Day Four Tasks
Task One: Create your research plan
It's a good idea to create a research plan to guide you, both in writing your proposal, and later in writing your book. Knowing that you can find all the information you need is a confidence-builder.
Task Two: Create a chapter outline for your book
Write a chapter outline for your book proposal.
Research: How much do you need to know?
Remember that this is just a proposal, you're not writing the complete book.
Therefore, you may not need to do any research at all. You may have all the material you need. If this is the case, you can go right on to fleshing out your outline. If you need to gather material, then first you should develop a research plan. This may take you an hour or two, but it's time well spent. You will use this plan first to develop your proposal, and later when you’re writing your book. For your proposal, you probably won’t need to go past # 6 in your plan to get all the information you need.
Your research plan
1. Develop a frame of reference, and write it down as a complete sentence, using no more than 25 words. The shortest blurb you wrote should work well for this step.
2. Next, mind map or outline everything you need to research. This is to give you a
quick overview. It's a good idea to print this mind map out so that you can glance at it as you work. You'll find that if you're online, or at the library, it's tempting to explore other avenues. These avenues may well be productive, and you can explore them at some stage, but not while you're trying to write your proposal. Once you start writing, your only goal should be: "get it done".
3. Do a general search on the Web using a search engine like Google.com to locate additional areas you could explore.
4. If you find mention of any online groups or mailing lists which seem appropriate for your subject, join them. The members may be able to provide you with anecdotes or other information.
5. Make a note of companies which are mentioned in your Web search. Can they help you? The benefit of asking companies to help you in your research is free, current information. Most companies will be only too pleased to help, for the PR boost you can give them. Make a note to yourself to acknowledge them in your book. If any company has given you a lot of help, it's a nice gesture to send them a copy when the book's published.
6. Check periodical indices for articles which might be useful. Once you needed to trudge along to the library for this kind of help, but LexisNexis (http://www.lexis.com/ ) is faster.
7. Are there any books which could help you? Try http://www.amazon.com/ to find recent books on your topic. (You may already have notes on these books which you collected while you were trying to come up with an idea for a book.)
8. Original sources. This is where your list of contacts comes in useful. Make a note of people you will want to interview, first for your proposal, and later, for your book.
9. Experts and organisations.
STOP! Don't collect more information than you need to write your proposal
Creating your research plan shouldn’t take you more than an hour, or two hours maximum. Until you get into the writing process, whether it's your proposal, or the book itself, you won’t know exactly what you need. As long as you have sufficient material for that day's work, you've got enough information.
Work on your book's outline and the first chapter, as you research
We'll do more work on the outline and first chapter later this week. But, because they form such a big part of your proposal, start working on them now, as you research.
The Brain-Dead Process
Here's a process I use to combine research and writing, and just get the bones of the work done. This is a process you can use when you're writing anything. Use it for your proposal, the book itself, writing advertising material - I even use it for writing copy for businesses and for novels. The best thing about this process is that it stops you from getting stuck.
1) Idea/ topic/ subject
2) Ten minutes of research
3) Word lists
4) Timed free-writing for five minutes
5) Take a break
6) First draft
1. Idea/ topic/ subject
If you've got an idea you want to develop, write it at the top of a sheet of paper.
In this instance, write the title you've chosen for your first chapter. I use
colored pencils and paper for this part of the process so that I can doodle all around the page, but feel free to open a new document in your word processor if you want to type.
If you don't have a topic or a title for your chapter, just get a blank sheet of paper or open a new document, and keep following the steps of the process.
2. Ten minutes of research
This research process is really just an early-warning for your subconscious mind, to stimulate it and to get it to start coming up with material.
I tend to browse the Web for research whatever I happen to be working on,
because I can always find something that starts me thinking. For example, one week I was ready to work on five radio spots for a jewellery store. I browsed online jewellery stores, and museum sites. Within five minutes I hit on an information nugget that stimulated a train of thought. Whatever topic you're writing on for your proposal, browse a few Web sites which are related.
