Jane wrote to ask, “What is the industry standard for citing sources in a proposal?”
The standard is pretty much the same as in a book — you want to cite your sources adequately. Sure, a proposal isn’t going to be published, so you don’t have all the same legal requirements that you do in a book, but you still want to make sure you cite the words correctly, you identify the source, and you give enough information that a reasonable person could pursue the source and confirm your citation.
So if you’re doing a nonfiction book that touches on the American Civil War, and you cite some facts from Bruce Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army, you’d want to cite the source (at least offer the author’s name and the title of the book). If this were to make it to an actual printed book for sale on store shelves, you’d need more detail — publisher, date, page number. But for a proposal, at least make sure to cite your sources.
I mention this because I recently received two proposals that made wild, over-the-top claims, and offered no evidence to buttress their position — so I was supposed to take their word for it that “everybody knows [a certain political figure] is gay.” Well, I’m sorry, but everybody does NOT know that. And the person, if in fact gay, has never come out of the closet to say she is. Unfortunately, that proposition was essential for the book to work, so in context the author really needed to provide some source for the statement. Otherwise, it was nothing more than innuendo, and undercut the entire project.
Gwynne wrote to say, “When working on historical fiction, if an author is using real people from history and not invented characters, what is the author’s responsibility to the character? I sometimes admit to feeling guilty of slander — I’m using real people, but my judgments of their deeds and motivations is quite different than that of historians. What is the ethical line between historical fiction and history?”
I don’t think there is a line connecting them. A novelist who is creating a story and weaving in actual people and events probably owes some debt to the reader to try and get the basic historical facts correct, I suppose (though even that is a questionable supposition, and many authors have altered facts and dates in order to tell a better story), but a novel isn’t a textbook. It doesn’t have a restriction that “you must have all your facts correct” or “you must accept the commonly held notions about a character’s motivations.” The author is inventing a story to entertain, maybe to explore themes and motivations, not to teach history. So, while I wouldn’t create a story in which the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor on July 11, I see nothing wrong with an author creating a story depicting an interesting twist — that Roosevelt knew about the attack ahead of time, or that the attack was a rogue group of Japanese military, or that it was all a mistake done by aliens who were looking for Hawaiian shirts and pineapples.
It’s a novel. You can choose to tie events closely to historical facts, or you can choose to recreate history as you see fit in order to entertain readers.
With fiction, it’s the story that counts, not the accuracy of the events. Besides, if we all knew the deeds and motivations of historical events, there would be no need to explore them further. A novel allows us to consider alternative
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.
This topic was sparked by a question from Evangeline. She noticed on her own site that video clips and vlogs resulted in the most comments and interactions from fans/potential fans.
But what are the rules for putting together a great video post?
First of all, there are different kinds of ways that you can use video to promote yourself as an author.
- There’s the book trailer,
- There’s the pitch video,
- And there’s the vlog (video blog).
I’m sure there are other avenues, but these ones stand out to me as having the most potential. So let’s look at each in depth.
We’ve all been to the movies. We’ve all seen movie trailers. Book trailers are no different. They’re 30-second advertisements for your book. They focus on the book’s hook and should connect the audience with no more than three characters (hero, heroine, villain). To get an idea of what a GREAT book trailer looks like, take a look at this one for Ally Condie’s Matched.
This one is quite a bit more high-tech than others, but even then, it’s simplistic in that it doesn’t use live-action scenes. It uses catchy design techniques to create a sophisticated look.
Here’s another one, this time by my author, Conlan Brown:
Conlan made that one on his own. Granted, he’s educated in film-making, but still…
If you don’t trust your trailer-making abilities, you may want to consider hitting up the local college. For a few hundred dollars, I’m sure you could employ a student to do your bidding.
Pitch videos are 1-2 minute videos that can be used when pitching your book to an agent or editor. A few
Denise wants to know, “What’s really the purpose of a market analysis in a proposal? What kind of information are you looking for? It seems like the agent is the one who knows the market, so I’m not sure why an author is asked to do this.”
A market analysis serves as an advance organizer to a publisher. It helps reveal there is a market is for the new book, helps describe the potential audience, and helps the publisher think through how they could market and sell the new title. A market analysis is a way of saying, “You once published this title, and my proposed book is similar.” The author does the legwork to put this together because it’s the author’s job to create the best proposal possible. A good agent will work with you to tweak this section, perhaps recommending other titles or revising the descriptions to best fit each publishing house.
