The Send…A Proposal’s Weakest Link

You spend hundreds and hundreds of hours writing and re-writing your book. You work meticulously to craft a proposal for an agent or publisher. You talk to your friends about the big step you are about to take, the step of sending your proposal out.

The power of email will carry your message to the world.

Then you copy 135 names into the email address field, use a generic greeting and send it out to everyone within a few seconds.

Many will land in a recipient’s spam folder and will never be read.

The remaining recipients see the message was not really intended for them personally so it doesn’t matter if they reply or not.

Days and weeks go by and your anger builds against the unresponsive people who don’t care about your work. But they might not be as bad as you think.

It could have been the way you sent it.

The weakest link of many rejected proposals is “the send.”

Here are some things, which will almost always get your proposal deleted before it is read:

  • If my name is in the “bcc” field, the message was not to me and you don’t really care if I read it or not.
  • If I see any other agents in the address fields, the message was not to me and you don’t really care if I read it or not.
  • If you don’t type anything in the email text field, I am not sure what I am supposed to do. Yes, we get blank emails with an attachment.
  • If it is obvious the sender hasn’t read anything about our agency or me as an agent and are pitching an “erotic thriller just like 50 Shades of Grey,” then I won’t read further.
  • If you send me a cover note and it is unclear what you want, I will probably delete it. One person simply wrote, “Please review attached.” This is the same message I get from a scam looking to place a virus on my computer after clicking on the attachment.
  • Sending a proposal over and over just to be sure it got through. Like eight times in a week. Congratulations, you are now a professional spammer.

There are probably others, but I don’t want to appear to be overly sensitive!

Other than Christmas letters to family, in what world is a “one-size fits all” approach to sending group communication considered a good practice?

Even the most uncaring spammers make an attempt to personalize somehow to snare a potential customer.

Trying to inject some logic here, it is truly baffling why an aspiring writer would spend so much time crafting their book and proposal, and then do such a poor job simply sending it out.

Often, I’ll receive a proposal from an author and the feeling I get is as if they had dropped a thousand copies of a letter on a town from an airplane. The one I happened to pick up because it was stuck in my backyard bird feeder won’t be responded to. The sender could not have cared less. At least that’s the impression given.

“The send” can either launch your ship with flying colors or torpedo your ship before it sails.

This is not about crafting a better proposal. Good proposal writing is an entirely different issue.  This is about sending the proposal effectively.

The goal is to get your proposal read, not to send it out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

Here is the best way to send your proposal:

  • Do your research – identify recipients and learn something about them. Don’t send to people who specifically tell what they want and you ignore it.
  • Always send it to someone specific – no multiple email addresses.
  • Don’t be in a hurry – Copy some basic cover-note text and send one proposal at a time with customized content for each recipient which will let them know you are familiar with them and how they work. Better to send five carefully crafted proposals per day over ten days than fifty in a day with no regard for the reader.
  • Track the proposal response and be patient. Agents are swamped with proposals and need time to work through them. Most will take 30-90 days to get to your message. (I receive about 1,500 proposals from authors per year and many agents get far more than that)

Anyone involved in sales or marketing for any business or endeavor knows all about the research, targeting and patience. This is target marketing, not door-to-door sales.

Still, sending well won’t guarantee success, but refusing to send well will certainly guarantee failure.



16 Responses to The Send…A Proposal’s Weakest Link

  1. Joanna Alonzo December 6, 2016 at 5:42 am #

    And here I was… about to send a proposal to your agency for 30 Hues of Thrill… Guess that imaginary email will have to go to the Trash now. Or some agent’s slush mountain. (Weird how the idea of a slush mountain makes me smile. It makes me think of a giant Slurpee.)

    I should probably add that to my website tagline: Writer. Wandering Homebody. Walking Paradox. Professional Spammer.

    It’s a paradox.

    I’m actually wondering where to find all these emails that I can send to. Basing off of Michael Hyatt’s list of Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors, it doesn’t feel like there are many to whom I can send proposals to.

    I was asked by a fellow writer how many proposals I’ve sent over the past three months and I told her that I think the number’s about 7 or 8. I told her that if I didn’t get any response from these agents, I might consider just self-publishing.

    She said 7 or 8 in three months isn’t that much, because from what she’s read, people send out to hundreds of agents and wait much longer than that.

    I don’t know, but if I think of agents as people I need to build relationships with, someone I need to have a rapport with, someone I can trust and who could possibly appreciate and value my work and support my writing career, then I wouldn’t really want to send hundreds of proposals to every agent out there. Especially without even just the basic understanding of who they are and what they represent.

    Ah well, my two cents. I’m in a season of waiting, but publishing seems to be synonymous to waiting, so yep. Yay to all of us!

    • Michael Emmanuel December 6, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

      Hello Joanna, could you help me out a bit?

      I’ve attempted getting Michael Hyatt’s list for agents without success. I was hoping you could share the link.

      Thank you very much in anticipation of your kind response.


      • Steve Laube December 7, 2016 at 8:51 am #

        You can also purchase the 2017 Christian Writers Market Guide. The new edition (available next week) has a complete listing of literary agents.

