Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Write a Proposal That an Editor Will Love: Part I

A great proposal is your calling card because before you can present a proposal to me, you first need to impress an agent. Like most editors, I rarely read unsolicited queries, proposals, or manuscripts unless they are sent to me by an agent, or I meet you at a writers workshop and think your pitch is special.

So if I don't take unsolicited queries or proposals, you must think it's impossible to get published. I won't sugarcoat my answer. It is hard. You need to work at your craft. How many hours a week do you spend writing? I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, but I do want you to examine your priorities.

Would a baseball player expect to play in the majors if he never practiced? Of course not. Do you think Stephen King or other famous writers were born with their fingers tapping on a typewriter or keyboard, spitting out words?

No, they're just like you. They were born with the same burning desire to write. What makes them stand out are the reams of paper covered with words that they tossed into the trashcan. They practiced, and they never gave up.

Before you can interest an agent or an editor in you as a author, you first need to write and rewrite your manuscript.Then learn the art of pitching your story. A professional proposal with polished sample chapters will impress an agent that you have what it takes to succeed.

If you don't know how to write a proposal, check out Agent Chip MacGregor's website at Under his resources tab, he's posted at least two proposals as examples. Check out other agent websites as well to find out what they look for in a query or proposal.

Every editor looks for similar elements in a proposal because when we take a project to Pub Board, we have to sell it to colleagues from almost every part of the publishing house. In Part 2, I'll discuss those elements.

In the meantime, your homework is to read as many agent blogs and websites as you can. Read and analyze proposals. You may find you're ready for your breakthrough!

                    Let's talk about your dreams in the comments section. What is your
                    dream worth to you? If your dream to write is God-given, ask Him
                    to help you make time to spend practicing your craft. Remember
                    the Scripture, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."


  1. Interesting question! What is my dream worth? Well, it's worth keeping my backside in the chair day after day. It's worth a whole shelf full of craft books and traveling to writer's conferences and retreats. Worth spending time on blogs to learn about agents, queries, and proposals.

    It's worth cutting back on other activities.

    I think the main reason it's worth all that is because I feel like I'm doing what God created me to do when I write.

  2. Thanks for this post. I'm looking forward to reading more. I'll do the homework!

  3. Thanks for the push. After spending years writing and rewriting, going to conferences, and critique groups, I know my next step is treating it as a business and not a hobby--planned writing everyday, reading blogs, researching and communicating within the writing industry.

  4. The last couple of years I've done some soul-searching about my writing. When I decided to be serious about fiction I had an inkling of what my real dreams were, but not until this summer did I find the release to fully comprehend them.

    I'm compelled to write. It is my way of expressing the wondrous works of God. The release to write solely for Him was all I needed. God would take care of the rest. The study of the craft, the struggle for the right words, the emotional energy poured into the manuscript all can now stem from my love for the message and for my God. And because I love, all that goes into the work is worth it.

    The dream to be traditionally published has now shifted from the pride of saying 'hey, I'm published by such and such a company' to enjoying the process and believing that the end product will be pleasing to God. I'm looking forward to learning from editors how to make my stories which tell of God's wondrous works that much better, that much more powerful . . . all for His glory. My love for Him demands my very best, and I need others to help me get there. Most definitely it is worth it.

  5. My dream is sometimes so dangerous! It's hard to wait for that still small voice when my writing dreams stomp around like King Kong. Maintaining forward momentum while still sitting at Jesus' feet can be tough. And getting published doesn't make the delicate balance any easier.

  6. May the Lord bless all of your dreams and make a way for you to publish! It sounds as though you've all put in the time on improving your craft.

    I'm at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference Today and talking with authors who have finished their first novels. I can see they are true labors of love, and I hope my input will help them on their journeys to fulfilling their dreams.

    That which the Lord has begun in you, He will finish.

    Have a wonderful day tomorrow!

  7. Loved the post, and then grinned when you referred to "authors who have finished their first novels." Three years ago, I would have included myself in that group, and early, favorable response from editors and others reinforced that delusion. :)

    Now I'm realizing the truth that no one is born a master. It requires a serious pursuit of skills, and now I'm wondering if a novel is ever truly "finished." There's always room for improvement.

    Looking forward to your posts on writing proposals!

  8. I'm back to work after a blissful, God-blessed two months of summer vacation. I got to spend an hour each morning before my little man woke up and another two during his afternoon nap each day to write! Talk about bliss. Now, I'm lucky to get an hour in the morning after my quiet time. It's definitely a shock to the system! (This happens every year!)

  9. When I began many years ago, I was told I would have to write a million words before I could hope to be published. I said, "Thank you for the tip," and started writing. I was published before I wrote a million words. My first story in Highlights for Children fulfilled my first dream and I immediately chose another one... Several dreams later, Abingdon published my first novel, for kids 9-12. About the Abingdon released MY NEW SISTER THE BULLY, our son came home with a four month old baby and a broken heart... so my dream changed. I could write nonfiction in stolen moments but fiction took blocks of hours. So in the following years I published 22 nonfiction books for kids and adults and fulfilled that dream. Now, I am back to my original dream, Christian fiction for women.

  10. I figure I have about 10 years before I'll be able to devote the time to my writing that I dream about. My idea notebook grows longer as the various people I encounter through my counseling day job grow a story seed. When I finally reach a place where I'll be able to write, hopefully I'll have enough fodder to last me forever. If the Lord wants me to write, he'll provide the life situations to enable me to do that. In the mean time, I'll spend time reading books/blogs on craft. It's still a win-win when I put it in the right perspective. :)

  11. Thank you for sharing that scripture.