I'm in the midst of writing a new proposal. Let me just say, that I'm a little out of practice. When I was working with a publisher and had a book out every six-to-nine months, proposals were basically a paragraph of "here's what's next." And my editor would say, either, "That's fantastic, let's do this thing!" Or, "What else do you have for me?"
After a four year hiatus from writing, I'm essentially starting from scratch. I do have a book coming out next year with Revell, but it's a one book deal, so I will need to plan for what is next. Which brings me to the topic of proposals. How do you get this passion you feel for a project across to the publishers and their marketing team? Of if you're self-publishing, how do you sell your work to someone who has never heard of you? Here are a few tips:
1. Condense your idea into one line.
You want to make it easy for the publisher to see the marketing potential of your book. The best way to do that is come up with a one-liner to top your proposal. What's the selling point? Have you ever seen a movie trailer where the explanation goes in a million different directions, and you're like, "What the heck is that movie about?" The movie will probably bomb because a good movie has a good one-liner and addresses its audience. A book is the same way. Qualify your buyer.
Here's my one-liner from my bestselling, "What a Girl Wants."
"All she wants is a cute, Christian guy who doesn't live with his mother...and maybe a Prada handbag."
From the line, you understand that the book is essentially, a lighthearted beach-read with humor. It's probably not for fans of "The Fast and the Furious 6."
2. Deliver on your Promise.
Here's a publishing "secret." Everyone is looking for the next big idea, "The Jurassic Park" of our era, if you will. If your idea is a breakout concept, or decidedly different, every publishing house will probably want it. Now, that proposal needs to deliver on the promise you've made. So if you've promised the reader that dinosaurs are coming back to life, make that happen in your proposal. Once an editor is intrigued, they're looking at the first chapters to see if the author has the ability to pull off their idea.
Early in my writing career, an editor once told me, "This is an important story. It's a story that must be told. But you're not the writer to tell it."
Ouch. Yet, it was totally true. I was not really passionate about the idea and that was reflected in the proposal. FYI, I'm still friends with this editor and respect her greatly. She was absolutely correct, but don't let this happen to you. Be sure that the idea you're pitching is something you're passionate about and you have the knowledge to pull it off. It should be a concept that if asked at a party about it? You would ramble on at an embarrassing level.
3. Set Yourself Apart
When it comes to writing the genre of romance, it's essentially the same story told over and over again. So how do you stand out from the crowd when writing the same basic plot? Find something that will sustain YOUR interest through the entire book and your readers will follow. It's not just "write what you know," it's "write what you're interested in."
I'm utterly fascinated with the left brains of Silicon Valley. I write most weeks at a Starbucks with brilliant engineers/entrepreneurs. And they fascinate me because it is so far from what I do in life. An example: Last week one of the wealthy entrepreneurs who travels the world for his work and has a bajillion patents saw me struggling with my chapters. I told him what I was doing and he said, "Start in the middle. What do you need to do to get there?" He also suggested "storyboarding" my chapters. Now, I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I'm fascinated by how someone NOT in my business can look at the practical side of things and break it down. THAT is why I have so many engineers/science minds in my book. My heroines have been patent attorneys, chiropractors, a happiness science researcher, and a chemical engineer/nose for perfumes. I cared enough about those things to sustain me in research throughout the book process. That passion will translate into your proposal. So make sure you're interested in something enough to set yourself apart from the standard plot.
4. Make the Writing Match the Book's Style
If you're writing Chick Lit, you want your proposal to be quick-witted and humorous. If you're writing romantic suspense, you want your proposal to involve intrigue and reflect your personal writing style. Writing Literary? Show some of that beautiful, flowery prose.
Sometimes, writers get so nervous about the proposal that the synopsis is nothing like their book. It's basically, this happens, and then, this happens...Don't get so caught up in the minutia of a proposal that you forget who you are and why you're telling the story. Speak your plot like you would tell a friend a story and then, go back in and edit it to be professional. You don't want to be too stilted and lose interest.
5. Do the Marketing Department's Job for Them
In any proposal, you'll want to compare you book to competing titles and writers who have found success in your genre. Compare yourself to several titles/writers and explain under each how your book is different and would stand out in the crowd. If your book is like a Karen Kingsbury novel set in the wilds of Alaska, let the publisher/agent know!
There are lots of websites that offer a sample proposal if you're looking for formatting ideas. This is just some "thinking out loud" on what I do to sell my novels. I hope it helps.