        The Guide will also be online for the first time and be updated throughout the year. That site will not be “live” for another couple weeks. We are currently finished the programming of it. ( The subscription can be purchased monthly, bi-annual, or annual. The advantage is that the content of the print edition listings are always up to date.

        I will be posting a blog about all of this later this month.


        • Joanna Alonzo December 7, 2016 at 9:16 am #

          *adds book to my Christmas wishlist after surviving from the shock upon realizing that Steve Laube commented*

          I jest, but I’d just like to say that I do appreciate how the agents here take the time to respond to comments. It makes you guys feel a lot more accessible. I’ve learned so much from this site, and I’m sure I will continue to mine more insights from here. I’m grateful. 🙂

          That being said, I’m going to stop the comment spam now.

          • Brennan McPherson December 7, 2016 at 10:27 am #

            Everyone at the Steve Laube Agency goes above and beyond the call of duty! It shows how much they care for writers, books, readers, and everyone else in the publishing industry.

    • rochellino December 6, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

      Paradox you say? Have you ever noticed that many times in life creative people (or original ideas) are not wanted until someone else wants, or already has, them. Many people can’t see somebody for the originals that they are, they can only see them through someone else’s vision.

      Banks don’t want them unless they are already a financial success. Many suitors don’t want them until they are already taken. Sports teams don’t want them until they have made the game saving play. Agents don’t want them until they are first wanted by a ginormous social media following. Publishers don’t want them until all the agents want them and so forth and so on.

      This is a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration but many times not so far from reality.

      For example, who would ever believe that anybody would want a Japanese flavored version of the Beatles hit “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” using traditional Japanese instruments.
      Whaaaaat? Absolute Sacrilege!

      I can just imagine making an elevator pitch on that bright idea. The elevator would make a special stop mid floors to throw you off. Sounded crazy when I first heard the idea but it works extremely well for me only AFTER someone went ahead and did it. I needed to see it fully realized through someone else’s vision to recognize brilliance and immediately love it. There is a kernel of wisdom in here if someone can root it out.

      • Joanna Alonzo December 6, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

        Now, I can’t stop thinking of myself as being stuck in an elevator with a Japanese band playing Beatles hits. If I get stuck there long enough, I’ll probably sing “Come Together” when they play it.

        Hopefully, Regina Spektor will be there too.

        “There is a kernel of wisdom in here if someone can root it out.”
        – Shall we dive into a slush mountain to find it? (Though I’m not sure slush mountains are good places to find kernels.)

        Seriously though…

        I think the thing is ideas are cheap. With the organization I’m working with right now, we are encouraged to be creative and pursue our passions while still promoting awareness about the unreached and the 10/40 Window. With that in mind, people come here with these big, bright ideas of films or books or projects or whatever creative spark hits them. The problem is we’re short-staffed. So whenever someone comes to me with their oh-so-brilliant idea, asking me to write for them (for free, I might add), I do listen, but that doesn’t mean I can commit. Even if I think it’s a good idea. I’ve met people who have a million ideas swarming their mind and they keep throwing it at people, but they’re unable to actually follow through and execute them. It’s almost like they don’t think their ideas are worth doing until someone agrees to execute it for them.

        I think the person who should be most committed to your brilliant idea is you. Even when other people don’t see its greatness, you do, because you have the best, fullest vision of what that idea could be. Sometimes, you execute the idea and realize that it wasn’t a good idea after all. Sometimes though, you end up with something beautiful.

        There’s risk there. Is the idea worth the risk?

        Who knows?

        Slush. Smile. Slurpee.

        • rochellino December 6, 2016 at 11:50 pm #

          You have certainly found the kernel of wisdom.

          “I think the person who should be most committed to your brilliant idea is you. Even when other people don’t see its greatness, you do, because you have the best, fullest vision of what that idea could be.”


          • Joanna Alonzo December 7, 2016 at 1:21 am #

            *pageant girl wave*
            *awkward curtsy*

            Thank you! Thank you!

  2. Mary Felkins December 6, 2016 at 7:45 am #

    As always, Dan, you make me smile, smile, smile and hold my attention throughout. After reading (and I do), I’m always far more informed, more wise and more equipped than before. Bless you!

  3. Michael Emmanuel December 6, 2016 at 8:27 am #

    In an event where the author aptly meets the specific guidelines listed above yet got a rejection letter, I assume the reason was different…

    ‘Sending well won’t guarantee success…’ Answers my assumption…

  4. Sheri Dean Parmelee December 6, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Dan, thanks for the outstanding blog. I appreciate your sharing this information about mass queries and what not to do! I once sent a proposal to two people in a single agency before I read that agents talk to one another and that doing such a thing is unprofessional. Oops!

  5. Robin Bayne December 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    Years ago I ran a small lit-mag, and was amazed at the types of submissions I received. (This was before email.) Notes addressed to “Mr. Robin Bayne,” content that had nothing to do with the publication.

    And one of my all time faves, an envelope that arrived stuffed with tiny origami figures, each holding a word to the writer’s “poem.”

    Ahhh, good times.

  6. Jon Guenther December 6, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    Good post, Dan. People just don’t get it. I recently saw a post like this from a rep at another agency and I couldn’t resist telling you same thing I told her. I refer to the submissions of those who break some of these simple rules of common courtesy as “spamuscripts.”

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!