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Beyond the First Draft–Preparing the Perfect Proposal

Monday, August 27, 2007

Guess what—there are as many ideas of what the “perfect proposal” entails as there are editors and agents. So what I’ve done is go out and gather as much information as I can to give a general overview of what a Fiction Novel Proposal should contain.

So far we’ve moved from the Dreaded Synopsis (shows your writing voice, but is pretty much a cut-and-dry summary of your story) to the Query Letter (opens with a bang, gives a quick one or two paragraph “pitch” of your story). Now’s when your self-marketing skills will really come in handy.

The proposal is where you really brand yourself as a writer. It’s where you show the agent/editor that you’re so much more than just 100,000 words of a story written down on paper. It’s where you show them you understand the industry, you understand what they’re looking for, you know who your competitors are, and you realize that 80%+ of the marketing for a published novel is done by the author.

So what should a fiction proposal include?

Genre: This is where you must clearly identify what type of fiction you have written. For some of us, this is pretty clear-cut: Contemporary Inspirational Romance, Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Thriller, Mystery—in other words, the more standard genre labels. For others, you may have to tweak your label depending on the house it’s being submitted to: if your story includes fantasy, thriller, and romantic elements, you don’t necessarily want to label it as a Fantasy Thriller Romance. It’ll come across as if you aren’t sure exactly what you’ve written. If you’re pitching it to a publishing house that is looking for fantasy novels, you might want label it as a Fantasy novel and explain in the overview that it is a fantasy novel with thriller and romantic elements.

Target Market: Who’s realistically going to read your book? Sure, we want to say that our audience is the mass market, but for most of us, that’s not the case. Once you define your genre, do your research on reader demographics of who actually reads what you’re writing.

Promo Sentence: This is your one-sentence pitch.

Sales Blurb: This is the blurb-sentence that you typically see on the front cover of a novel. Not a full one-sentence pitch, but a short hook.

One-Paragraph Pitch: This can be the same paragraph you used in your query letter. About 75–100 words—what you would write as your own back-cover copy.

Competitive Titles: This is your chance to prove that you know the industry. List the Title, Author, and Publisher of about five to ten titles that are similar to yours in genre/theme.

Overview of the Book: This is not a synopsis. This is a description of the themes, voice, “flavors,” concepts, ideals, and “moral of the story” found in the book. It’s also a place to describe the series if the book is part of one. It’s where you delineate your hero’s quest, his (or her) goals, motivations, and conflicts. Concentrate this part (one paragraph to half a page) on explaining what’s at stake in the story and what readers are going to walk away with after reading it. If it’s an inspirational novel, what is the spiritual lesson(s) learned? What is the scriptural basis for this?

About the Author: This is the same information that you used in your query letter: who are you (as an author) and what are your qualifications? Unlike the query letter, here this is typically in third person.

Promotion/Marketing Ideas: Here’s where you can wow the agent/editor by listing a few ideas of how you plan to promote/market the book once its published. Do you have connections with book clubs? Association memberships through which you can announce/market your book’s release? Ideas for tie-ins, retailer promotions, packaging, giveaways? If you are a published author, what have you done successfully in the past to promote your books? If you are unpublished, this is a great place to show potential agents/editors how you are already working to build name recognition.

As I mentioned before, there are as many different formats for proposals as there are agents/editors. In fact, most agents will have either a list of information to include or will actually post sample proposals they like (such as at MacGregor Literary).

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is my proposal for Stand-In Groom (which used to be titled Happy Endings Inc.).

Updated to include:
Proposal for the Ransome Trilogy (published)
Proposal for the Great Exhibition series (Books 1-2 published)

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