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.
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.
Day Six: Write the proposal
Day Six Task
Task One: Write the initial draft of your book proposal
Write the draft quickly. Don’t think too much about it. In your initial draft, you aim for quantity, rather than quality.
Relax! You'll write your draft in stages
Today's the big day. You're going to write your book proposal. If you're starting to freeze up at the thought, relax. You've already done a lot of preparation work, and you're not going to write it all at once. You'll write it by taking the proposal through several clearly defined stages:
A. First draft. This is your "thinking" draft, in which you think on paper. In this draft, you write whatever you like. You're aiming for quantity here, rather than quality. Write this draft full-steam ahead, without stopping to look things up. Consider "writing" this draft by talking into a tape recorder. If you need to do some spot research, just leave a note to yourself, and keep working on the draft. You can look up individual items later. The benefit of doing specific research later is that you may find it's unnecessary. It's quite possible that you'll eliminate this material from a later draft.
B. Your second draft. Your first draft has shown you what you want to say. In this draft, you have a crack at saying it. In your second draft, you organize. You decide what material you want to include, and perhaps expand on, and what material you'll delete. Think of this draft as shaping your material.
C. Your clean-up draft. Your final draft. You've said what you want to say, now you get a chance to say it better. You clean up the redundancies and spice it up.
Paradoxically, the easiest way to write well is to allow yourself to write badly. Every day. This is because writing is hard when you try to think and write at the same time. Allow yourself to think on paper for as many drafts as you need. Then write the final draft with confidence.
Woody Allen once said that 90 per cent of success at anything was just
showing up. I've found that that's very true. So no matter how bad you feel your
writing is at any given time, go ahead anyway. Your writing is not as bad as you
think, it's simply a crisis of confidence, and even if it is rough when you first get it on the computer screen, it can be fixed. However, if you hesitate, and don’t get it on the computer screen, you have nothing to fix. Get it done!
At the end of this book, in the Appendix, you'll find the complete proposal for my book 7 Days To Easy Money: Copywriting Success. This is a real proposal, and it won an agent contract on first reading. Read it through so that you can see exactly what goes into creating a proposal.
We've already covered what your proposal must contain, here it is again, for reference. Please print this page out:
• A title page, with the title, subtitle, author, word count of the completed book, and estimated time frame for completion. You might state: "75,000 words, completion three months after agreement".
• An overview: a description of the book. This can be as short as a paragraph, or
several pages long.
• The background of the author. Your biography, as it relates to your expertise
for this book.
• The competition in the marketplace. This is where you mention the top four or five titles which are your book's competitors. (Note: if there are dozens of competitors for your book, this is a good thing, because it means that the subject area is popular. Your book will need to take a new slant.)
• Promotions. This is where you describe how you will promote your book, both
before and after publication.
• A chapter outline.
• A sample chapter, or two chapters. This is always the first chapter, and if
you're sending two chapters, it's the Introduction and Chapter One, or if there's no Introduction, it's Chapters One and Two.
• Attachments. Optional. You may want to attach articles you've written about the book's topic, or any relevant supporting material.
Let's write the proposal
Your chapter outline
You've already been working on a major part of the proposal --- the chapter outline. If you like, you can begin today's work by spending an hour or two with that. If your chapter outline still has major holes in it, don't worry too much about it. Today we'll complete an initial draft of the complete proposal, and you can fill in the gaps later.
Your background—why you're the person to write this book
Next, we'll work on the background section.
The first piece of info you'll need to include in the background section is a brief bio. Every book you own has a bio of the author, so take a few books off your shelves and study the author bios. Most are short. Novelists' bios mention the writer's interests, partner, children and pets. The bios of nonfiction writers (that's you) emphasize the writer's academic credentials if it's important to the writer's credibility, or the writer's experience in the field the book covers, or anything else which might be relevant.
Day Seven: Write the sample chapter and revise your proposal
Day Seven Tasks
Task One: Write the sample chapter
Write the first chapter of your book.
Task Two: Revision
Revise the first draft of your complete proposal.
