Proposals and Conferences
September 6, 2007 | Written by admin
Camille wrote to say, "I enjoyed your answers to the question about the worst proposals you’ve ever seen. But I wonder, at the risk of being gypped out of a wonderfully sarcastic answer, what are some examples of the BEST proposals and submissions you’ve seen?"
The best proposal I’ve ever had cross my desk cold was from Mary DeMuth, who at the time was an unpublished author living somewhere in a godforsaken place like Texas. She had spent countless hours researching her stuff, had refined her writing, and sent in a proposal that was so good I don’t think I had to do much of anything except show it to publishers and wait for the offers. (However, I DID try to help her out by taking all the credit for it.) Not only did we sell that book, but Mary has gone on to create a half-dozen others. I’ll check with her and see if she’d be willing to post a sample proposal somewhere.
Sometimes I’ve been totally surprised by proposals. I recently saw a proposal from collaborative writer Donna Wallace that was so good I called her about it before I’d even gotten to the last page. Susan Page Davis can whip up a strong proposal in no time — the words just seem to flow out of her. And, of course, sometimes the best thing a novelist can do is to complete a strong draft of their work, so that an editor who picks it up can’t stop reading and simply has to buy the book. I can think of three novelists I represent (Chris Coppernoll, Jenny Jones, and Kimberly Stuart) who all created such strong images I knew their work would sell right away (and they all did).
Alive Communications, an industry-leading literary agency where I used to work, has a couple of great sample proposals posted on their site. This is a huge benefit to beginning authors, and I’m always surprised it doesn’t get talked about more often among people at writer conferences and email loops. They keep the Lisa Beamer LET’S ROLL proposal up (it was a collaborative effort, created by writer Ken Abraham and myself). That’s a book that hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, and the proposal is really strong — one of the best I ever represented. Alive also has a great fiction proposal on their site — Neta Jackson’s THE YADDA YADDA PRAYER GROUP, a bestselling novel I represented for them. And I believe they now have a strong nonfiction proposal for a book my buddy Beth Jusino represented. You may think it’s odd that I’d steer you to another agency’s web site, but I love the team at Alive and have always appreciated the benefit they offer writers by sharing proposals for free.
On my own agency web site (www.MacGregorLiterary.com), I’ve got a couple of very nice sample proposals. One is from Sandra Glahn, who puts together these extraordinarily well done proposals and sends them to me complete, so that I have to do very little in terms of getting them ready for disseminating to publishers. The other sample proposal on my site is from Andy Andrews, who works with his genius manager, Robert Smith, to craft interesting, thorough proposals that offer a publisher no reason to decline publication. Either one should get your mind moving in some creative directions when it comes to crafting a nice proposal.
Gloria wrote me to note, "I had an editor request a proposal at a writers’ conference. He had looked it over and told me he liked it. I sent the proposal, but got back a form rejection just a week later. Now I’ve been told by several friends not to get my hopes up when an editor requests a copy of my proposal. So my question is simply, how much stock can we put into requests for proposals from editors at conferences? Would writers be better served just meeting with agents?"
Let me begin by stating that the author of this question requested I tell everyone her name is "Gloria," even though it isn’t. I have no idea why…but I find it interesting that people are now requesting fake names of me. If YOU need a good fake name, send me your request and I’ll do my best, for a very reasonable fee. Anyway, as I’ve noted before, it’s nice for an editor at a conference to request a proposal from you (better they request it than they reject it on the spot). But a request at a conference doesn’t mean all that much. I’m not trying to burst anyone’s bubble, but too many editors will simply say "send this to me" because they’re such weenies they can’t make themselves say, "This isn’t good enough." So don’t put a huge amount of stock in an editor’s request. Be happy they agreed to take a second look. Put together a great proposal and send it directly to the editor. But don’t be picking out that new Lexus based on such a request.
Think of the book publishing process as being a series of steps: You’ve got to learn to write; come up with a salable idea; establish a platform; create a great proposal; select an agent who is a good fit for you; research publishers; convince an editor to take a close look at your proposal; etc. There’s a lot of work to do in between the first stage (where you say, "Hey, Mickey! Let’s write a book!") and the last stage (where you get arrested for partying in Vegas with Lindsey Lohan and wind up spending your royalties on repairs to your Masseratti and doctor bills for your rehab session in the Betty Ford Clinic). So, somewhere in between Mickey and Betty, you’re going to want to establish healthy relationships with people in the industry. Conferences are a great way to do that.
A proposal shown to an editor at a conference is a way to make contact. Maybe they like your idea. Maybe they like your writing. Maybe they’re not crazy about your idea or your writing, but you hit it off personally and they like YOU. You’re setting the bar too high if you think you’re going to show a proposal to an editor at a 15-minute appointment and expect him or her to make you an offer. Still, the whole relationship dance in publishing is part of the process, so don’t give up on the concept of meeting editors, showing them your work, making a good impression, and perhaps starting a professional relationship.
At the same time, I highly encourage authors to meet as many agents as they can at writing conferences. Far too many authors sign up with the first agent who expresses interest in their work, rather than researching to find out if the agent is a fit, believes in their work, and has the track record to sell their work. So, yes, I’d encourage you to focus on agents. We’ve seen huge growth in the number of people calling themselves Christian Literary Agents, and, in my humble opinion, some of them are awful. They just don’t know what they’re doing, and they cannot offer an author the sort of advice or professional relationships that are needed to succeed in the long term. Meeting people, getting to know them, checking references and asking questions are the right steps in determining the best agent for you.
But let me state this plainly: I’m not trying to get you to sign with me. I’m happy with the authors I’m representing, don’t want to build a huge list of authors (it’s not really my style), and besides, I’m not a fit for everybody. Some authors will be happy with me, others will be much happier signing on with someone else. But signing on with a bad agent can kill your career. So check people out carefully.
If you’ve got a question about writing or publishing, send it my way and I’ll offer my miscellaneous meanderings.