3. Word lists
I love word lists. They take no effort at all, and they're ideal for kick-starting any kind of writing. I use them for fiction, for non-fiction and for copywriting. I also write them just for practice, to get my brain ticking over. Here's part of a word list I wrote this morning: "Glamor fear isolation energy deliver storm glow wind moon rush generosity travel stream voice density". You can see that on one level, it's just a laundry-list of words. On another level, what if I asked you to write half a page of a story, using these three words: "Fear Storm Generosity" somewhere in the first paragraph? You could do it, and you'd find it easy.
I could use this list to develop a scene for a chapter in a novel, or to develop a new character for the novel. But I'm currently working on an advertorial for digital imaging products for a computer magazine, so the word list gives me some ideas to play with for that. The list even gives me some ideas I could develop for magazine articles and essays. Not bad for fifteen words which took a few seconds to write.
For your book proposal, just start making lists of words. The idea is not to direct your thoughts at all, just list all the words which spring to mind. Don’t limit yourself with words directly related to the subject of you proposal. You may never use your word lists in your work at all. I think of them as ways of prodding my subconscious. After I've filled half a page of words, I may or may not use them. I don't look on writing the lists as a waste of time, however, because writing them gets me into a creative mood.
4. Timed free-writing for five minutes
The topic for your free-writing session will be the title of your first chapter.
I'm a fan of free-writing. If you haven't read Peter Elbow's amazing books, particularly Writing With Power, get hold of the book as soon as you can. After reading it, I guarantee you you'll never have problems with getting words onto the page ever again.
Timed free-writing is just what it sounds like. You set a timer, and put pen to paper, or get your fingers traveling across the keyboard. At the end of the time you set, you stop writing. You don't have to write in complete sentences. You can write fragments of thoughts, or even write a word list. Just write whatever words appear in your mind. Don't put any pressure on yourself. Even if you have a report that needs to be finished in an hour, don't make the subject of your report the topic for your freewriting session. Let whatever words want to come out, emerge. You can whine onto the page about how hard writing is for five minutes, if you wish. If you do, you'll feel better for having released that limiting thought.
5. Take a break
Close your notebook, switch off your computer and leave your desk. Your break can be short, but take at least ten minutes. Preferably half an hour or an hour. I mean it ---LEAVE YOUR DESK.
6. First draft
When you return to your desk, don't look at any of your word lists, or your free-
writing session. Just start to work on a first draft of your outline, and some material for your first chapter. Write as quickly as you can.
I do first drafts on the computer, and I try to type fast, just following whatever thoughts happen to strike me, and not paying any attention to typos or to format. If I'm writing an article or advertising copy, or anything which is under a thousand words, I write the first draft straight through. I aim to take an hour or less to do this. At this stage, my aim is just to get the words written. I can worry about whether they're the right words later. Right now, I just want words.
You will find that the words come quickly, and that you not only outline your first chapter, but several additional chapters.
What goes into your chapter outline?
You don't need to create the kind of outline that your English teacher harassed you into creating when you were 12. The kind of outline you need to create is one based on components. Non-fiction is much easier to write than fiction because all nonfiction books similar components. Let's have a look at some of them:
• A foreword. This is similar to an introduction, but a foreword is usually
written by someone other than the author of the book. It helps if you can get someone famous to contribute the foreword.
Note: They may expect payment for this. If this person would lend great
credibility to your book, then consider paying them for the foreword. It could make the difference between whether your proposal is easy to sell, or more difficult. If you’re writing in an area in which you don’t have professional expertise --- for example, if you're writing about a medical topic and you're not a doctor --- then getting a foreword written by a professional is worthwhile.
• An introduction. This is optional. If you can't think of anything to put in an
introduction, leave it out. Think of including an introduction if you want to tell your own story: how you came to get the information you're about to share.
• A "How To Use This book" chapter or page. This can be short, or quite long. For example, if you're writing a book on yoga, you could use this chapter to give four or five exercise routines, compiled from the various poses that you discuss in the rest of the book.
• Chapters with problems and solutions. For example, if you were writing a
book on dieting, you could write seven chapters all posing a typical problem, and then provide solutions for each problem.
• The last chapter is the wrap-up. In this chapter you'll want to give readers instructions on where they go from here, and you'll also want to include an inspirational message.
• A glossary is useful if it will be necessary for readers new to the subject area. For example, if your book contains a lot of industry jargon with which your reader is unfamiliar, give explanations of terminology here.
