Tag Archive - book proposals

Attract Attention…in a GOOD Way!

by Karen Ball

Displeasure

I travel to writers’ conferences all over the country. I love being surrounded by others who love words and want to serve God through their writing. But over the years I’ve seen a number of interactions between agents/editors and conferees that were…well, less than positive.  It was clear the conferee was passionate about his/her work, and that the writer was looking on this encounter as THE chance to make his/her dreams come true. Unfortunately, it was equally evident that the agent/editor wanted nothing more than to escape.

One of the workshops I taught at the Write! Canada conference a week ago was focused on attracting agents’ and editors’ attention. I asked editors and agents to share tips, based on what they’d actually encountered, to equip writers for positive interactions with them. I was delighted at the number of responses I received. So, what with ICRS just around the corner, and writers’ conference season in full swing, I thought I’d share some of those tips with you. They fall into four categories, which I’m calling them the BPs of Happy Editors and Agents.

Choosing and Courting Your First Choice Agent

by Tamela Hancock Murray

You’ve done your homework, including:

  • visiting agency web sites
  • talking to author friends about their agents
  • interacting casually with agents on social media
  • reading agents’ blogs
  • attending writers conferences as your time and budget allow

This is part of the process in helping you choose the agent you most feel you want to work with.

When deciding, think about:

  • agency’s reputation
  • agent’s reputation
  • authors the agent represents (demonstrated success with work similar to yours)
  • personality (this is where social media helps)

Reputable agents welcome being researched because we stand on our record. Of course, every agent and agency who has been in business more than a day and a half has a few detractors. Most of the time, detractors are made either because the client and agent were a mismatch from the start and/or because of an unhappy situation complicated by misunderstanding. Good agents conduct themselves in an ethical manner and your research should reveal that the overarching agreement in the writing community is that their clients are well served.

Read All About It! – The Back Cover Copy

by Tamela Hancock Murray

When you consider purchasing a book, either in a store or online, what do you notice first? The front cover grabs your attention. Right? After that, you might flip inside to read the first few sentences of the book, and then venture to the back cover (online the back cover is displayed as the “Description”). Or you may go to the back cover before opening the book. Regardless, the back cover copy is a critical element to selling your book once it’s available for purchase. But first, you can use it to your advantage in your proposal to sell your work to an agent or editor.

An aside: when an author is well-known, the name sells the book. Then you may see endorsements or praise (called blurbs) on both the front and back covers. Endorsements may abound on debut authors’ books, too. But I’m not writing here about endorsements. What I mean in this post is the summary of the book that will turn browsers into buyers.

A Few Tips on Social Media

by Tamela Hancock Murray

This may seem like an interruption to my series on writing proposals, but it is not. I plan to address the Marketing section of a proposal in the near future. However, before writers can think about marketing in general, they need to understand social media because an author who has mastered social media will be more attractive to a publisher. They want to partner with savvy authors. Thomas Umstattd addressed some of these in a blog in February called “Seven Ways Agents Measure Social Media.”  So the tips below may be a quick review for many, but it bears repeating since it has become such an important piece of the marketing puzzle.

Google

Find out how you look on Google. Do a Google search on your name on a regular basis to see what appears. You won’t be able to control everything that comes up under your name, but work with your webmaster to be sure your web site appears at the top. This is especially helpful if you had to purchase a domain that’s not entirely obvious such as, “ImaWriterWrites” because your name alone was already taken. A regular search will also help you identify anything slanderous, libelous, or (more likely) just plain inaccurate so you can take action to have those links removed. Searching your name should also reveal if there is another author with a name similar to yours. If you find this is true, I recommend simply mentioning the fact in your proposal to make the agent aware so the two of you can decide whether or not to choose a pen name.

It’s a good idea to set up Google Alerts on your name (instructions here). Google will send you an email anytime a new page on the Internet mentions you or your books.

Who Am I? – About the Author

by Tamela Hancock Murray

The author biography section in a book proposal seems to be one of the least anxiety-provoking sections, yet I often see areas that could be improved. Here are a few ideas on how to make your author bio section the best it can be.

Include a portrait

When I was an intern on Capitol Hill, one of my duties was to open the mail. On one occasion, we received a resume that included a portrait, which was not the common practice at that time. The portrait wasn’t large, and if you looked like this man, you would put your picture on everything, too. But the office manager said, “I would never hire him. He’s an egomaniac.” Now, maybe my office manager was jealous. (And no, I don’t think he’s reading this). But I thought including a picture was a great idea. On proposals, Steve Laube recommends including a portrait in the author bio. And no, no one will think you are an egomaniac. I have put together many proposals under our banner, and I can tell you that including the visual is helpful. We like portraits that are about the size of a postage stamp.

