Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Proposals from the Heart

Had any good proposals lately?

Not marriage, silly. Book proposals, of course.

Since my mind has been totally absorbed lately with preparing the proposal for my new book, I thought I'd review the contents of a good proposal with you. You'll probably end up with 10-20 pages (be sure to number them and include your name/title at the top of each page), depending on the length of your sample chapters. Before submitting (of course you've already sent a one-page query at this point and have received the green light to send the proposal) , make sure you study the guidelines of each agent/publisher you're targeting. You may need to tailor your proposals separately if there's more than one.

One sentence synopsis: difficult as it is, you need to be able to boil the gist of your book down to one sentence. This nutshell description will come in handy for the rest of your life when answering the on-the-run question, "So what's your book about?" It's basically a teaser designed to give the general topic but mostly entice the listener to want more. Example from my novel, The Distant Shore: Because love is never too lost or too late.

One paragraph synopsis: These carefully crafted 2-3 sentences are slightly more expansive but need to be full of pull-the-reader-in power wordage without appearing forced. This is the description of your book which may very likely be used for publicity purposes.

Overview: 4-5 paragraphs that read like back cover copy, because that's basically what it is. Study the back covers of your favorite authors to see how they artfully blend description with can't-wait-to-dig-in enticing verbiage so that you simply must head to the check-out with this one.

Audiences: who is your target audience? Age, gender, special interests, affinity groups. Why will they buy your book? What will your book do for them? Don't ever say: Everyone everywhere will love my book. Might as well stamp AMATEUR on your forehead. Pin down a specific category: young adult, middle grade, women 18-35, empty-nesters, etc.

Book Mission: Why is it essential for your book to be out there? What need will your reader feel that your book quenches? You can't just say "entertainment" here - there should be a felt need that drives the reader to buy your book, e.g. for my book Mom Needs Chocolate, the mission was to help women make it through the motherhood tunnel with their faith not only intact, but stronger than it was before.

Format: page count, word count, bookstore category, book format (hard cover vs. paper), current status (completed, half finished, etc), and special features (photos available, side bar quotes, anything extra you can offer as options are a plus).

Author bio: not too long, but do list your most impressive writing-related accomplishments. DON'T list your curling or hotdog-eating awards unless that's what the book's about.

Publishing history: you may not have much to list here yet but the pub will want to know.

Marketing Strategy: How do you intend to help get the book out? What's your platform? (If you're not sure what this means, scroll back to previous posts where we've discussed platform.) Do you blog? Have you a website? Media contacts? Willing to travel for book promotion?

Potential Endorsers: Not a wish list of people with whom you have no contact, but honest-to-goodness potential names who will likely give you a decent cover blurb (as highly recognizable as you can get in the genre or interest groups for your book). You may be surprised how many kind people will help you out if you just ask. Always good to have 2-3 nailed down and included in the proposal (so get on the phone and e-mail and MAKE some contacts). These don't have to be long or detailed - look at book covers; notice effective one-sentence blurbs that grab your attention.

Competitors: List 3-4 books generally similar to yours. How is yours the same as this bestseller but at the same time, unique and different than all the other books in its genre? Give them a reason for taking a chance on your book.

Book Outline: Self-explanatory

Sample Chapters: Follow the guidelines put forth by the agent/publisher to whom you are pitching. Some require 3 chapters, some more. Include an introduction if you have one.

Now pump it up and get going!