Workshop 14: The Perfect Book Proposal
“Too many authors spend three or four years writing and only three or four minutes on proposals,” said Chip MacGregor, owner of MacGregor Literary Agency, during his workshop The Perfect Book Proposal.
MacGregor explained the big picture of publishing: A proposal is a series of sales—from author to agent to editor to editorial team to publishing board to retail to readers. In order to succeed with the first sale, you must provide a taste of who you are and reveal your writing skills and overall story.
The point of a proposal
The point is to get an editor or agent to read your manuscript, MacGregor said. “Many proposals I get look the same. Yours needs to stand out.” He stressed that the most important element of the proposal is the quality of the writing and then shared nine more elements:
- One sheet: Since those attending were familiar with this, it was not discussed.
- Title: There are different ways to title your book from descriptive to thoughtful, MacGregor said. However, the title you choose may not be the one the publisher chooses to use. “Seventy five percent of the time, the title is changed by the publisher,” he said.
- Hook: The second most important part of your proposal. It is a nontechnical sentence that says what the book is about. “This is what makes your proposal stand out. Take time to write it,” MacGregor said.
- Overview: A quick flyover of your story. This should cover the story in no more than nine sentences and include character, core, cause, conflict, and cliffhanger.
- Genre: Where your book fits into the market. Do not make up a genre. Publishers publish in lines that are standard across the industry.
- Manuscript: If you are a new writer or changing houses, your manuscript must be complete. Indicate the word count and whether it is done, but do not include the entire manuscript in your proposal. “Many publishers are looking for more words now, generally 80,000 to 110,000 words,” MacGregor said.
- Bio: Should be short and provide information that tells the agent you are a good writer, rather than personal information.
- Synopsis: Your formal description of the book written in the present tense. Lay out the whole story, includingall major plot points—including the ending. “Show the action, but don’t include dialogue or a lot of description,” MacGregor said. It should reveal your writing ability by briefly telling the story and making it interesting. No more than three pages.
- Chapters: Include three chapters or 40-50 consecutive pages.
Many times a manuscript is rejected because it is not ready, MacGregor said. “Don’t be in a hurry. This is art. If you are a writer, you are an artist and it takes something to ask people to pay for art.
“How do you get published? Be a great writer. Publishers want to publish great writing.”