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Category : Proposals
Kris wrote to say, “I read the sample proposals you keep on your MacGregor Literary site. I found them helpful (and can’t wait to read Sandra Glahn’s novel), but as an unpublished novelist, it made me wonder… What should I be doing to to pre-market myself?”
I’ve had several people write to ask if they can see sample proposals. We keep some sample proposals on our corporate website: www.MacGregorLiterary.com
Stop by and check out the basic format we use. You can also find sample proposals on several other good agent websites.
Kris wrote to say to me, “I’ve read the sample proposals you have on your site, and found them helpful, but it makes me wonder… An an unpublished novelist, what should I be doing to pre-market myself?”
I don’t think a new novelist is going to do much different from the work of a mid-list novelist when it comes to marketing. Make sure you know how to write exceptionally well, then figure out a plan for marketing and work hard at it. That means getting your name out there. Make sure you have a following of readers. Try to let as many people as possible know about your forthcoming book. Work to be successful locally, then try to find success regionally, then nationally. Participate in every possible marketing avenue you can afford. I encourage authors to get as much marketing training as they can — we used to have to hire others to do this, but with the advent of the internet, you’ve been given a means of taking your message personally to millions of potential readers. So find the training you need (we’ve talked about that in the past), create a plan, and be looking for ways to maximize your exposure.
There has been a movement afoot among authors to “brand” themselves, but that’s something I think is overdone among newbies. A “brand” occurs over time when customers
Here’s how this blog works: You send in questions about writing and publishing, and I try to offer some answers. I’ve recently received a whole slug of questions about proposals, so l wanted to try to get to a bunch of them…
1. Beth wrote to say, “I have two novels — one is a romance, the other is a thriller. Can I mix genres in a query letter to an agent?”
No way. All that does is confuse the agent. At this stage in your career, are you a romance writer or a thriller writer? You might eventually be both… but you’ve got to convince me initially that you’re good at one of those genres. Pick your best and approach the agent.
2. Suzie asked, “Do I really need to finish my entire novel before I send it to an agent for representation?”
In a perfect world, the answer would be “of course not — just be a good writer.” But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world with a sucky economy. So if you are unpublished, yeah, to get an agent to represent your novel, you’re probably going to have to complete the whole thing. The economy has made things in publishing much tougher, so publishers and agents are less willing to take a chance on a good synopsis and sample chapters. Make it easy on yourself by completing the novel before sending it to an agent for consideration.
3. Jim wants to know, “Should I tell an agent the page count of my novel?”
The version of your novel you printed out at home has little to do with the eventual page count your book would have were it to be printed by a publishing house. And the way software allows us to manipulate font, spacing, and leading means that a publisher can add or subtract pages to make the text
Evelyn wrote to say she is working on her novel proposal, and wants to know, “Is it really essential to list comparable books in my proposal? How do I find out if there are similar books in print? Do I look by content? By topic? And do I actually compare them?”
In your proposal, it’s important you have a section offering comparable titles. As I said earlier in the week, it gives the editorial team that is reviewing your proposal some context. The purpose for the section is NOT to show how your apocalyptic novel is better than Left Behind, but instead to help the publisher know how to categorize your proposed book. (“Oh! THIS book is similar to THAT book!”) That means spending some time doing some research.
First, you should know your genre by having read widely, so some obvious titles will come to mind. Second, you can find comparable titles by going into Barnes & Noble or any good bookstore and hunting up other projects that are similar. (If you look in the right genre section, you’ll probably find some good comparables.) Third, you can talk to other writers and editors, in order to solicit their suggestions. And fourth, you can go onto Amazon.com and wander through the titles by keywords or genre or author. (I don’t find that as effective, but most of us still do that.) For that matter, you can do some other general searches on the web by content, though you may not find that as helpful.
A couple reminders as you look at comp titles: Don’t select Catcher in the Rye, or Purpose Driven Life, or some other book that has sold a bajillion copies. You end up looking silly when you compare your unpublished work to a huge hit. At the same time, don’t select some completely unknown book that bombed — it leaves the publisher with the impression “this other
Someone wrote to ask, “Why are you calling it a ‘competitive titles’ works section, when we used to call it a ‘comparative works’ section?” My answer: Either works. The goal is simply that the author is trying to help the publisher see that MY book is like HIS book, or that MY book appeals to the same audience as HER book. So you’re comparing titles, in order to give your proposal some context in the mind of the acquisitions editor.
With that in mind, let me suggest some traps to avoid:
Don’t pick a book that has sold more than 250,000 copies. Ifyou’ve writing a juvie book and compare it to Harry Potter, you’re going to look stupid (“Rowling sold a bazillion copies, so I can too!”). Anything that has sold that many copies isn’t a competitor, it’s a conqueror. Ignore it and use something else.
