Sandra D. Bricker has been publishing in both the Christian and general markets for years with novels for women and teens, magazine articles and short stories. With 12 books in print and another slated for publication in 2011, Sandie has carved out a niche for herself as an author of laugh-out-loud romantic comedy for the inspirational market. The Big 5-OH!, her first novel for Abingdon Press, hits shelves in February 2010. Sandie was an entertainment publicist for 15+ years, an experience that fuels her penchant for promoting her books with flare and creativity. She currently writes while working a day job as a content editor in Tampa, Florida, where she resides with a free-spirited collie named Sophie.
The Keys to Unlocking a Killer Book Proposal
In recent years, I’ve received a lot of comments on my book proposals from editors and agents. They’ve been appreciated, and sometimes praised, for their clean look, concise delivery of information, and attention to the publisher’s concerns about marketing.
To be fair, I should reveal that my proposal-creating skills stem from a background that not a lot of authors have. I was an entertainment publicist for 15+ years, and I learned during that time how to write a great press release, create media kits and organize information in a way that appeals to “skimmers” (those folks too busy to read every word; they just skim).
So, with that in mind, what makes up a great book proposal?
BREVITY. Editors have very little time. There is a picture of an editor in some dictionary out there, positioned right next to the definition of Skimmer. Bear in mind that they have anywhere from a dozen to a hundred proposals on their To Do list on any given day, and you’re only going to get a minute or so to capture their attention. The quickest way to blow it? Ignoring this tip to Be Brief.
FOCUS. Sure, you’re a fascinating individual with a ton of great experience. But try to keep your target audience in mind with each and every word on the page. Ask yourself one question: What part of my experience is MOST likely to tell this editor that I’m someone they want onboard? For me, my marketing experience is always something I try to include, even if it’s just one sentence. In addition, three readers’ choice recognitions for my first novel in the inspirational market tells them that I’m building a reader base among their specific demographic.
ORGANIZATION. Be sure to organize the information in a clean, concise way.
1. Title Page
a. Include your name, contact numbers, email address, Web site and/or blog address. If you have an agent that will be submitting it for you, be sure to include their information.
b. Give them the basics.
• The title of the novel
• The approximate word count of the finished product
• The type of book it is (mine always say something like “A Laugh-Out-Loud Romantic Comedy for the Inspirational Market”)
• A log line for the novel (for Always the Baker, Never the Bride, the log line was “They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too; but who would want a cake you couldn’t eat?”)
• A brief overview that reads like a back cover blurb, no more than a paragraph.
2. Author Information Page
a. A short bio, a half page at most. Remember: Brevity and Focus. What experience do you have that makes you the perfect author to round out this particular publisher’s list?
b. Add some brief marketing information. Be sure to demonstrate a clear understanding of your readership and how you plan to reach them. DO NOT present pie-in-the-sky dreams of what you want to do; instead, present what you’ve done before, and what you will do again.
c. It’s often helpful to include what I call The Short List, a brief mention of comparable books (successful novels that generated solid sales figures) already out there. If you can’t think of any, it’s better to skip this element than to say something like, “There’s nothing out there like this! It’s completely unique!”
d. If you’re a multi-published author, this will be the spot where you’ll include some sales figures to demonstrate your ability to sell books.
a. There are many schools of thought on the length of a solid proposal synopsis, but I like to keep it to about 2-3 pages because you want to capture the editor’s attention with the least amount of words.
b. You don’t have to worry about throwing in all of the unexpected plot twists. This is an overview of your story. One of the most important tips I can give you from the feedback I’ve received from editors is this: Be sure to write your synopsis in the voice and tone of the book you’re proposing. This is a very small but important stage where you can showcase you personality as a writer. For instance, my synopses are narrated with a present tense comedic tone.
• Example: When her father shows up for the opening at the same time, Emma suspects that Jackson’s so-called Family Circus is going to look awfully tame in the reflection of the Travis Cirque de Soleil!
c. I like to propose a question at the end of a short synopsis; something that makes the editor want to know more, while revealing just a hint of where I’m headed with the story.
• Example: Can these two ill-suited players master the high-wire act and make a go of their new business venture? Or will they take each other crashing downward, without a net?
4. Sample Chapters
a. A proposal will usually include the first three chapters; however, this is not a hard and fast rule. It is dependent upon your writing style and the length of your chapters.
b. A general rule of thumb: Include the first 40-50 pages of your novel.
c. Be very certain to format and organize these pages so that your excerpt concludes at a prime point that will make an editor really want to keep reading to see what happens next.
Olivia Wallace can’t remember a birthday that wasn’t marked by illness, tragedy or both. And now, as she approaches The Big Five-Oh, she is determined to change her course. Better late than never, right? That’s what Liv believes when she leaves a snowy Ohio winter behind and runs away to Florida to regroup. Amidst a crazy cast of characters that include a dog with a lampshade collar, a rogue alligator and a flirtatious octogenarian, Liv finds the biggest birthday surprise of all … A second chance at love. To read a review of The Big 5-Oh! click here.