Often writers will come to me with a pitch that says, “Nobody has ever done anything like this before!” That fails to recognize the real world of publishing. Companies discover how to produce and sell certain types of books — for example, Bethany House knows how to sell historical fiction with a gentle faith element, and the folks at Mulholland know how to sell books to those who like edgy crime fiction. Imagine walking up to a nonfiction publisher and saying, “You’ve never done western novels before, so the market is wide open!” It’s stupid — that’s not how publishers think. If you bring them a new project, you need to explain the market for the book, and help them to see how they are going to succeed with it.
Generally a market analysis explains who the book is aimed at, who the readership is, lists three to eight published books that have had some success, explains each book briefly, and may subtly define how the
In keeping with our discussion of creating proposals, Carol wrote to ask, “Do blog posts count as ‘prior publishing?’ Do I have publishing rights to my work if it’s been printed in a blog or an e-zine?”
This used to be an easy question to answer — if something appeared in a blog, it meant nothing to an editor. Blogs were seen as personal diaries, not as published, marketed venues for writers. They were ephemeral literature, but not as weighty as a newspaper story, not as significant as a magazine article, and certainly nowhere near the importance of a book.
Now all that has changed. Blogs are seen as being great tools for reaching a core audience, for marketing, for sharing an author’s story. And it’s clear that you can sometimes reach far more people with your blog than you will with a book. And with that fact, the importance of blog writing changed. Now every editor will ask if a prospective author has a blog, and if so, how many people read it. So, yes, your blog writing (and the accompanying audience) counts at “previous writing.”
Many editors aren’t comfortable accepting material that has already appeared on a blog. In fact, I just had a contract with a major publisher and we had to negotiate what the author could and couldn’t use from her blog. So make sure to research the publisher (be it books or magazines), and find out if they have guidelines already in place on the topic or re-using material. If you’re worried about selling a piece to a book publisher or magazine, you’re probably wise to not include everything you’ve got on your blog, since the publisher will want some fresh material. And by all means, if you’re asked about it, tell the editor the truth. If you blogged about a topic and now want to write an article on the same subject, admit that
Kris wrote to say, “I read the sample proposals you keep on your MacGregor Literary site. I found them helpful (and can’t wait to read Sandra Glahn’s novel), but as an unpublished novelist, it made me wonder… What should I be doing to to pre-market myself?”
I’ve had several people write to ask if they can see sample proposals. We keep some sample proposals on our corporate website: www.MacGregorLiterary.com
Stop by and check out the basic format we use. You can also find sample proposals on several other good agent websites.
Kris wrote to say to me, “I’ve read the sample proposals you have on your site, and found them helpful, but it makes me wonder… An an unpublished novelist, what should I be doing to pre-market myself?”
I don’t think a new novelist is going to do much different from the work of a mid-list novelist when it comes to marketing. Make sure you know how to write exceptionally well, then figure out a plan for marketing and work hard at it. That means getting your name out there. Make sure you have a following of readers. Try to let as many people as possible know about your forthcoming book. Work to be successful locally, then try to find success regionally, then nationally. Participate in every possible marketing avenue you can afford. I encourage authors to get as much marketing training as they can — we used to have to hire others to do this, but with the advent of the internet, you’ve been given a means of taking your message personally to millions of potential readers. So find the training you need (we’ve talked about that in the past), create a plan, and be looking for ways to maximize your exposure.
There has been a movement afoot among authors to “brand” themselves, but that’s something I think is overdone among newbies. A “brand” occurs over time when customers
People have been writing in with questions about proposals…
Elizabeth sent me this: “My writing is great, but my synopsis is awful. What should I do — just send it as is and hope the editor looks at the writing first?”
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If it were me, I’d get some help creating a better synopsis. As an agent, I occasionally see an author who has spent two years creating the manuscript, and two minutes creating the synopsis. I’m the type of agent who doesn’t care that much about the synopsis initially (I always look at the actual chapter first), but eventually I’m going to get around to exploring the overview of your story. And let’s face it — if your synopsis is terrible, that’s going to color the way I view the rest of the book. Why risk that? Make sure your synopsis reflects the strength of your writing.
Amy said, “I was thinking of doing something creative with my proposal, just to make it stand out. Does that sort of thing help?”