Don’t pick a book that has sold twelve copies. That suggests to the editor that “nobody cares about this topic.” Hey, Solomon once told us the writing of books is endless. So if there has never been a successful book on the United States Parrot Importation Act, there’s probably a reason.
Don’t ignore the obvious successes. If you’re doing a military historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg, it would be pretty dumb to leave off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. That sends the message to the editor that you don’t really know your field.
Don’t make snarky comments about other books. I often see that, and it’s annoying to have some unpublished wannabe send me something that says, “THIS book was successful, but it’s not nearly as good as mine,” or “THIS book sold 100,000 copies, but the author does a poor job with dialogue.” A comparative analysis section isn’t a review of everything on the market — it’s simply a vehicle for helping the editor know how to position your particular title.
Karen wrote and said, “The hardest part of a proposal for me is the ‘competitive analysis’ section. Any advice or tips?”
Sure — think about the purpose of that section. Publishers bascially sell in lines — that is, if they are currently selling a lot of fitness and health titles, they’re going to want to publish more fitness and health titles in the future, since they know how to market and sell those. (One of the things that drives publishers crazy is seeing a proposal that screams, “You’ve never seen anything like this!” Or an agent that says, “You’re not currently doing any books in this genre, so I thought I’d send this to you.” Huh? If a publisher isn’t doing any books in one area, they’re probably not going to know what to do with that project. An easy rejection.) So the “competivie analysis” section of your proposal serves as an advance organizer. It tells the publishing team, “THIS book is similar to THAT book. If you could get excited about THAT title, you’re sure to like THIS title.” Make sense?
What most authors do is to head over to Amazon.com and spend a little time doing research. Search by title. Look at key words. If you find an author who has done a book similar to yours, check out his or her other titles (since authors have a tendency to maintain an interest in a topic, just like publishers). What you want to do is to find a handful of titles (normally about three to seven) that are similar to your proposed book.
In your proposal, you want to list the title, author, publisher, and release date. You need to give some indication of what the sales were, if you can find them (that will take a bit of research). Then you want to explain very briefly how that book is similar to your own. And, in many
Today’s question is from Sheila, who says, “An agent just requested my novel proposal, and asked about the word count. I told him it’s roughly 150,000 words, but that I’ll be cutting it to perhaps 120,000 by the time I’m done. He asked me how many pages it is… But is there an appropriate way to estimate a book’s size?”
Sure there is, Sheila… the rule of thumb with most publishers is to average about 300 words per page. So a 100,000-word novel will run about 300 pages. (That’s not exactly true, but it’s a good general guideline.)
That said, let me speak to a couple other things you mentioned…
First, while it could generally be said that most books run between 240 and 300 pages, most NOVELS tend to run toward the longer side. Frankly, nobody is buying 30,000-word novels. The shortest that routinely gets contracted is the category romance, which runs about 55,000 words. Historical romances at Harlequin will run to 75,000 words, but everywhere else they’re longer. Most stand-alone novels run between 80,000 and 95,000 words. And now we’re seeing some publishers produce book that run from 100,000 to 120,000 words.
I frequently get authors sending me 150,000 word novels (they always seem to be scifi & fantasy writers, who must all be longwinded), and once received a 180,000-word tome. Could it get published? Maybe. Occasionally somebody puts out a huge novel on a chunk of dead trees, but it’s rare. My thought? Unless you’re writing for a category publisher, shoot for the 90,000 word mark. People in a bad economy want value for their money — which means a big, thick book for their cash.
Second, while most books from new authors tend to be shorter, that’s not a hard and fast rule. When I was an associate publisher with Time-Warner, we released Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN, which was a huge book… AND it
Staying on the topic of proposals, Dania wants to know, “What is the purpose of a market analysis in a proposal? What kind of information are you looking for? And how much info do you want? It seems like the agent is the one who knows the market, so I’m not sure why an author is asked to do this.”
A market analysis serves as an advance organizer to a publisher. It helps reveal that there is a market is for the new book, helps describe the potential audience, and helps the publisher think through how they could market and sell the new title. A market analysis is a way of saying, “You once published this title, and my proposed book is similar.”
The author does the legwork to put this together because it’s the author’s job to create the best proposal possible. A good agent will work with you to tweak this section, perhaps recommending other titles or revising the descriptions to best fit each publishing house.
Often writers will come to me with a pitch that says, “Nobody has ever done anything like this before!” That fails to recognize the real world of publishing. Companies discover how to produce and sell certain types of books — for example, Love Inspired knows how to sell historical romance, and the folks at Broadway know how to sell books to professional types and business leaders. Imagine walking up to a nonfiction publisher and saying, “You’ve never done western novels before, so the market is wide open!” It’s stupid — that’s not how publishers think. If you bring them a new project, you need to explain the market for the book, and help them to see how they are going to succeed with it.
