Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fiction Proposal Packages

My apologies for not posting last week. I have an excuse, that goes beyond "the dog ate my post". Actually "the publisher ate my week".

Okay, to be fair it wasn't the publisher who ate my week, it was the learning curve I'm on as I figure out how to "wow 'em" with my proposal package.

My last post, as it turns out, was predictive - or at least a nice piece of timing. In it, I shared with you some of the head knowledge I have accumulated since making the sudden and arguably rash decision to chuck all other plans and become a full time writer. It was a decision that has reaped a good deal of promise in a comparatively short time. It's been less than a year since I up and became a writer (I started April, 2007).

In that time I've managed to be included in an anthology called Hot Apple Cider ( From That's Life! Communications. And while I'm not named in the one sheet, my story is a highlight in both the Canadian and US one sheet promos. You can see them at: http://www.hotapplecider.ca/ go to the bottom of the page and click "media". My story is the first one highlighted which reads: "A lonely waitress stuck in a small town in the middle of nowhere wonders how God could possibly use her."

It's a small but happy step, and I'm thrilled to be included in the anthology.

I've also found my way into a second anthology, my short piece Master of the Sneaky Hug is included in Women of Passion (have a peek at what they are all about at: http://womenofpassions.net/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx). Again, I was amazed and thrilled when my submission was accepted (actually it was referred to as "exquisite").

Last spring I wrote my first book proposal ever, for a non-fiction book. I had to run out and buy a book to teach me how to write a proposal. It was a good book (get it from amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Write-Book-Proposal-Michael-Larsen/dp/1582972516/ref=ed_oe_p) and my proposal was successful. The book is in it's first draft (and I'm aware that anything can happen from here - but I'm keeping a positive attitude), and I have a contract with Beacon Hill Press (http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/bhol/index.jsp?nid=ban). Yes, I'm planning to learn how to embed these links into the text of my posts - please forgive my archaic copy and paste approach.

Which brings us to last week. I have a novel I'm awfully fond of. I don't have an agent, nor do I have any other published novels, so I was sort of hooped when it came to getting a large, royalty paying publisher to read my ms.

I decided to try The Writer's Edge . I paid my money and took my chances - which I admit were slim to none. But praise the Lord, I received an e-mail from a publisher. A large publisher. You'll forgive me for not naming them right now, as I've only just submitted my ms to them. I will update you on the outcome when I know about it.

Now, I was faced with putting into actual practice everything I have learned so far. It took me a week to put together a synopsis, chapter outline, cover letter, and do a hard edit of the first three chapters.

Okay, part of that time was because of the learning curve - I've never actually submitted a fiction proposal before - but mostly it was because I take the profession of writing seriously. Perhaps my approach will help you when you face your next (or first) fiction proposal:

1) Picture yourself working for a large corporation. As you write your proposal, pretend you are working on a HUGE project that has come down from the big wigs. You're the project manager and the buck stops with you. Get it right, or risk losing your job. (Sound dire? Think about it for awhile - it makes more sense the longer you think about it.)

2) Research first. There are LOTS of resources on how to write the different components of a proposal package. I strongly suggest you look at several different ones before you start writing yours. Check the Internet, sure, but you really need some books that give you depth and perspective you don't see on web sites (cough, cough).

3) Only research what you need to know. What you include in your proposal depends on many factors. Is is a query? Was the ms requested? Did you meet the agent or publisher in person? For me, it was easy. The e-mail I received clearly stated what was expected of me. I sent what was asked for an nothing more (or less). Therefore I didn't spend any time researching the perfect query letter - I didn't need to include that. But I did need to figure out the best sort of synopsis to include when also sending chapter outlines.

4) Take time to craft a pitch line. This is a "hook" a sentence or two that grabs the reader's attention. It's ideal if you can include your "hook" and your "handle" in the pitch line. That way the reader is interested in the idea, and also is able to understand what the book will be about.

5) Write several versions of your synopsis. Remember, you're the project manager, and you need to see this thing from several angles. With each revision focus on tone (your synopsis should read like your novel does), action verbs and fantastic nouns. Also, ensure every action has a reason.

6) Get other people to read every version you write. If you're not in a critique group, this may be a good time to get in one. You need someone else's eyes on this puppy. Preferably someone who hasn't read your book and doesn't know what its about.

7) Take your time. Take your time. Take your time. Give yourself time to get it right. Never submit a proposal in a hurry. Publishing doesn't fly, it crawls - by nature of the business things take time. An agent or publisher would rather wait (it's not like they can't find things to do!) for a great proposal than receive a prompt mediocre one.

8) If you are submitting sample chapters (not the whole ms) they are asking for the FIRST THREE chapters. Not your best three. Chapter 1, chapter 2 and chapter 3. Make sure chapter 3 ends on the right note. If you have to rearrange your ms to end the samples on a sandbag, then do it. You want to ensure when they get done reading, they are wishing they had the whole ms.

9) Even if you've edited your chapters to death, do it again. Then get someone else to do it for you. Then do it again. Don't send in anything less than your best. It's a waste of every one's time to send in less than your best.

10) Keep your job! Send it and pray. You may not get it (I may not get it) the first time, but you will know you did it right.

Here's something to think about: I believe one of the reasons that it is so difficult to get published is because there are too many people out there who think writing is some fun thing and you can just 'take a stab' at it. Because of the over abundance of unprofessional (and in some cases - lousy) submissions, publishers have been forced (yes, I think they've been forced - they love books, authors, and the written language and the sharing of ideas, they are not thugs who want to be mean to people) to tighten up submission protocol to near impossible levels.
If we all decided to treat writing like the profession it is, and only submit the best of our best, it would benefit all of us.



Anonymous said...

I followed the link to The Writer's Edge & the place sells space pens!

Bonnie Grove said...

Sorry about that!

I've fixed the link, so it will take you to the correct website.