Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Elegant Words: Proposals Publishers Admire

By Mary Vee


I received an invitation in the mail for a ceremony honoring my father-in-law. The linen stationery and raised silver letters warned me this would be a formal event. Sad to say, I’m a blue jean, plain-Jane kind of girl with limited funds. What could I wear?

My mother-in-law insisted she’d take me shopping. What a relief! My newlywed income barely paid the bills. I discovered, much later, her goal was to insure I had an appropriate dress that would meet the occasion, (she had me figured out!).

My shrewd mother-in-law researched the organization hosting the ceremony, their purpose, location, and invited guests to determine suitable attire not only for her, but also for me.


What would have happened if she hadn’t rescued me? Disaster. Embarrassment. I recall watching a movie scene where this very thing happened. Two brothers visited a friend at his palatial house for a couple of days. He told them dinner was served at 7:00 pm. The brothers spent an hour grooming and preening tuxes before strutting down the staircase. As the French doors opened to the dining hall, their host greeted them in a sports jacket and dress pants! Awkward.

Cute story, but what does this have to do with manuscripts?

Dressy Shirt Manuscripts

Spending hours, weeks, and sometimes years to complete a manuscript might produce a work suitable for publication. But, like the inappropriate tux, a manuscript will collect dust on your desk unless you’ve fully research publishing houses and their requirements for submission.

A Proper Introduction

Publishers dedicate precious time communicating what they feel is the proper way to introduce a manuscripts. Authors/Writers are expected to first send a book proposal prior to receiving permission to send their manuscript.

This reminds me of Pride and Prejudice in which proper etiquette was a must when two strangers met. Mr. Darcy simply did not speak to any lady at the party until someone he knew introduced him. There were rules. Specific rules.


How to Find the Rules

Publishing houses list exactly what they want online in a proposal. I had the privilege of speaking with two editors at the Write To Publish Conference two years ago, each from a different house. I prepared book proposals based on research from their individual web sites. One expected a lengthy proposal and preferred it bound with an easy-to-open spiral. His face lit up when I handed him my proposal. He browsed my work then asked if he could keep it to use as a model. The other editor preferred a concise, to-the-point book proposal containing only specific information stated on the website.

Invest time

Preparing a book proposal is likened to spending quality time dressing for a formal event. My perfect attire can be ruined in a flash if I neglect to groom myself, add appropriate accessories, and walk out the door on time.

Resources such as Sally Steward’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide provide timesaving, valuable information. In these books, publishing houses are categorized by genre, target reader’s age, themes, and other helpful information. I found a list of publishing houses for my teen Christian fantasy manuscript in seconds!

As I investigated the writer’s guide, I found information including a publisher’s current needs, web address, tips, royalty paid, and etc. Their web site let me browse the publishers’ catalogs and information about the organization. My research gave me a clue whether my manuscript would “fit in” with other books published by that house.

Once I narrowed my search to three publishers, I prepared a book proposal tailored to the specific guidelines stated on the site. Usual information included: the first three chapters, marketing analysis, chapter synopsis, and author information, to name a few.

Last Thoughts:

Spend time perfecting your proposal. Is it ready for a gala presentation?

Add only the “accessories” requested on the publishing site.

Include a SASE and a stamped postcard allowing the house to notify receipt of the proposal.


You’ve done your research. Your proposal is properly groomed and ready to be introduced to a publisher. With sealed stamped envelope in hand—before you drop it in the mail box--take a deep breath, and thank God for the opportunity to submit your work--no matter the outcome.

I've only skimmed the top of this topic. Some of you have mastered the book proposal category. What can you share from your experiences? Perhaps you are a fledgling and have questions about book proposals. Let us at The Writers Alley help. Ask away!!

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 NIV

8 comments:

Sherrinda said...

Oh this was GOOD information! I haven't gotten that far in my journey, but I have heard the importance of knowing your audience. Your plan of attack is a good one! ;)

And aren't mother-in-laws great? So subtle, yet so smart! lol I'm a jeans kind of gal, and I was excited when I heard the news yesterday that we can wear jeans to work the rest of the school year! YAY!!!!!

It's early, so I've got the coffee pot on, and muffins laid out for all!

Krista Phillips said...

Great info!!! Yes, I think a huge rub for editors and agents are when people submit to them with no thought to the posted requirements. It automatically labels us an amateur. If we are lucky enough that they actually read the ill-fit proposal instead of tossing it in the trash, then I just have to think they would read it through the eyes of "What does this idiot who doesn't know how to follow directions have to say?" ha! I'll admit though, in my naive, clueless state a few years ago, I sent one or two of those. PHEW! So glad I've learned better!

Keli Gwyn said...

I admire those of you who've taught yourselves how to write a proposal. I've yet to prepare a one. When the time comes, my agent said she'll guide me through the process, which is a great relief. Since she'll be the one submitting it, she'll tweak what I give her until it shines so brightly the editors reading it will need sunglasses. I'll watch and learn--and share my insights.

Casey said...

I am almost scared spitless about all the STUFF agents and editors need. It goes on forever! It's a good thing I am a ways off from that. :)

Great to know, Mary, thanks!! So right about following directions. :)

Sherrinda said...

Oh Keli, I do hope you share what Rachelle teaches you! I'm sure it will be so incredibly helpful!

Mary Vee said...

I agree, Sherrinda.

It'll be good to hear what you learn Keli.

Following directions seems to be a theme song sung at Writer's conferences.

Pepper Basham said...

Wonderful post, Mary.
I like writing a synopsis, but not a proposal. There IS so much research involved to do it well - unless, like Casey, you're a mega-prolific reader and can zip those titles off the top of your head ;-) Have you seen how many different books she has on her blog? Wowzers ;-)

The Idiot's Guide to Getting Published has some good basics in it to help with writing a proposal too.

Btw, I took a wonderful class on websites/blogs for writers today. Very good stuff.

Sherrinda said...

I know!!!! Casey must be a speed reader cum laud! Amazing!!!!

Pepper, I want you to do a post on the website/blog class you took.