Here's the set-up: You come back from RWA, psyched and with TWO REQUESTS for the same proposal!
Yay!!! You're happy dancing, sharing the news, doing shout-outs on facebook and tweeting everyone you can think of. Next step, book auction, and Easy Street!!!! SUHWEET!
And then you read a really good blog by literary agent Steve Laube entitled "Five Reasons Why You Might Never Get Published" and you realize you're in deep trouble. Why? Well, read Steve's blog, but here are some possible reasons, my beloveds!
1. You don't like change.
2. You don't like criticism.
3. You're brilliant but unappreciated.
4. Someone else beat you to the punch with your idea.
FIRST: If you're stiff-necked and inflexible, this is not the business for you. Successful authors revise, re-write, resubmit and swallow their pride on a regular basis. It takes guts and patience and endurance... and you only get one chance to make a great first impression! And that chance is now.
So let's break it down: Parts of a Proposal:
1. Cover letter
2. Three full chapters
First, your chapters. Because without solid chapters you're going nowhere.
Be anal. This is about the only time I will give you permission to be that particular, because you don't want their first glance to be their last.
Hook them on the opening page. Better yet, the opening paragraph. Steve Laube once said, "If I'm not gripped or provoked or laughing over the opening paragraphs, I'm done. That might sound harsh, but it's true."
Consider that. You might have one paragraph to make that impression. Make that paragraph work for you. Impact them with your words and clarity. Make them laugh, cry, or at least think as they envision the images created by your words.
"The sharp metallic click meant one thing.
Someone had a gun pointed in Colt Stafford’s general direction."
(Back in the Saddle, Waterbrook Press, 3/16)
"Suitcase. Laptop. Purse. Emergency supply bag. Lack of chocolate noted. Remedy situation ASAP. (Silent Night, Star-lit Night, St. Martin's Press, 10/16)
|The Town Square, Haywood, Oregon.... at Christmas|
And if you think this changes as an established author, let me assure you it does not. Maybe for Stephen and The Nora... but not for us normals. We go through the very same process you're facing and compete against you... and every other published author out there, so it doesn't get easier, but it does become just part of the job. And that's okay.
For romance, are you using both points of view? Have you described the hero and heroine through each other's eyes? If they have a past, have you painted the emotions to grab the reader without a backstory dump? Remember, backstory does not sell books. Emotion does. If they've never met, is the conflict of their meeting enough to turn pages? Are you using too many big words?
Do the chapters move the story forward emotionally and physically? Are there scene breaks and/or opposing pov's in each chapter? Or in alternating chapters? Back in the day it would be fine to have back-and-forths and expect the reader to follow along, and we did... Now clean povs are the mode of the day, so make sure you're balanced.
In Women's Fiction, are you totally depressing the audience on page one? Because that's potential manuscript suicide right there, and this can be problematic. Sure, you may have a hope-stirring ending, but if the editor has thrown the manuscript into the reject pile before finishing page one, you'll never know unless you indie publish it and get hammered by readers. Ouch. That's a rough way to learn a lesson.
The Cover Letter:
Write in the same voice/style as your featured genre. If your manuscript is funny and engaging romance (Mary Connealy), write the letter in that voice.
If your work is of more serious nature (Myra Johnson), write the cover in that voice.
If your proposal is kind of in-your-face-reality (raises hand), write the cover letter reflecting that.
If your proposal is historical, use historical points or whimsy to woo the editor/agent.
I use a blend of conversational English and lyrical prose in my work. What does that mean? It means I want my characters to sound normal and somewhat distinctive (secondary characters with a unique "voice" add depth to your work, but only one or two of them, like adding salt to chocolate. A little goes a long way)... while using a sprinkling of poetry in either mention or description. The two offset one another, and because I'm a poet at heart with a side of "snark", it works.
LINK TO COVER LETTER POST BY RUTHY 2011
That link features the cover letter I used for my first Love Inspired book "Winter's End"... Hey, it worked! :)
1. Ditch the creative hat.
2. Wash your hands.
3. Don technical writer cap.
4. Stash of chocolate or nuts nearby.
5. Get to work.
I always start my synopses (and I've written at least 60 of them over the years) with the one-to-three-line blurb encapsulating the story. Why? Well, you need one for marketing, so why not do it now? That one-liner can grab the editor's/agent's attention more quickly than the five ensuing pages.
Example: Former beauty queen Emily Gallagher came home to lick her broken marriage wounds and help run her mother's event business while her beloved father fought a life-threatening disease. Grant McCarthy and his twins had been kicked to the curb by the one beautiful woman who should love them most... and didn't. He can't trust beauty and she's not willing to chance the anger within him... but as the needs of two precious children come into play, can they open their hearts once more, in time to embrace "Her Unexpected Family"?
Then I tell the backstory. This isn't the book, I want the professional to see the reasoning behind the story. Is it balanced? Believable? Thought-provoking? I use present tense and alternate hero and heroine backstories for balance. This may be a page or two long because it's critical. I don't know if everyone does it this way, but it works for me.
And then I morph into: "The story begins when..." or "This is where the story begins, when both protagonists have everything to lose and nowhere to turn..."
Once I'm into the actual story I use a chronological re-telling of basic story points. I don't try to spell everything out, I'm a pantser, so that would never work because the actual story might not go that way. But... I know the emotions of the story. I know the timeline. I know the essence.
A three-to-five page synopsis is fine. Stick to the points, be clear and concise, this is not the place for my poetry or your clever wording. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.
At this stage, you're done. There will be much bigger proposals later, but this is the basic one that editors and agents are looking for when they say.... send me a proposal.
So let me offer you congratulations if you got a request... and if you're flying blind, hey... I did that, too! And my first contract came when Melissa Endlich was the final judge for the Finally a Bride contest from OKRWA... and the rest is history.
So let's dive in and chat this up. I'll answer questions and I'll give away copies of "Her Unexpected Family" and one writer will get a Ruthy critique of either their chapters or synopsis or cover letter, your choice.... But you have to tell me you want it in the comments, or I'll mess up and pull some sweet reader's name and she's going to say, "Ruthy! I want a book!!!"
Coffee's on, and peach pie is awaiting!
Let's do this!
Multi-published, bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne loves writing sweet books, playing with cute kids and hanging out with people.... She loves God, her family, her country, chocolate, coffee and cookies.... and romance! You can find her hanging around on facebook at Ruth Logan Herne (duh...) and on twitter @RuthLoganHerne or on her website http://ruthloganherne.com