• An index. I'm always disappointed when an otherwise excellent book, that I'll be referring to again, omits an index. I know creating an index is a hassle, but if you think your readers will use it, then go the extra mile and include it.
Will you need graphics or photographs?
If your book needs photos or other graphics, start thinking about them now. For
example, if you’re writing about petcare, then by all means send along a couple of
relevant photos or graphics with your proposal. However, illustrative material is only useful if it adds value for the reader. Do the other books which cover the same subject as your book include graphics?
If you decide that your book must have graphics, mention this in your
proposal. Send along an image or two, even if you've only taken them with your own digital camera.
Day Five: Write your proposal query letter, and submit it to agents and publishers
Day Five Tasks
Task One: Start a contact list of agents and publishers
Finding an agent/ publisher is the first step to selling your book proposal. However, even after you've sold your proposal, you'll want to stay current with agent and publisher news in order to sell your next proposal, and the one after that. Start a contact list of agents and publishers, and as you find snippets of information online, or in your offline reading, enter notes into your database. Information you might want to add includes: recent sales and the amount the book was sold for, movements of editors from one publishing house to the next, and publishing house changes.
Collecting and maintaining all this information shouldn’t be viewed as a
chore. It's vital business intelligence. It could also help you to increase your income by many thousands of dollars each year.
Task Two: Send out ten query letters to agents and publishers
Agents and publishers take time to respond. So today you'll create a query letter for your proposal, and will send it out to ten agents and publishers. You can choose to send only to agents, or only to publishers, or you may want to send out five to each group.
Today you write your proposal query letter
Now you're written the blurb for your book, and the chapter outline, the next step is to start asking agents and publishers whether they’re interested in looking at the proposal for your book. This means that you'll send out a query letter, asking agents and publishers to look at your proposal.
Note: some new authors want to omit this step. They figure --- hey, I'll just send the complete proposal, so I get a response faster. Unfortunately, sending a complete unsolicited proposal will SLOW the process. Agents and publishers receive so many packages of material that they stack them in a spare office, and the office junior gets to read them once every couple of months. Send a query letter, then send the proposals to those people who've asked to see it.
Do you need an agent?
Yes. And no. It can sometimes be harder to get an agent than it is to get a publisher, so it's a good idea to query both. When you get an agent, you can tell the agent which publishers you've already queried. If you get an agent before you get a publisher, you can approach agents who are a good fit for your book to ask them whether they will handle the contract negotiations for you.
You definitely need an agent if you intend to write more than one book. As to whether you should go agent-hunting, the answer is a definite yes. This isn't only because an agent will take a lot of the submission and negotiation workload, and because the agent has (one hopes) her fingers constantly on the pulse of publishing and knows what’s going on, it's also because an agent forms a handy cut-off switch between you and the publisher. When problems occur --- let's say that your editor's demands annoy you, or that your advance payments are late, you've got someone to gripe at other than your editor.
On the other hand, if you'd rather keep all the profits your book makes, and feel that you can handle your contract negotiations yourself, you may want to skip agents, and focus on publishers.
Online resources to help you in your agent-hunt
Here's a list of online resources which will help you to decide whether or not you want an agent, and agent contact details.
This is an excellent site, with many useful articles telling you what agents do, as well as agent lists you can browse.
This page is on the Writer's Services site, and you'll also find listings of UK agents.
Preditors and Editors: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/
You'll want to bookmark this site. It’s a wonderful resource to help you to maintain your writing career.
Literary Agent Warnings: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/agents.html
Unfortunately, as in all fields, in writing there are scam artists. This page, maintained by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Inc, gives you the low-down (pun intended) on literary scammers.
Note: things change fast online. Do your own "literary agents" query on
www.Google.com and other search engines for additional agent information and listings.
Sending your query letter directly to publishers
Many large publishers will not look at unagented material. However, this still leaves many who will. And most will look at any letter that you care to send them. Because a publisher can buy your book, and because you're likely to get a much faster response from a publisher than you will from an agent, I recommend that in addition to sending out your queries to agents, you also send them to publishers.
