Source: Proposals – a few thoughts from Sandra on why and how – ChipMacGregor.com
Chip MacGregor has a great blog with great advice. Just don’t feed his ego too much. 😉 Chip had this to say today in response to a question about proposals. I think it’s excellent advice.
Okay, look. There are tons of books on crafting proposals and even more websites and samples floating around on websites. We have a fiction proposal on our website which leans toward the technical side, but they don’t all have to be that way. One thing I always try to keep in mind when I’m advising authors (or sometimes helping them) with proposals is that editors are busy and overwhelmed. They need good information put together in a manner which makes it easy to find the specific details they will need if/when they’re discussing your project with their counterparts or presenting it in a pub meeting. So yes, the sections you see in a sample proposal can seem confusing and a bit like you’re being asked to jump through hoops, but if you’re willing to make their jobs easier, trust me, you and your work will stand out and they’ll appreciate you for it.
Having said all that, personally, here’s a framework for how I like to see proposals organized:
Basic overview info to help orient the reviewer to your project. Genre, category, setting, word count, status (finished or not), brief author intro.
What is the book about? This is a one paragraph (or one sentence, if you can do it) handle at this point – not the full synopsis.
Why is the author the one person in the universe qualified to write this book and what are his/her plans for helping the publisher promote and sell it?
Who are the specific consumers likely to plunk down their hard earned cash to buy your book?
Answers the question – can the author really write?
For fiction, I like for this to follow the sample chapters so the editor has a chance to get the same first impression a reader would. Hard to do if they’ve looked through the synopsis first.
Different editors look for different information first. Some like to see right away if they recognize the author before they go any further. Some jump right to the bottom and read a few lines to see if the person can write. Still others want to know how the book fits in the marketplace and how this author/project compares to what’s already out there. If the information and supporting elements are easy to find and deliver answers to their key questions, that’s really what most editors want initially. The reason publishers need so much covered in a proposal is that this is often all they have to go on when they are making decisions in meetings about which projects to potentially make an offer on. And the editor who is presenting it is often taking a bit of a risk.
By the time it reaches the final decision stage, typically editors will have already gone through the discovery phase and answered several questions for themselves. Yes, they look at the sample chapters, but they rarely convince a publishing committee to make a “yes” decision (i.e. take a business risk) solely on the writing alone. It happens, but, like I said they often need, especially for newer authors who may not be widely recognized, good support information to help them sell it the project in-house.