The Proposal Review Process

You’ve all been there (and if you haven’t yet, you will…). You put together the perfect proposal and finally, finally send it off to agents for their review.

So what happens next?

Well, from your point of view, waiting. And waiting. And…(yes, we’ve covered that before. The waiting. That’s not what this is about.)

But how about from the agent’s point of view? What on earth are they doing all that time between when your proposal lands in their in-box and they finally take a look at it?

Well, every agent has a different process, but here’s mine. And drew the above picture to illustrate what it looks like.

First, you need to know that, because of schedule and workload, I generally don’t reply to proposals I’m not interested in, whether that’s because of content or format. Other than that, here are the steps:

  1. Any proposal sent to me goes to my assistant first to for a first-pass review. In that review, submissions are checked to be sure they includes everything–not only content but format–as requested in our guidelines. If the submission doesn’t follow the guidelines, it is deleted. So if you’ve waited months and months and haven’t heard anything, go back to our agency site and make sure you’ve included what we requested for a proposal in the format we requested it.

So what will result in a deleted proposal?

A query instead of a proposal. (And I mean a full proposal, because yes, we really do need all that information.)

A proposal or sample chapters pasted into an email rather than attached as a Word document or PDF. (One reason for this: you have no idea how wonky text pasted into an email can look on someone else’s computer. Please, make your proposal an attachment.)

A submission with a link to check out instead of some element of the proposal, such as sample chapters. We don’t click on links.

A submission sent to a list of agents. If you’re sending me a submission, just send it to me.

Proposals for books that I don’t represent (e.g., children’s books of any kind, and YA books). So how can you know? Well, check out the guidelines page. It tells you what we don’t represent. And read my agency blog post, listed right on the blog under Top 25 posts, about what I want. It lists, right up front, what I don’t want.

  1. If a proposal passes the first-pass review, my assistant will email you to say that your proposal has been passed on to me, and I add it to my review folder. I try to review proposals every 10-14 days, but there are times when I don’t have time to do so for weeks. Even months.

When I review a proposal, it goes something like this:

I go right to the sample chapters. Nothing else matters if the writing doesn’t captivate me. If it doesn’t, I delete the proposal.

If I like the writing, I go to the section of the proposal about you, the author. I want to know about you, about your platform and reach, about your experiences, and why you’re writing this book. If I see something there that doesn’t resonate, or that makes me believe I’m not the right agent for you, I delete the proposal.

If I like what I see in the section about you, I read the whole proposal for the rest of the information. I look to see what other book ideas you have–I want to know that you’re thinking about a career, not just getting one book published. As I’m going through the proposal, I will go to your website or Twitter or Pinterest or any other URLs you include. I’m looking to see what kind of engagement you have with your audience, how professional your sites are, if you seem to understand your audience, how you present yourself. It all matters. And again, if I find something in that review step that tells me we wouldn’t work well together, I delete the proposal.

  1. If I’m interested after I go through all that, then I set the proposal aside and come back to it a week or so later, to read it over again. At this point, I’d only delete the proposal if something happens to change my excitement and enthusiasm.
  1. If I believe, after all of that, that we’d make a good team, I start the process of contacting you and exploring the possibility of working together.

So what if my assistant said the proposal had been sent to me, but you’ve waited for months and months and haven’t heard anything? As you can see, my process takes awhile if I like your work. If I don’t, or if I don’t think we’re a good fit, it doesn’t take long at all. But I spend time with a proposal so I’m sure. If it’s been a month or so since my assistant first contacted you, just email her for an update.  And thanks ahead of time for your patience.

Peace, all.


15 Responses to The Proposal Review Process

  1. Avatar
    Cindy Byrd August 17, 2016 at 5:37 am #

    This is so insightful as it tells even more of what you’re looking for. I truly wish I had found this website when I first started out.

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    Loretta Eidson August 17, 2016 at 6:55 am #

    Ah, now I can see behind the curtain. Thank you for inviting us into your office to understand the proposal submission process.

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    Barbara August 17, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    Karen, thanks for sharing your process of reviewing a proposal! Even if every agent is different in how they handle proposals, I’m sure it’s only variations of what you’ve shared here.

    I’m like Cindy Byrd above, and I’m grateful for this website/blog that gives writers a peek into the agent world.

    You offer such a helpful resource!

  4. Avatar
    Bethany Kaczmarek August 17, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Good things are worth the wait. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    James Rogers August 17, 2016 at 8:27 am #

    Thank you Karen.

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    Brennan McPherson August 17, 2016 at 8:49 am #

    Great insight to have! You, Dan, Steve, and Tamela have SO much on your plates that I can hardly believe you can juggle it. Blessings on keeping up with everything and maintaining balance! Also. . . we so appreciate what you guys do.

  7. Avatar
    Norma Brumbaugh August 17, 2016 at 8:50 am #

    It’s quite a process…but, I’m sure, well worth it. Thanks for highlighting the steps and sequence for us

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    Sheri Dean Parmelee August 17, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for the insight, Karen. When you delete someone, do they know it?

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    Jeanne Takenaka August 17, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    Karen, it’s interesting to see your process for looking at a proposal. I love reading your reasoning behind your process! Thank you for offering this “inside look” today!

  10. Avatar
    Laura Bennet August 17, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. It’s good to know while we’re waiting, what we are waiting on. And it makes the process more tangible for us – you’re not some absent being, and we didn’t sent our proposal into cyberspace emptiness. It also gives us a reality check about the fact that you have a time consuming job and a life apart from that as well. We can be patient with that! =)

  11. Avatar
    Jean Brunson August 17, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

    As a writer who is already waiting for the editor to give me a go ahead, I found your blog helpful. I want to get my first book to the public as soon as possible, but I have learned the hard way, it’s all in God’s timing, so I need to do the hardest part, be patient.

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    Judith Robl August 17, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

    Karen, thanks for sharing this. When I consider the mountains of submissions you must get, it leaves me breathless. Whenever do you get to surface for air?

  13. Avatar
    Lon Allison August 18, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    It’s disappointing you don’t respond to proposals you aren’t considering. As you know, authors wait and wait and wait. A quick no is far better than never responding. A gracious brief “not interested” allows the author to grieve and move on. Please consider doing this.

  14. Avatar
    Sandi Rog August 18, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    Thank you for taking the time our of your already busy schedule to share your perspective. It’s very helpful and enlightening.

    I do have a few questions, and if there’s no time to reply to this, I totally understand.

    Since there is a chance an author’s proposal could get deleted, would it be unreasonable for an author to state in his/her proposal that after a certain amount of time (let’s say three to six months) the author will submit her/his work elsewhere? Like you said, the waiting can be unbearably long for an author, so it seems only fair that he/she should be able to move forward if they don’t get a reply or a form rejection letter.

    Also, would it be too much work to simply send a form rejection letter? Just a one-liner that you can simply copy and paste into the email so the author can know it’s time to move on? That way we’re not bugging your assistant with questions about our submissions. Or do you not do this because authors tend to get snarky when their work is rejected, and you’d rather they not have your email address? 🙂

    Again, thank you for letting us see your perspective. I’ve always loved your work, whether it’s your writing, the books (authors: Roseanna White!!!) you represent, or the books you’ve edited (Francine Rivers!!!). You’re an amazing talent!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby August 20, 2016 at 9:27 am #

      Roseanna White kept me reading past 3 a.m. two nights ago. Enthralling writing and she also does beautiful cover design for historical novels.

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