A Decent Proposal

Before any traditionally published book hits the shelves, a proposal has to be accepted by an agent and/or an acquisitions editor. The odds are daunting…Millions of proposals and queries are generated each year, but only 150,000-175,000 books get published. You can always self publish, but if you’ve got clients like writer Stephen Markley, who sees that method as “kind of admitting that you’re not talented enough to break through,” you better have a decent proposal.

While there’s no guarantee you’ll get a “Yes” to your proposal, you can increase your chances by making sure your offering has all the attributes that agents and editors are looking for.

I asked proposal-writing consultant, Patty Kelley, who just came out with a free ebook called 7 Top Tips to Create a Screaming Hot Book Proposal, to help us all out with some fresh advice on what we as ghostwriters can do to woo agents and publishers for our clients’ books:

Ed Sweet: “Why do so many proposals fail?”

Patty Kelley: “Very simply, they’re sloppy and don’t take into account the needs of the publisher or agent. The publishers I’ve talked to have always told me what a joy it is to read a proposal that’s well thought out and presented professionally. Too many people submit proposals without taking the time to learn how to create a great one that stands out above all others.”

ES: “What are the three biggest mistakes people make when writing a proposal?”

PK: “This is very subjective. However, from my perspective they are:

  1. A proposal that appears sloppy in formatting and is loaded with grammar errors and other writing issues. It’s so tough to get a proposal in front of an agent or acquisitions editor that you don’t want to make a bad first impression. This is where a great ghostwriter or editor should be used, so a great concept doesn’t get the boot because of the writing.
  2. Not using a format that’s at least close to what’s considered industry standard. This format can vary somewhat from publisher to publisher. However, if a high quality proposal is created that covers everything that’s considered key to a great proposal, some format variance will be a non-issue.
  3. This one will make or break your potential to get a publishing deal. A proposal must have a thoroughly researched and powerfully written Markets and Promotions section. Publishers expect an author (especially a new and unproven author) to be able to sell books. If this section doesn’t alleviate their fears of taking your project on, you are sunk.

There are many other key things to consider. It’s hard to limit myself to three! This is where my 7 Top Tips to Create a Screaming Hot Book Proposal can help a writer avoid the mistakes made by so many.”

ES: “Is it important to send a query letter first or can you send a proposal to an agent out cold?”

PK: “I believe in sending query letters, but don’t send anything out until AFTER you write your proposal. A great query comes from the information gathered during the writing of your proposal. Most publishers and agents expect a query letter first. It’s how they make their “first cut.” If you can’t wow them with a query, they won’t want to take their precious time reading your proposal.”

ES: “How many queries/proposals can you send out at one time for the same book to different agents?”

PK: “Okay, this is where I break the rules and encourage others to do the same. The caveat is to do it with respect. Nearly every agent and publisher wants to be the only one who’s reading your query or proposal. That’s because they’re so busy that by the time they get to yours they want to believe that their time isn’t being wasted. The problem is that if an author waits to send out individual queries and proposals only after each prior one has been rejected (or even accepted), they’ll be waiting their book’s potential away. Timing can be critical to a nonfiction book. I’ve sent out as many as 20 queries at one time, each personally addressed to each agent or editor. The professionalism comes with how you handle multiple responses. It’s not a bad problem to have though. I’ve had the great pleasure of maneuvering through multiple responses!”

ES: “How important are sample chapters as part of a proposal?”

PK: “An agent or editor is always going to ask for sample chapters. They provide insight into an author’s ability to start and end chapters and how well the writing flows. Is it coherent? Interesting? Engaging? What does the “voice” of the writer sound like? Do the sample chapters stand up to the promises of the proposal? Sample chapters help editors and agents decide whether you have the writing ability and research needed to deliver on the proposed book, or if you might need a ghostwriter.

Most agents and publishers ask for three chapters. I do know however, that proposals have been accepted on just one or two great chapters.”

Thanks, Patty!

Be sure to get Patty’s ebook and learn more about her at thechangeteacher.com.

P.S. I want to apologize for missing my post last week and being late this week. Crazy copywriting deadlines.

[Photo by: Tim Parkinson]