Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Proposal

Part 5 of: From Blank Screen to Printed Book OR Writing the Book was the Fun Part...

The manuscript was completed (or so I thought). It was time to find an agent to help me navigate the wild waters of the publishing world. 

To find an agent, one must first write the perfect query letter. I did my research and learned that it must be a one-page, three paragraph letter. The first paragraph explains why you have selected this particular agent. This paragraph requires a great deal of research as each letter must be targeted to an agent who represents other works like yours and must be personalized - either "so-and-so referred" me or "I read in an interview that you said..." or some other tidbit that shows you have done your homework. The second paragraph must be a compelling, but concise, synopsis of the book. One that leaves the reader just aching for more.

The last paragraph is the author's credentials - Masters degree in Creative Writing, Movie Star, Political Star, Nobel Prize winner, First Woman to...  The idea is to blow the agent away with how amazing you are. Founder of a brownie mix company was not exactly what they were looking for. On the other hand, it wasn't something that crossed their desks every day. I hoped it would be enough to at least spark some curiosity.

I re-wrote the second and third paragraphs at least ten times until Suzanne declared it "Perfect!", then worked on the personalized first paragraph. I had targeted about thirty agents for my first mailing, so those first paragraphs took some time, but the research was interesting and kind of fun. Then came the task that I didn't dislike, I hated. If your book is non-fiction, before you send out your query letter, you must be ready with a proposal for your book, because if the query peaks any interest in an agent, the next thing they will ask to see is your proposal. 

A proposal is really a business plan for your book and makes complete sense if the author is trying to find an agent/publisher before the book is completed. But my book is called "creative non-fiction" and is more like a novel - only it's true. The manuscript was complete and I couldn't (still can't) figure out why I needed to write a fifty page document that included a detailed synopsis of the book, a full page on who I was and once again, my credentials for writing the book. It also required specific statistics on who my audience would be and why; what books I considered my competition, why, when they were published and how they sold. Then, the piece de resistance: a complete and detailed marketing and promotion plan with statistical information on every potential marketing avenue, how I intended to pursue that avenue and what I would do to promote the book. Isn't that what the agent and publisher do? Why again, will I receive only 10% of the revenue from my book?? 

Finally, a one paragraph summary of each and every chapter.

I sent out twenty-two queries. I had eight people respond and ask for the proposal and one ask for the manuscript. Of those who asked for the proposal, I received a polite "No thank you" from four and never heard from any of the others. The one who did read it, said that it might make a good magazine article, but there wasn't enough substance for a book. She suggested that maybe if I added a history of the baking mix industry, it would be better. Suzanne's comment that she'd rather have her teeth drilled than read a history of the baking mix industry made me feel slightly better.  

It became clear that the success or failure of my book rested in the hands of people who didn't have either the time or the interest to read it. And, whether Jane Q. Public realized it or not, these people wielded a huge amount of power on her behalf. Going this route, there was a very good chance the book would never get printed. It suddenly hit me that getting my book into reader's hands was very much like getting my fat free brownies into customer's mouth. An agent is the equivalent of a food broker. A publisher? No different than the buyer at a big grocery chain. I was faced with the same options I had when I started No Pudge!. Sit and wait, or take back control and do it my way.  

To be continued...

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