So….you’ve polished your story, the agent is breathlessly waiting for it…time to send it in, right?
Nope. First you need to write a proposal.
A post-conference, request proposal consists of a Cover Letter, a Marketing Plan, a Synopsis, and the first three chapters.
I like to write my Cover or Query letter last because, well, by then I know what I’m trying to say.
And, you should already have those first three chapters written and polished, right?
If this is your first book you should have your manuscript already written. And you should know your physical, emotional and spiritual plots, including the black moment and the epiphany. You should know who your character is, what his values are, what motivates him and what his greatest dream is. Now, it’s time to tell the world.
The Parts of the Proposal:
The Cover Letter
The Marketing Plan
The Sample Chapters
Recently on an agent’s blog, I read this:
“As an agent, what are you looking for in a query?”
Answer: “Every time I open a query letter, I’m hoping to see something I fall in love with. I want to see a great idea, supported by great writing, from an author with a great platform. I want to read an idea that makes me go, “Fabulous! Why didn’t I think of that?!” An author platform that shrieks, “I can help support this book!” Writing that hooks me from the first line. It’s rare, but it happens. On the flip side, the thing that makes me immediately plop the query into my “reject” pile is seeing a variation on a theme — something that’s trying to ride the coattails of a project that’s already been done in a big way. (Examples include, “I was thinking we could turn the Book of Revelation into a novel” and “What about a book on making your life more purpose driven?” I’ve seen them both. Recently.)
I always tell people I’m looking to be changed by a book. Nonfiction is basically written to solve a problem or answer a question, so it should share information that will change us — help us to live more effectively. And novels are written to entertain and enlighten us, so the best novels change us by helping us see the world in a new way. All great books change us — and that’s what I’m looking for. Books that will CHANGE me.”
How do we do that? Let’s start with the big picture:
The Query/Cover Letter sells the agent/editor on the story concept.
Even if you have pitched your story at a conference, and the agent/editor has asked for it you need to remind them why they liked it. See, they’ve seen roughly 834,567proposals since talking to you and they may (probably not, of course) have forgotten your brilliance.
Remind them. A Query/Cover letter reiterates your pitch…the what, why, and how’s of your story.
What makes a good Query Letter?
1.. A compelling, succinct first paragraph hook (aka, premise/big bang)
2.. A summary of your book in 2-3 sentences
3.. Where it fits into the publishing world
4.. Who you are and why you can successfully pull off this book
5.. The mechanics of the ms – where you’re at in production.
In my opinion, the most important part of the Q letter is the beginning hook. This is
where you get the editors attention, the part that will make her stop from tossing all your
hard work into the circular file. Consider how many proposals channel through an editors
desk in one month and this thought alone should impress you on the importance of the
1. What is a hook?
It’s the who, what, and why of the story. It’s the juiciest tidbit, the selling aspect that
makes YOUR story different from the rest. This is where you take your 3-4 big bang
paragraph, boil it down to the MOST important aspect, and highlight it. You want to
create questions, interest. And, you should do it in less than 70 words.
2. Summary of your book:
What is the theme and the take-away message of your book? You must get very creative,
descriptive and frugal in this section of your query letter. The key is to say as much as
possible about the book, in terms of its content, in 2-4 sentences. Query
Letters should be one page only. The editor just doesn’t have time to read more than that.
3. Where does it fit in the market?
Is your book a stand alone? The first in a series? Why is it unique? This is the paragraph
where you really sell your book. Go ahead, tell the editor why it is great, and tell him/her
where it will fit in their lineup. Definitely do some research and know what the publisher
offers. DON’T try and sell a romance to a publisher who doesn’t publish romance.
However, pump up those traits your book does have.
4. Who are you and why can you write this book?
In one or two sentences, highlight your publishing credits. If you don’t have any, list the
reasons why you are an authority to write this story. Obviously, I could pull off Russian
stories with some degree of authenticity because of my missionary experience. My
first book with Tyndale was a “found my true love in Russia” story. Lots of street cred there. J
This paragraph simply explains how long the book is, how much you have written,
whether your proposal is out to other publishers as well, and tells them the items you’ve
included in your package. And, of course, thank the editor for his or her time in reading
That’s the cover letter. Keep it to one page.
Then, you can move onto the Marketing page. Your marketing page should be short and sweet, but cover the following elements:
1. A short overview including:
(a) an identification of its uniqueness (the distinguishing “hook” that will draw your reader in: What will motivate a person to pick up your book?)
(b) what you hope to accomplish in the way of transformation in the life of the reader.
2. Potential marketing channels to which you have access (e.g., contacts you have in key organizations, groups you speak to regularly, key people you know who might endorse your book, etc.) Add in anything unique that relates to the promotion of this book.
3. Why does the world needs this novel? In a single sentence, state your purpose for writing this novel. Ask: Why did you write (are you writing) this story? What are you trying to prove about life with this story?
You are simply trying to help the agent understand the story, and how they might sell it.
The last elements are the Synopsis and Sample Chapters. And…since this blog is getting a little long, we’ll cover a great synopsis in tomorrow’s blog! So stop back. BUT if you need help on your Cover Letter or your Marketing Page, stop by www.mybooktherapy.ning.com (Club Voices!) and join in on the Proposal Prep Discussion!
( Oh! by the way – Agent Chip MacGregor is teaching a one-day workshop in Richmond, VA, on Saturday, Nov 6. It’s called “The Perfect Book Proposal,” and is sponsored by the local ACFW group and the Virginia RWA. This is a excellent seminar from the #1 agent in the industry. You can get more details from Tiffany Colter at firstname.lastname@example.org.)