Monday, June 14, 2021

One Thing That Works For Me with guest Cynthia Ruchti: When Considering an Author's Proposal

Good Monday morning, Seeker villagers! How is it already the middle of June? Goodness! Anyway, I (Carrie) am here to introduce today's guest for this month's 'One Thing That Works For Me' series. Please join me in welcoming one of my very favorite people, Cynthia Ruchti, as she shares one thing that works for her when she wears her agent hat :)  

ONE THING THAT WORKS FOR ME…when considering an author’s proposal

Having written my own proposals for a bunch of books (many of the more than 36 now in print) and after reviewing a number inching close to a thousand proposals from clients and prospective clients in four-plus years as an agent so far, I can pinpoint the moment when I know “this might work.”

Can you guess which of these almost equally important strengths in a book proposal rises above the rest in making me want to dig deeper as an agent?

a. Title
b. Hook
c. Synopsis (fiction) or Chapter Summaries (nonfiction
d. Author Bio
e. Target Audience
f. Reader Takeaway
g. Comparables
h. Marketing Strategies

Extra whipped cream for your pavlova for those who answered “h.” As valuable as are all the other options, if the marketing strategies section of the proposal catches my eye, in a good way, I’m more likely to consider the project worth further consideration.

Does that sound like backward thinking? (Not the pavlova. What could be wrong with that?) It’s actually forward thinking—a hope-giver for an agent or editor reviewing the proposal. In many ways, it is a reflection of the strength of all the other elements listed.

Many marketing strategies are like obligatory and clumpy powdered sugar when you were expecting whipped cream. Statements like these reveal that the author may be working with an old, tired recipe or is unaware of the power of a true “strategy” for marketing their book. 

  • I’m willing to participate in a world-wide book tour. (Who wouldn’t be? But world-wide—okay, even state-wide book tours—are a thing of the past, for the most part. For all the parts.) 

  • I’m willing to do whatever the publisher asks. (Again, a given. If you’re NOT willing to do what the publisher and its marketing team asks, you may not be ready for traditional publishing.)
  • I’m willing to speak to stadiums full of people to talk about my book. (Yeah, so which is actually less realistic—booking space at a stadium or over-filling it with potential readers?)

The “I’m willing” parts of those supposed strategies gave away a hard truth. The author isn’t well-informed about the role of the publisher’s marketing team versus the role of the author. It also reveals a misunderstanding about whose books even qualify for a world tour these days. They’re reserved for…well, for… Nope. Can’t think of an author whose publisher jots “world tour” into their marketing budget. 

Another list of tell-tale statements from a not-so-swell book proposal:

  • I plan to get a website. 
  • I hope to start a newsletter. 
  • I’m fixin’ to work on building a platform this summer as soon as I finish writing the book.

A marketing strategy isn’t a place for wishin’, and hopin’, and dreamin’. It’s for did and done. Authors are sometimes wise to hold off submitting their proposal until they have already created an active and engaging website, have a solid base of newsletter subscribers, and have built a platform that can bear the weight of the work it’s required to do.

What qualifies, then, as a meaningful marketing strategy? As an agent, I appreciate one thing that works when I see it—CREATIVITY. We can’t shut off our creativity and move solely into business mode when putting together a stand-out marketing strategy. Creativity should be the driving force behind what we include in that section of our proposals. 

The best marketing strategies are ideas that will make the marketing team at the publishing house lean forward and say, “I wish we’d thought of that!”

They reveal that the author knows his or her audience well, inventing marketing ideas that tap into reader needs and preferences. They show that the author understands how to connect the book’s themes with specific strategies, like a premade list of potential guest blog post topics related to the story or potential online articles that connect the story to current culture. They engage potential readers/purchasers, not just rabid fans…and I use the word rabid loosely.

Those creative ideas have “legs” that reach an untapped audience.

They tie into the reader takeaway of the book (a companion devotional guide about grief, for instance, or a downloadable map of the imaginary island, or a Top Ten list of ways to be kind to a curmudgeon). 

They capitalize on the book’s hook. What giveaways or promotional concepts can emerge from that stunning hook it took a month to create? 