True story: I once received a woman’s romance proposal wrapped inside a lacy thong. Apparently the author thought it would make the project stand out in my mind. It did… I assumed the author had lost her mind. My job is interesting enough as it is; I don’t need to add “touching someone else’s underwear” to my to-do list. This sort of creative thing can seem downright weird unless you explain it. So no — I don’t think these types of extra bonus things help very much. Ultimately it comes down to the idea, the writing, and the platform of the author. If you do a good job with those three things, you’ll be way ahead of everybody else.
Jennifer asked, “Is it really important to include comparative titles in my book proposal when I first send
Lisa McKay is a psychologist and the author of the award-nominated novel My Hands Came Away Red. A memoir, Love at the Speed of Email, will be released in June 2012. She lives in Laos with her husband and infant son. To learn more, visit www.lisamckaywriting.com.
When my first book, My Hands Came Away Red, was published, I fell prey to an addiction that afflicts many authors at some point during their publishing career. It’s a behaviour I now call amazturbation – obsessively checking your own Amazon ranking to see how your book is stacking up sales-wise against the hundreds of thousands of other books that Amazon sells.
I visited Amazon to check the rise and fall of this number first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
I checked it when I was feeling glum and when I was feeling all right.
I checked it at work and I checked it home. I even checked it on my phone.
I checked that number at breakfast and I checked it at lunch.
I checked that number a whole, whole bunch.
My Amazon addiction started the way most addictions do – with a rush. Right after the book was released I was in Ghana, traveling for work. When I got access to the internet for the first time in a couple of days I dropped by my Amazon page to see if anyone had left a new review, and was amazed to see that my sales ranking was way higher than it had ever been before.
After an exhausting and stressful week of leading workshops on trauma, seeing that happy number was a huge rush. And I wanted more of that feeling.
Understandable? Yes. Dangerous? Also, yes.
We authors have never had so many ways at our disposal to track and quantify our own popularity. We can find out Amazon sales rankings as well
Here’s how this blog works: You send in questions about writing and publishing, and I try to offer some answers. I’ve recently received a whole slug of questions about proposals, so l wanted to try to get to a bunch of them…
1. Beth wrote to say, “I have two novels — one is a romance, the other is a thriller. Can I mix genres in a query letter to an agent?”
No way. All that does is confuse the agent. At this stage in your career, are you a romance writer or a thriller writer? You might eventually be both… but you’ve got to convince me initially that you’re good at one of those genres. Pick your best and approach the agent.
2. Suzie asked, “Do I really need to finish my entire novel before I send it to an agent for representation?”
In a perfect world, the answer would be “of course not — just be a good writer.” But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world with a sucky economy. So if you are unpublished, yeah, to get an agent to represent your novel, you’re probably going to have to complete the whole thing. The economy has made things in publishing much tougher, so publishers and agents are less willing to take a chance on a good synopsis and sample chapters. Make it easy on yourself by completing the novel before sending it to an agent for consideration.
3. Jim wants to know, “Should I tell an agent the page count of my novel?”
The version of your novel you printed out at home has little to do with the eventual page count your book would have were it to be printed by a publishing house. And the way software allows us to manipulate font, spacing, and leading means that a publisher can add or subtract pages to make the text
Evelyn wrote to say she is working on her novel proposal, and wants to know, “Is it really essential to list comparable books in my proposal? How do I find out if there are similar books in print? Do I look by content? By topic? And do I actually compare them?”
In your proposal, it’s important you have a section offering comparable titles. As I said earlier in the week, it gives the editorial team that is reviewing your proposal some context. The purpose for the section is NOT to show how your apocalyptic novel is better than Left Behind, but instead to help the publisher know how to categorize your proposed book. (“Oh! THIS book is similar to THAT book!”) That means spending some time doing some research.
First, you should know your genre by having read widely, so some obvious titles will come to mind. Second, you can find comparable titles by going into Barnes & Noble or any good bookstore and hunting up other projects that are similar. (If you look in the right genre section, you’ll probably find some good comparables.) Third, you can talk to other writers and editors, in order to solicit their suggestions. And fourth, you can go onto Amazon.com and wander through the titles by keywords or genre or author. (I don’t find that as effective, but most of us still do that.) For that matter, you can do some other general searches on the web by content, though you may not find that as helpful.
A couple reminders as you look at comp titles: Don’t select Catcher in the Rye, or Purpose Driven Life, or some other book that has sold a bajillion copies. You end up looking silly when you compare your unpublished work to a huge hit. At the same time, don’t select some completely unknown book that bombed — it leaves the publisher with the impression “this other