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  • Writer's pictureJanette Johnson Melson

Ready to Take Action? Then Complete That Proposal

Before my first writers’ conference in 2018, I had to design a one sheet for my agent meeting. Just hearing the term threw me in a tizzy because I didn’t know what a one sheet was. And the first article I read to familiarize myself with the term said that you shouldn’t wait to the last minute to begin working on it. But, unfortunately, due to a glitch in the conference computer system, I hadn’t been receiving the emails for first-time attendees. So, the first time I even heard the term was a week before the conference! Can you feel my anxiety? I managed to pull one together in time, but it sure was stressful. Then at the conference, I heard another term which I had some familiarity with but didn’t understand all its aspects with regard to the publishing world. That word was proposal.

In my last blog, I talked about the proposal, a document which agents, editors and publishers use to determine if they are interested in working with an author. I explained that agencies often have different, though similar, requirements for proposals and how important it is to research and follow their rules and guidelines for submission. I described the initial step in the proposal process, which is the query letter, and promised that I would take you through the rest of it, which is what this blog is about.

Most agencies which accept proposals require the following parts:

  1. Query Letter – As discussed previously, your query letter will tell about yourself, your book and why you wrote the book. Its job is to sell your novel and yourself as a writer—without overselling. If the query letter doesn’t do its job of wowing the agent and gaining her interest, then she will have no reason to read the full proposal.

  2. Cover page/One sheet – A cover page includes the name of the book, your name, tagline, address, phone, and email. Some agencies require a one sheet in place of a cover page. A one sheet is an illustrated advertisement for your book, which includes the same information as a cover page, plus a back-cover paragraph and an abbreviated biography with your photo.

  3. Biographical Information – Include your writing experience, education, writing/speaking achievements and any prior publishing history.

  4. Story Synopsis – A one- to three-page summary of your entire book. If you think it’s easy to reduce a 277-page novel down to one to three pages, then I dare say that you’ve never tried. It is hard! My first draft was nine pages long, so I had to cull it by 66% to get it to three pages.

  5. Market Analysis – Identify who your target audience is, using as many specific categories as you can, such as age, gender, and career.

  6. Competitive Analysis – Show novels, published in the last five years, which are similar to yours. Similarities can include subject matter, the style in which they are written, the era in which they take place, etc. Not only do you need to find at least three examples of these, but you also need to tell how yours is different and better than your examples.

  7. Marketing strategies – The publishing world has evolved in the last few years. As recently as ten years ago, my role in the marketing of the book would have been minimal—maybe a book signing, speaking engagement or interview here or there. But now, an author is expected to have a book-buying audience already built up before a publisher will even consider buying the rights to his/her book. When I attended my first conference and found this out, I almost gave up. I remember telling my husband, “I don’t think I can do this; all I want to do is write.” But I didn’t give up. I came home and created my own website, author Facebook page, blog and newsletter. And you are now reading the fruits of some of that labor.

  8. First Three Chapters – If your proposal has kept them reading so far, they will want to see what the first three chapters of your actual novel looks like. And if they continue to like what they see, hopefully, they will contact you and want to take you on as a client.

So that, my dear friends, is what a proposal consists of. And as I stated in my October newsletter, I finished mine and sent it to the agent. In fact, I have already heard back from her regarding her decision, and I will tell you all about it in my December newsletter. Let’s just say that I consider myself to be a real author now. You’ll need to be a subscriber to my newsletter if you want to hear what happened. You can do so by clicking on the following link: or by clicking on the “Sign up for my E-newsletter” button at the top of this page.

Happy Thanksgiving! May God’s blessings, which abound, be evident to you during this season of thankfulness!

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