Today you write your sample chapter
Write your sample chapter using the A,B, and C method that we talked about. I've
also described a fast method that I use to write chapters of books below. If you prefer to use a tape recorder, then by all means do that. I prefer to write first drafts by hand, on yellow legal pads. I find that I can relax and enjoy myself when I write by hand. Whichever method you use, just settle down and write the first chapter.
Note: invariably, after you sell the proposal, and are writing the book, you will make changes and it's likely that the final first chapter you write will be very different from the version you're writing today. Since that's the case, just write as quickly as you can.
A fast chapter-writing method
Writing a chapter of a book is like writing a long article. Most chapters are
somewhere between 2000 and 4000 words, but if you want to write a short chapter of 1500 words, that's fine too. Remember that you can’t do any of this wrong, and it's your choice.
Here's a method that I use when I'm writing a chapter in a book. Adapt it to your own needs.
1. Reread your notes
Reread the notes that you've made during this week.
2. Talk to yourself on paper
Then take five minutes and write out exactly what you want to include in this chapter. This isn't an outline; your notes can be as brief, or as lengthy as you wish. I usually talk to myself on paper, like this:
"What do I want to cover in this chapter? I want the reader to understand (this process/ theory/ idea/ method). I also want to include these five anecdotes. What do the anecdotes show? The first one shows that…"
By talking to myself like this, I eliminate performance anxiety. Some writers do the same thing by writing their chapters as letters: they can take it easy, as if they're talking to a friend. The big benefit of using a method like this is that it does away with formality and stiffness.
3. When you're ready, write
When you feel ready, start to write. As you're writing, just get the words out as quickly as you can. It's useful to set a goal for the number of pages in an hour. I usually aim for three pages an hour. However, if you feel that having a number of pages that you "must" write an hour stresses you, then don't set a goal like this.
When you're writing:
• Turn on the answering machine, and turn off your email program;
• Close your office door;
• Set yourself goal of either pages written, or words written;
• Don’t reread your notes. If you need to look something up, just write "tk"
which is an old printer's mark meaning "to come", and keep on writing. If you stop to look something up it may derail your train of thought. Plus you may think: oh, I need to cover this, and this, and this must go in. Assure yourself that you won’t be able to cover everything. Trust that your subconscious will deliver the material which needs to go into the first chapter ;
• Keep going even if you're sure that what you’re writing is less than your best work. You can tidy it all up later. Just get the words down.
If you find that your writing goes slowly with this first chapter, that's normal. First
chapters are always slow to write, because you haven’t found the right tone and voice in which to write your book. Once you find those, the writing will go much more easily. Because first chapters are always slow, it's important that you don’t leave your desk until you've written the number of words you set out to write.
Revising your proposal
When you've completed the first chapter, print out the entire proposal. Then go and do something else --- go and watch a movie, or have lunch. Take a good break of at least a couple of hours before you come back to read your proposal.
How to revise
Just like your writing, your revision will go through several phases. Copyediting, or line revision, where you fiddle with word choices and grammar, comes last. Here are the steps:
1. Read the entire proposal
Read the proposal straight through. Keep note-making to a minimum. This is so you can get a sense of how the material reads. When you've finished this initial readthrough, ask yourself whether what you've written stays close to your blurb. If it doesn’t, you can either change your blurb --- perhaps you've been inspired with some creative new ideas --- or you can change your proposal.
While this read-through is fresh in your mind, write out your impressions. Have you covered most of what you want to include? What else do you think the proposal needs?
2. Slash and burn
Before you start cutting, rename your document (Version B or B1, or whatever naming process makes sense to you).
Now go through the proposal and take out the material that you've decided you want to eliminate. If it's too painful to simply hit the Delete key, cut the material and paste it into another document.
3. Add material
In this pass through the proposal, add the material the proposal needs. Perhaps you've done some additional research --- write up all the material you want to include.
4. Read for coherency
Print out your proposal, and read it through to check for coherency. Make sure that you've included transitions in your sample chapter.
5. Revise for style
In this pass through the material, you get to jazz it up, if you wish.
In this final pass through your proposal, check for grammar and word usage.
You've done it, congratulations!
You've completed your book proposal. Now comes the fun part, selling your proposal. If you need any help with this, you can contact me at any time. Don't forget to send me a copy of the ms for your free appraisal.