Generally a market analysis lists three to eight published books that have had some success, explains each book briefly, and may subtly define how the new, proposed book
So how do I go about getting good endorsements?
Don’t ask everybody you know. One great endorsement is better than five tepid ones.
Target the best candidates. Think about who the best people would be to endorse your work, and ask them.
Ask people personally. The odds of you getting a good endorsement are much better if you do your own asking, rather than waiting for some publicist or agent to get around to it. (This is why it pays to network.)
Use your six degrees of separation. You’ll be surprised who you can connect with through your friends, your writing acquaintances, your agent, and your editor.
Start with a query. Include a short, two-paragraph letter that acknowledges the individual’s busyness, but requests they take a few moments to look over your manuscript and see if they’d be comfortable offering a few words of encouragement to readers.
Politeness counts. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you need to go talk with your mom.
The clearer the instructions, the better the endorsement. If you really want someone to say “the writing is brilliant,” you might gently suggest words to that effect in your letter. If you want them to say you’re the second coming of Mark Twain, include a photo of yourself wearing a white suit and smoking a cigar. The point is, you want to make it easy for the person to help you. Like most writers, a suggestion can speed the process more than a blank sheet of paper. Give the potential endorser some direction.
The bigger the name, the longer it takes. A good endorsement takes time. You can’t call Bill Clinton and expect him to get you something tomorrow — believe it or not, he’s got other things on his schedule. Get your manuscript done early, get it onto the desk of the person you’re asking, and be patient.
Don’t clutter your proposal with too many
I’ve had a number of questions about book proposals sent to me, so I’d like to take several days to explore creating a great book proposal. Stan wrote to me and asked, “Does it really help a book to have endorsements on it? Would it help my proposal?”
One thing publishing history has taught us is that readers are not stupid. They may get fooled occasionally by great marketing, but they catch on quickly — so yesterday’s collection of neato stories is today’s boring, unsold project. And book buyers have caught on to the fact that a ton of endorsements by people who haven’t actually read your book, in the words of Bogie-as-Rick, “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” The days of listing 37 endorsement that all say “loved the book” are over. Done. Dead and gone. Departed this life. Assumed room temperature. Today, there are only two types of endorsements that matter.
1. The Celebrity Endorsement. This is where you get Tom Clancy or John Grisham or Brad Pitt or some other notable, attention-getting person to say, “This book moved me deeply” or some such thing. It also includes getting a real doctor to say that your cookbook will help fight cancer, or getting an investment banker to say that your money management book offers a great plan to help readers get out of debt. Locally, it’s the equivalent of having your well-known professional basketball player go on camera and explain that he always buys his cars at Farnsworth Chevrolet. There’s value in getting a recognizable name to endorse your product. I don’t know that it always works with books, but it’s a heck of a lot better than getting your mom or your pastor or your neighbor to say it (“I’ve loved little Chippy’s writing since he was in diapers!”). The problem is that you often find the same people saying
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.
First, I'd like to say I'm sorry for missing my post yesterday. I had some personal things come up and just didn't get around to it. So, we're going to take a slight detour this week, since I know there are a number of people who tune in specifically on Thursdays to hear about building author platform. And, well, we don't want them missing the next installment, now, do we?!
So for today, I'd like to share links to a batch of really helpful tutorial videos my author, the fabulous Jill Williamson, put together. They cover everything you need to know to format your manuscript for submission.Formatting a Manuscript, Part 1: Page Set Up and Text– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boP5po6aMDk&feature=relatedFormatting a Manuscript, Part 2: Page Breaks– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nU1iv2v95s&feature=relatedFormatting a Manuscript, Part 3: Paragraphs– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwqvmdWDJto&feature=relatedFormatting a Manuscript, Part 4: Cleaning things up– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNOj9ZR88E8&feature=relatedFormatting a Manuscript, Part 5: Page Numbers– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOuihsC7SyY&feature=relatedIn addition to this, Jill put together a series of videos for formatting your manuscript for upload on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.Formatting Your Manuscript for Amazon Kindle–PART 1– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU2kprKRrGY&feature=relatedUsing Mobipocket to Format Your Book For Kindle–PART 2– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4szEhEhHy4&feature=relatedThey're short and to the point…excellent references for anyone getting ready to do something with that polished, perfected manuscript.Do you know of any tutorials to add to this list? Tell us about them!And tune in next Thursday when we get back to our discussion on building platforms…the topic? Platform-building blogging. See you next week!