by Tamela Hancock Murray
Recently, my assistant had a conversation with an author who did not send a complete proposal. The author was referred to our guidelines and gently reminded that we needed more material in order to make an evaluation. But instead of saying “thank you” for the guidance, the author declared they did not have to jump through any hoops, and took the opportunity to aggressively express their complaints about our review process.
What made this all the more frustrating to us is that it happens more often than you’d think.
Why All The Work?
Have you ever worked in an office where you could swear one of your coworkers could find something — anything — wrong with your work so they could get it off their desk and back onto you? Well, that’s not what we are doing when we ask for a proposal. We are not giving you busywork so we can get back to our soap operas and coffee.
By asking for a proposal, we have a way to evaluate you as an author and what we might expect in the way of your career. In turn, we are helping the editor evaluate your work and giving that editor a document they can take to Committee that will answer the Committee’s questions. That proposal needs to be a thorough document, especially in this tough market. The advantage you have with an agent is that we will help you get the proposal in the best shape we can before the editor sees it. We help your proposal stand out among the many others the editor will review. But you have to help us by doing your share. And most authors do. Trust me, I know how hard successful authors work. Everyone down the line appreciates cooperative, hardworking authors.
What If I Don’t Know How to Create One?
Writing a proposal can be scary if you’ve never had to write one. There are so many parts to a great proposal and many can fee inadequate. For instance, some new authors don’t feel they can garner meaningful endorsements because they don’t know anyone “famous.” That’s okay. I have helped many authors with various sections of a proposal. There are ways to pitch a book that can avoid certain areas of inadequacy. Another scary section can be the past sales history of your books. You may be a new author with no sales figures or a mid-list author with modest sales figures. We often have published authors try to skip that section. Unfortunately you cna’t avoid it. Every publisher will ask for that information. But we know that each author has a different past experience in the industry and modest sales can occur for any number of reasons. Fortunately most publishing houses will take this into account when evaluating a new project.
Best Advice I Can Give
The best advice I can give is that if you’re feeling unqualified to write a proposal, don’t let it paralyze you into not submitting. And definitely don’t vent to an agent or editor (or to their assistant). Do the work and give it your best shot. Send the most polished and complete proposal you can along with your fantastic book. An agent will respect the fact you took the time to research the agency’s site and provided all the information you could, to the best of your ability.
We can heartily recommend a couple resources if you cannot attend a writers conference. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has an excellent e-book resource called Writing a Winning Book Proposal. Or buy Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals That Sell.
I wish you great success! And I look forward to getting your complete book proposal.