Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Write a Proposal That an Editor Will Love: Part 2

The ACFW Annual Conference draws near, and I promised you a Part 2 on writing a proposal. Editors love proposals that are easy to read and scan, therefore use no more than two different fonts that are easy to read and include the basic elements below:

COVER SHEET: The title of your book, your name, and all of your contact information. Seems simple, but you'd be surprised by how many aspiring authors fail to include contact information.

PAGE TWO: Include the date, your book title and name, and the hook (elevator pitch) that will keep a busy editor reading. Reveal the antagonist and the antagonist’s goal, the protagonist, the main conflict, and the resolution. The ideal elevator pitch should be about 25 words, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. The shorter, the better. Also include your manuscript’s word count, the sales category (romantic suspense, contemporary women, historical romance, fantasy, etc.), and the audience (YA, adult women). If you have room on page two, write a short two- or three-paragraph summary that expands on your elevator pitch, or place it on page three.

MARKETING: Today, an author is responsible for much of the marketing of his or her book. List how you plan to market your novel after publication. Are you a seasoned speaker? Do you blog or regularly post on social networking sites? Are you willing to set up and participate in blog tours or approach book stores or other venues for book signings? Notice how other authors market their books. A clever marketing strategy will catch an editor's attention.

BIO: An editor will want to know if you're a debut author and that you have finished and polished your manuscript. Include writing credits from magazines, newspapers, or blogs. List any organizations to which you belong such as ACFW.

COMPETITION: List authors and novels that would be comparable to your book.

SYNOPSIS: A one-page synopsis (no more than a page and a half) is an essential part of the proposal. Start with a paragraph about your antagonist, followed by a paragraph about her goal, and then give the editor a paragraph each for the antagonist, the conflict, and the resolution.

SAMPLE CHAPTERS: Most editors require that you attach the first three chapters. Many new authors will write and rewrite those sample chapters without subjecting the rest of the manuscript to the same vigorous self-editing. After you find an agent to represent you, he or she will require that your proposal be written to a specific set of guidelines.

For those of you who plan to attend the ACFW conference in Indianapolis, I hope this post has been helpful and wish you all the best in marketing your manuscript to an agent or editor.

Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!


  1. Barbara,

    This is helpful! I've heard conflicting opinions about including competition. What are your thoughts on this? I've read some excellent ways to research competition, but what are some of the best ways you know how to go about this?

    ~ Wendy

  2. Barbara, I'm so looking forward to seeing you again! Only 3 weeks away!

  3. Barbara, in the "Synopsis" section, didn't you mean to say "protagonist" first rather than antagonist followed by a paragraph each for antagonist, conflict and resolution?

    Thanks for simplifying the contents of a proposal. I never had any guideline before until my agent sent me the format she wanted me to follow. I'm going to share this link to all the authors I know and on my website.

  4. Wendy, you're correct. There are differing opinions about competition. Some writers will compare themselves to an author with a sentence like this: "My book is like Karen Kingsbury's [insert title] only instead of writing about a fireman during 911, I write about a nurse." This is not helpful.

    If you don't have an agent yet, I probably wouldn't include competition in your proposal. An agent can help with those details. When the editor takes a project to Pub Board, the other members of the team ask for competition and for sales numbers, but an author doesn't have access to that kind of information.

    If you've published another novel, however, the editor and publisher will want to know your past sales history.

    Hope that helps!

    Jennifer, so looking forward to seeing you, too, at ACFW!

    And Bonnie, yes, I made a boo-boo. I meant protagonist. I wonder if that's a Freudian slip? LOL All those antagonists are chasing me in my dreams.

    It's difficult to find a model for a good proposal until you sign with an agent, but all the elements I mentioned are included. An editor may not read everything, so that's why it's important to make your document clean and simple for those who scan.

    Different editors vary in how they look at a proposal. Some don't read the front matter but instead skip straight to the first sentence of your sample chapter. Others scan the front matter and then read the first paragraph of your proposal. If you can't engage an editor on the first page, many will throw the proposal on the "no" pile.

    If the writing is good, but I'm not engaged, I'll skip to the beginnings of the other two chapters. Often, new writers use the first or second chapter as a back story dump. (I think you and I have talked about this, Bonnie. :) I often find the action doesn't start until chapter three.

    Thanks for sharing this link with others!

  5. Welcome back to blogdom...we missed you.

  6. Thanks Barbara. This was very helpful. I'm looking forward to your workshop in Indy and learning from other industry professionals, too.

    Lisa Carter
    Sweet Tea with a Slice of Murder

  7. Kellie, I missed everyone too. I found that it was more difficult than I thought to keep up with a blog while I was traveling. Brandilyn Collins is a whiz at this. I need to write a few weeks of blogs and keep them on hand to post while I'm away. Now I'm trying to figure out how to post pictures that I took. A techie I am not. LOL

  8. Just came back to let you know your thoughts were helpful. Thank you!
    ~ Wendy

  9. Hi! I am a newbie writer and really appreciate this straightforward outline for writing proposals. I am attending the ACFW conference and I planned on bringing a one sheet with me if/when I pitch my manuscript. What are your thoughts on the one sheet versus a proposal at events like this?

  10. Hi Supamom,

    One-sheets are great to start the conversation with editors and agents. At the end of your conversation, ask if you can send them a query letter or proposal. In the sales world, this is called "the close." All they can do is say no.

    Don't let a rejection at ACFW discourage you. If you have a couple of minutes, ask how you could improve the pitch for next year's conference. Some will answer that question, and others won't.

    Be mindful of your time and wrap up your 15-minute conversation promptly. Someone else is waiting behind you to speak with the faculty member.

    Then thank them for their time and willingness to meet with you. And don't forget to smile and be yourself.

    Hope that helps!

  11. Thanks a bunch! Looking forward to Indianapolis!

  12. Excellent post. Straightforward useful information.

  13. Thanks for the information. I'm preparing this very thing right now so it's helpful.

  14. Thanks for this excellent post. This information should be helpful to me when I have my manuscripts all done and clean.