with the inciting incident and end with the first turning point, a cliff-hanger.)
Your writing is what seals the deal. If the query and synop are so-so but your writing shines, they’ll still ask for the full. If the query and synop shine but your writing is not up to par, they won’t.
In the first three chapters:
-you have to grab the agent’s/editor’s attention and make her/him thirst for more
-show your unique style/voice
-prove you have the language skills (grammar)
-show you can set the mood and spirit the reader into another world
I’ve heard editors say that it’s easier to fix plot then voice/style.
One trick is to use contests to perfect your first chapters. If you can’t spend all that money on contest fees right now, consider this: contest score sheets are all over the internet. You could use those to judge your own opening. For the most, editors are looking for the same things that contest judges are looking for.
However, if you can afford to enter contests, I would recommend it. Contest wins are great for your query letter.
If you’re like 99.9% of authors, you will get some. Don’t give up.
You can’t control the event. If you got a rejection letter, you got a rejection letter. But you can control 100% of your reaction!! This is wonderful news. Event + Reaction determine Outcome together. So you have a say in what the final outcome will be of your quest to be published.
Sometimes we send our proposals to a small group of well-researched agents and all we get back are rejections. Beware of the common encouragement: “You just have to find the right agent/editor who likes your voice.” It might be the case. Or not.
You could send the same proposal to your secondary list. Not your heart’s desire, but you’d be still happy with working these people. Or, you can write the next book. With every book you write, you will get better. You get more practice. Read how to books in between and go to workshops. If an agent/editor rejects a book, I wouldn’t advise a rewrite and resubmit unless they asked for it. If it was close, they would have told you and asked for specific changes.
When you keep sending in newer and newer versions of the same book, the agent/editor starts to think:
a, she’s a one book author
b, she’s not very prolific
c, she doesn’t deal well with rejection
That’s not the impression you want to make!
But, say, you are sure you have a winner on your hands, yet none of your top choice agents wants to represent it and your top choice editors won’t take unagented manuscripts. Here are a few tricks to get around that little problem:
1. Even if editors say they don’t take unagented mss, you CAN send a query. A query is not a manuscript. DO NOT send a partial. Send a query and a 1 or 2 page excerpt from the book in proper ms format. Hopefully your beginning is strong enough to send.
2. Go to a writers’ conference where your top choice editors will be attending. Their names will be listed in the brochure under the agent/editor appointments. Make an appointment. If you can’t get an appointment, go to the panel discussion, after it’s over walk up to them and say, “I couldn’t get an appointment with you but may I query you?” They will give you a business card and say yes.
3. Enter contests these editors judge. Usually the top 5 or so goes to the editor for final judging. Your book should be good enough to be in the top 5. Even if it’s not the winner, don’t wait for the editor to ask to see the full. Write them a thank you note, say you addressed their concerns on the score sheet, and ask if you could submit a partial or full. Most of the time, they will say yes.
Justin Timberlake--It’s Always too Soon to Quit
You might think this is soooo much to deal with. But consider this:
Successful ___________ are willing to do what unsuccessful ___________ are NOT willing to do.
This is true for most things. Successful businesses are wiling to do what unsuccessful businesses are not willing to do. Successful parents are willing to do what unsuccessful parents are not willing to do. Successful authors are willing to do what unsuccessful authors are not willing to do.
These four lessons we’ve shared over the past four weeks are a brief summary of a long workshop I gave at Seton Hill University a while back on the business of writing before the sale. (There’s a whole other business that starts once you sell, but that’s another workshop.) I know there are many, many other things that we could have discussed about the business of writing, but there’s only so much that fits into four lessons. I truly hope you found something useful here.
Please note that after the end of this week, this discussion board will be locked. So please post any questions and comments before that. I’ll be happy to answer if I can. You can also contact me via my web site or FaceBook. I’m always glad to meet another writer.
It’s been fun spending this month with you! Thank you all who stopped by here and those who sent me messages via Facebook and Twitter.
Wishing you good luck with your writing!!!