My Book is Like…

by Tamela Hancock Murray

When I posted about writing great book proposals, I noticed a trend toward anxiety about the market comparison section. This is understandable since authors need to strike a balance between, “I am the next C.S. Lewis,” and “You don’t want to read this, do you?”

Aspiring to be like…

Most of the time, newer authors don’t think about comparing their work to the work of others in the proposal. Some do venture to compare themselves to classic authors in the query letter, and that can help the agent or editor orient herself to what you are writing, especially when your work isn’t of a specific genre. Do couch your words with care, however. “I compare my work to that of Francine Rivers,” reads differently than, “I greatly admire Francine Rivers. Reading her books has helped me aspire to touch hearts and souls with deep, emotional stories.”

The Synopsis Tells the Tale

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Because the synopsis is so critical to a proposal, I decided to write this spin-off of last week’s blog, “Keys to a Great Synopsis,”  in hopes of helping authors not only write more effective synopses, but to impart a bit about the fiction market, too.

When I read synopses from authors, much is revealed. For instance, I see:

Cozy mysteries that are meant to be romance.

Gothic plots presented as historical romances.

Women’s fiction that the author intended to be romance.

Mysteries masquerading as romantic suspense.

In the submissions I see, these are almost never flipped, so to my mind, this suggests the romance market in particular is one that many authors seek to understand, but don’t quite get. Hence the near-miss plots. I think this may be because the romance formula is strict and authors seek to offer readers something unique so without realizing it, they can stray into other genres. An eternal truth about romance novels is that editors and readers do want fresh plots. However, they also know that the romance story has set guidelines from which writers must not venture. Plots can hit the edges of the box but not punch holes. In my view, what the author must understand about the Christian romance reader is that she seeks to be assured that even in our coarse culture, a godly woman unwilling to compromise her faith and the accompanying physical and spiritual virtues can find a Christian man to love her forever.

Keys to a Great Synopsis

by Tamela Hancock Murray

When I posted my ideas on some Keys to a Great Book Proposal, a few writers said they were challenged to write a synopsis. I agree that writing an interesting synopsis is difficult. However, it’s not an element you want to omit from your proposal because a synopsis orients the editor to the book’s contents. Here are my answers to often-asked questions:

1.) Do I need a chapter-by-chapter synopsis?

For fiction, no. I think I get this question a lot because years ago, a popular and respected editor I worked with asked for this type of synopsis. This is because some authors the editor worked with sometimes took liberties with the plot once they sat down to write the complete book. The book the editor received was different from the one contracted! Hence, this requirement. I got in the habit of writing this type of synopsis and found it helpful when I wrote my books. I knew exactly where I was going and why, as well as what my chapter cliffhangers would be. Working this way is a discipline that gave me confidence. I recommend that writers try this method at least once to see how they like it. But I don’t ask for this in a proposal because few fiction editors want to see a synopsis presented in this manner.

However, nonfiction proposals do need a chapter by chapter breakdown to explain what each chapter will contain. This is because often in nonfiction, chapters are loosely connected by a topic but can be read as separate entities. Readers may skip around with nonfiction books, gleaning information they need and discarding the rest. So this type of synopsis is helpful for nonfiction proposals. However, I do recommend summarizing the purpose and theme of the book in an overall description of a couple of paragraphs as well, then moving on to the individual chapter descriptions.

The Keys to a Great Book Proposal

by Tamela Hancock Murray

“I think book proposals are one of the most difficult things to write, second only to obituaries.”

When I received this email from one of my authors, Sherry Gore, (and yes, I have permission to quote her), I could relate. I’ve never written obituaries, even though writing one’s own is a popular goal-setting exercise. But I have written and read many book proposals so I know they aren’t easy to write. Sometimes they aren’t easy to read. So how can you make your book proposals easy to read? When my assistant and I are scanning proposals, here are the key points we first notice:

1) Format: Is the overall look of the proposal easy on the eye? A poorly-formatted proposal won’t be rejected if we are wowed by the content, but proposals with a pleasing appearance make a great impression.

2) Title: Tell us immediately what we are viewing: Fiction/nonfiction? Series/standalone? Genre? Historical/contemporary?

3) Hook: What is the spirit of your book?  Fried Green Tomatoes meets Star Trek? Or A Systematic Approach to Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

4) Back Cover Blurb: In two or three short paragraphs, make me want to buy your book. Take the time to make this sparkle, because great back cover copy will help sell me on your book, then the editor, then the pub board, then marketing, then your readers.