by Karen Ball
Proposals are hard work. C’mon, be honest. All the research and writing and preparation that goes into them? Admit it, that sometimes feels like you’re being punished for wanting to write a book. And then, when you’ve poured your heart and time and effort into making that dreaded proposal as perfect as you can, what happens? You send it to the agent or editor, and wait.
And wait. And wait. And wait.
And…well, you get the idea.
Then, FINALLY, a reply wings its way to you:
“Thank you for your submission, but it’s been determined your project, Field Dressing a Beaver in 30 Seconds, doesn’t meet our needs. Best wishes as you seek to serve God in your writing.”
What? That’s it? That’s all you get? No, “here’s why it doesn’t meet our needs,” or “this is what you need to fix to make this proposal stronger”? C’mon! Why can’t these people just give writers a little help?
Fair question. And I’m going to spend the next few blogs giving you some fair answers. Not excuses, friends. Answers. Because there are very good reasons editors and agents don’t send more than form rejections for proposals.
First, let’s talk about some misconceptions (every single one of which have been expressed to me, about me and others, over the years):
Agents & Editors don’t give writers more direction on proposals because:
1. They don’t want to help writers.
Um…wrong. That’s exactly what they do want to do. Which is why you can meet so many of them face-to-face at writers’ conferences. When agents/editors/published writers take time away from packed schedules to teach at conferences and meet with conferees, it’s exactly because they care about writers and helping them do what they do better. Doing so always costs them, big time. Because the work, including proposals, continues to pile up when they’re out of the office. But they do it. Because they care.
2. They’re too lazy to do more.
Uh huh. Those people who spend hours upon hours working to serve their clients and writers are lazy. Those folks who take work home, spend weekends at the office, work on the plane when traveling, burn the midnight oil more times than they can count…those lazy people?
Yeah. Nuff said.
3. All they care about is making money, and if they can’t make money off of you, you’re not worth their time.
Okay, let me just say this: We care about a lot more than making money. Otherwise, we’d be doing something else. I mean, seriously. You know how hard it is to make money in publishing!
But there’s something we all need to keep in mind: this is a business, folks. Those making a living at the work of publishing have to put the preponderance of our time and energy into those projects and writers that will help our businesses survive. And grow. It’s called being fiscally responsible. And you know what? That’s biblical.
And let’s be honest. How would you feel if your agent didn’t have time to work on your project because he’s using his time and energy critiquing proposals from people who aren’t clients? And not just that, but people who aren’t even close to being ready to be clients? It’s not a case of some being worth our time. It’s a case of us being wise and responsible professionals.
4. They’re sitting there doling out contracts to friends and best-sellers, and I just don’t happen to hold the golden ticket or know the right names to drop.
Yeah…no. Reality check: I did editorial acquisitions for four publishers over the course of 30+ years. I’m still doing acquisitions as an agent when I accept new clients based on their proposals. Not having a certain name or connections isn’t what makes me reject a proposal. Plain and simple, it’s about craft. And skill. And whether or not you’ve done your homework.
Okay, then, let’s get on to some of the real reasons/answers to the question: “Why don’t agents/editors give us more guidance when they reject our proposals?”
Answer #1 (and I’ll warn you right now, you’re not going to like this one):
Yup, Time Constraints. That’s the first answer. And that’s the reason few of your proposals will actually make it to an editor’s or agent’s desk.
“Not fair!” you cry. “You mean they reject my proposal without even seeing it?”
In a word, Yes.
With the number of proposals editors/agents receive a month, let alone a year, there’s simply no way we can read/review them all and get our work done. Our first priority has to be the people we’ve contracted as writers or clients. And that’s a huge time commitment for one person, let alone the dozens of writers most agents and editors serve. And yet, none of us wants to risk missing out on something wonderful that may come in over the transom. So how do to it all?
Well, I’ll share that in my next blog!