The best resource for finding publisher information online is Writersmarket.com at http://www.writersmarket.com/
From the Web site:
WritersMarket.com is your wired key to publishing success, providing the most
comprehensive—and always up-to-date—market contact info available, with
electronic tools you won't find anywhere else. And it's all risk-free. Sign up today and get:
• More markets than you'll find anywhere else. And with our constantly updated and verified contact listings, you'll find the market information you need to get your work into the hands of the right editor or agent today.
• Easy-to-use searches. Looking for a specific magazine or book publisher? Just type in the title. Or, widen your prospects with our new keyword search for broad category results.
• Expert advice from top editors, agents and writers. Want to know how to
improve your cover and query letters? Have a question for an editor or agent? Find the answer you need here.
• Daily industry updates. Debbi Ridpath Ohi has her finger on the publishing pulse - and she shares her insider info with you.
• Plus, personalize your home page, keep track of your work with Submission Tracker, save your best prospects in Favorites' Folders, and more! >>
Please note, I don’t have any connection to Writersmarket.com, aside from
subscribing to the service. I've been a subscriber for several years, and have always been happy with the service. It will save you a lot of time looking for publishers. Of course, the service isn't restricted to publisher listings. You'll find agent listings as well, plus magazine listings and a library of useful articles.
Yes, you can multiple-submit your query letter, and even your proposal
Once you start marketing your proposal, you'll find that some agents and publishers include words like "no multiple submissions" when they're telling authors how they want to receive proposals. In other words, they want exclusivity. Unfortunately,
there's a big problem with this. The problem is time. Most agents and editors will take a month or longer to evaluate your proposal. Some take as long as six months. Considering that you may need to approach 20 to 30 editors and/ or publishers, you could still be sending out your book three years from now. Professional writers ignore these admonitions, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t eat.
Sample Query Letter
What goes into a query letter? I've included a sample query letter that I've sent out, and which garnered an agent contract immediately. You'll see that this letter is:
• To the point.
I could have spent a lot longer composing this letter --- I could have included a better hook, and included the book's blurb. At the time I sent it out however, I didn’t have the time to spend on revisions. I'm including this plain-vanilla, so-so query letter here for a reason. That is --- and I've found this to be true in 25 years of writing --- it's important that you SHOW UP. In other words, while you might want each piece of writing you send out to be perfect, or at least brilliant, sometimes you don’t have the time. At those times, send it out anyway.
Get into the habit of treating your work with a certain amount of aplomb. That is, even thought it's not perfect, and you could make it better if you had the time and energy, 90 per cent of the time what matters is that you send out your work. If you're a closet perfectionist, as I am, this will be hard for you at first.
Australian author and journalist Angela Booth writes about business, technology, women's issues, and creativity. Her books include: LifeTime: Better Time Management in 21 Days, Home Sweet Office: Your Home Office, Improve Your Memory in 21 Days, and Making the Internet Work for Your Business. Her feature articles have appeared in The Australian Women's Weekly, Woman's Day, New Idea, Vogue, and numerous other print and online magazines.
~~Angela Booth partial list of credits~~
A professional writer for 25 years, her credits include:
* Feature articles for mass market women's magazines in Australia and the US, including The Australian Women's Weekly, Woman's Day, New Idea and Vogue; * Feature articles for computer magazines;
* Content work for Web sites and Internet newsletters, including the Internet Business Forum (http://ibizhome.com/)
* Business books for major publishers, including many books in Prentice Hall's WorkWise series (translated into several Asian and European languages); * A series of romance novels for Macdonald Futura UK.
At her Digital-e --- Info to Go Web site (http://www.digital-e.biz/), Angela Booth
publishers three popular ezines: Creative Small Biz and Your EveryDay Write, which are free to subscribers, and Freelance Copy Write, which has paying subscribers. She also teaches online writing courses.
Another sample query letter
Here's another sample query letter. At the time of writing, I haven't sent out this letter. Again however, you can see that it's short, to the point, and contains nothing irrelevant. Over the years, I've found that whether I'm pitching (selling) nonfiction or fiction, I've had the best responses to letters which were less than one page in length. Remember that nothing is set in stone. It's all an experiment. Write your letter at whatever length seems best to you. Your motto should be: "whatever works".
