Thursday, June 11, 2015

It's just a proposal by Terry Burns

Giving a workshop on making submissions a number of the writers there admitted to just "throwing stuff into proposal" to flesh out what it called for. I mean, it's just a proposal, right? The main thing is for the writing to be really good.

Actually no, better than 80% of all submissions are rejected without a word of the writing being read. WHAT? That can't be, you say?

You see whether they admit it to themselves or not, most agents and editors know that any submission they are looking at will not work for them. They aren't being negative, the numbers tell them that. They are looking at dozens, for many even hundreds of submissions for a painfully few available slots. The time pressure is great so they just read until they find the 'no fit' point where they can respond that it won't work for them and move on.

That 'no fit' point probably comes in reading the proposal. Something in it tells them that the project won't work for them and chances are that is the point where they quit reading. It may come as early as the subject line of the email or the cover letter.

A successful submission does depend on the quality of the writing, but to get to that point we have to survive our way through the reading of the proposal and be one of the few manuscripts left on the desktop at the end set aside for reading. The 80% number sounds very discouraging, but what that means is we are only up against the 15-20% of the writers that are doing it right. Pretty good odds.

So the writing does have to be stellar,  but every piece of the proposal tells whoever is reviewing the submission something important. The cover letter grabs their attention and lures them into reading the proposal. The author bio shows we are serious about writing. The comparables serve to identify our reader base in terms an agent or editor can identify with. The marketing information tells them we have a plan to sell books and that can be vital. The writing same includes the most critical part of the whole manuscript. Does the first page have a hook that forces the reader to turn the page? Is the reader invested in the story by page ten? Does each chapter push the reader on to the following one? Most acquisition people can accurately determine if the whole project will work for them or not just on the strength of this sample.

Just a proposal? If the proposal isn't crafted so it will do it's job, the actual writing may not get a chance to show its worth. I know there are some exceptional projects that slip through just because the author did not present it properly to get it the full consideration. It's just how it works.

You can add to that the fact that the proposal is the tool we use to sell the project if we decide to take it on. That means we are looking at every one of them and asking "Can I use this to sell this project?" Initially the proposal is more important that the manuscript itself.

I don't mind losing out, either on a submission of my own or on one for a client if the submission makes to to the stack on the desk to be read. If I do that means somebody just wrote a better book, and I'm good with that. But I don't want to lose out because I failed to present a proposal that got the job done to get that manuscript considered.

None of us want that.


Joyce Hart said...

I wish all the people who send me queries that are simply not what we, or the publishers, are looking for would read this blog. Very sound, good advice.

Linda Glaz said...

Amen. I get so frustrated particularly when I know someone could have done a wonderful job.