Chip MacGregor

June 4, 2012

What questions do you have about book proposals?


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 So if you are unpublished, yeah, to get an agent to represent your novel, you’re probably going to have to complete the whole thing.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 fit the eventual page count. Instead, tell the agent the word count of your novel. That will prove much more helpful. 

4.  Hank asked, “When I print my manuscript to send it to an agent, can I print it single spaced to save pages?”

If you do, it probably won’t get read. Single-spaced manuscripts always look too busy and unprofessional. Agents like to sit and mark up any manuscript they’re giving a real reading, and they can’t do that with a single-spaced document. Be a big spender — hand over the extra two bucks and print it double-spaced.

5. Leslie noted, “I emailed a book proposal to an agent I met at a conference, then accidentally sent it to her a second time. Oops! What should I do?”

Nothing. If I get something twice, I just assume there was a computer glitch, or the person had a hard time getting it through my filter, or maybe that the internet fairies made a mistake. There’s no harm in my receiving the same thing twice. But if you were to send me a third note, explaining that you screwed up, it just calls attention to the fact that you made a mistake. Why do that? Why admit to being a dope? Just let it go.

Lots more questions, and I’ll try to get to as many as possible. What is it you want to know about proposals? 


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