My name is Angela Booth. I'm seeking representation for my book: Writing To Sell In the Internet Age. The target audience is writers, and aspiring writers, who want to be paid for their skill with words.
Writing To Sell In the Internet Age discusses the new earning power that Internet
technology gives writers. Many writers are comfortable using the Internet for email and research, but most are unaware that they now have many new opportunities, including:
• Clever new ways to market their work and services with tools like
autoresponders, email mini-courses, ebooks, and promotional ezines;
• The opportunity to develop a loyal following of readers. They can write and
publish instantly, to a worldwide audience millions strong, with tools like Web logs (blogs);
• The ability to target specific niches, and to garner an income much faster than they can via traditional publishing routes. A writer can write an ebook or report this month, and sell it forever.
I've been selling this material as an ebook and as an e-course on my Web site
(http://www.digital-e.biz/ ) for several months. It has been well received, and now I'd like to take the material and use it as the basis for a book.
My credentials for writing the book: I've been an author, writer and copywriter over 25 years. I've been online since 1993, and know the online world well. (I've included a brief bio below.)
As far as I'm aware, there's no other book currently on the market which presents this material. The few Internet-related books for writers currently available came out around 2000, during the height of the dot com boom, and focus on online markets for writers.
Please let me know if you'd like to see a proposal for the book. Sincerely
Write your query letter!
The next step is to write your own query letter. Don’t take too long over this. Make a couple of notes of points you want to include, and write it. You can include your blurb --- your blurb could in fact make up the bulk of your letter.
Here's a quick outline for your letter:
A. Introduce yourself in 20 words or less, and state your business --- "I'm seeking representation for my book: [title]…"
C. Your credentials.
D. Identify the market for the book.
"Don'ts" for your query letter
1. Don't make unsupported claims for yourself or your book
Please don't say that you're successful or that you've written a bestseller. Only
beginning writers make claims like this. The agent or editor will immediately classify you as a novice, and an irritating one at that.
(On the other hand, if a well-known much-published writer has praised you or your book, say so, and give his/ her contact details so that the editor can call him/ her.)
2. Don't mention that you're unpublished
The agent will figure it out when you don’t mention writing credits. Please note:
THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. Everyone has to start somewhere. Editors and agents know this, and they won’t hold it against you. They will judge your book proposal query on its merits. If an agent feels that your material is something that she can sell, she will contact you. As will an editor, if she feels that the writing in your query letter is to the point and professional, and she thinks that your book idea is a good one.
3. Don't mention that your partner, your best friend, or the milkman think that you’re a good writer or that you've got a brilliant idea for a book
Unless these people have publishing credits, no one cares. Mentioning them marks you not only as an amateur, but also as someone who may be difficult to work with. What do I mean by "difficult to work with"? Before you sign a contract, your agent and editor will judge your behaviour, looking for tell-tale signs that you might be a problem writer.
o Argue when asked to rewrite. Almost everything you write will need to be rewritten. Your agent will ask you to add, delete or revise material in your proposal. Your editor will ask for rewrites on your book, and perhaps more than one rewrite. Therefore, if you show any sign that you may drag your feet over these chores, or do them without a song on your lips, they will dump you. Life's too short, and publishing is too competitive to indulge anyone's temperament;
o Procrastinate. Publishing is always on a tight deadline. From the day of your first contact, you must show that you can work to deadline.
o Can't follow instructions. Never be afraid to ask if there is
something you don’t understand. For example, if you're asked for a "bio" and you don’t know how to write one, ask. No one will think less of you for asking, but they will take several steps backward if you don’t follow instructions, or if you decide that you will do things your way.
o Turn in a messy or less-than-pristine typescript. Or fail to send an electronic file when asked.
4. Don't be specific
Many writers are never asked for a proposal because they don’t nail the query letter. If you tell an agent your book is about "growing up in the fifties", the agent will simply ignore you. This is not specific enough. You must be totally specific, so that the person you're writing to can visualise the book, and can also visualise where it will fit into the marketplace.
Writers do this sort of thing because they're insecure. They imagine that if
they're vague, the agent will ask to see their book because they want to know exactly what it's about. This is a HUGE mistake. Agents and editors receive hundreds of letters and proposals each week. If you're not specific, you give the impression that you haven’t thought out your proposal.