They aim for discoverability and actual book sales. Discoverability alone—informing the public that your book is releasing—is only half the battle. Persuading them to purchase is the end game. (Extra points for those who recognized that as a mixed metaphor disguised as a legit metaphor because a game might well be a battle! I give you Twister and the SuperBowl.)

In a nutshell (see image), a marketing strategy deserves and needs the same level of creativity it took to write your book. Not kidding. It’s definitely one thing that works for me. 

(Photos provided by the author via Pixabay)


Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed-in-Hope through novels, nonfiction, devotionals, and speaking events for women or writers (or both). Her books have garnered a number of industry awards including reader, retailer, and reviewer honors. She is the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers, and serves as a literary agent with Books & Such Literary Management. Her latest release is the novel Facing the Dawn (Revell--a division of Baker Book Group). Watch for this fall's release of the nonfiction Spouse in the House: Rearranging Our Attitudes to Make Room for Each Other (Kregel Publications). You can reach her at or

 Thank you, Cynthia, for such a great post & valuable insight! 
What questions do you have for Cynthia about including marketing strategies in your proposal?


  1. Hi Cynthia:

    I must say that "They Almost Always Come Home," is one of the best books I've read in the last ten years. That book captured me like few others. When I finished the last page I immediately turned back to page one and started reading it again.

    I just couldn't figure out, as I was reading, how you were going to tell what happened when the first person heroine was not there to unreval the tragic events. Then you switched to third person. I thought to myself, "Can you really do that?" Well it worked great and I loved that book. I said at the time that this book would win all kinds of awards. So good!

    Have you done that first person and third person POV in any of your other books?

    So nice to have you here on Seekerville.

    1. Thanks for the kind comments, Vince. I did a little of the first/third person in A Fragile Hope. THAT one was tricky. Women's fiction from a male POV. :)

    2. and you did so fabulously, Cynthia! :)

  2. Cynthia, welcome to Seekerville! It's so fun to have you here, you are just simply a delightful person. The world of publishing agents is blessed to have you!

    And this insightful post is a must-read for wannabes.... because it's sensible. I'm always a little curious about folks who don't understand that a publisher needs to make money and that is a bottom line even in Christian publishing. Reaching hearts and souls doesn't happen if they can't pay the bills.

    Sending my best wishes to you, not only on this newest branch of your multi-level career, but just because you're so stinkin' nice, normal and funny.

    Thanks for being here today!

  3. Oh, and one thing about marketing that supports what you've said... as a category author for Love Inspired, my cowboy trade paperback series for Waterbrook wasn't selling as hoped. After a conference meeting with my editor from Waterbrook, and my concern that my limited reach for discoverability wasn't working, they teleconferenced that night and decided to repackage the books as mass market editions and put them on the racks that contained my Love Inspired books... and the books sold like crazy. Record numbers... because that's where my readers shopped. Walmarts and drugstores and grocery stores, etc. The publisher and I are still making money off those books because my indie work pumps the sales of their Kindle editions. There's a blessing in seeing what works and a willingness to change things up, and I've never forgotten the faith and courage it took for them to do that.

    And we're all glad it worked out!

  4. Thank you Cynthia for your post. I'm totally surprised that marketing strategy is a tipping point, but it totally makes sense. You can have a fantastic story, but if the author isn't sure how to get it out there or doesn't want to market it, or expects others to do the work, then no wonder it would be a pass.

    1. The harsh truth is that great books, not just good but great books, may never see the light of publishing day if any element of the proposal is weak. Too many great stories and too few slots for them. Those who bite the marketing bullet and learn how it's done...and can manage to do so while still maintaining their love of telling a good story...are miles ahead.

      There are two theories (at least) about the term "bite the bullet." One says that before anesthesia, a patient undergoing surgery would be told to bite on a piece of wood to prevent shattering his teeth when clenching his jaw with the pain. (Pain/writing/marketing... We get the connection.) If no wood was handy or, say, the doctor was too fond of his furniture, the patient would be given a bullet to bite. The lead (well, that's another problem), softer than his teeth, would not damage them when he bit down.

      Not to make the analogy too close to what we do as writers, but the surgery of marketing is necessary. If we can't avoid it, we bite the bullet and mitigate the pain or damage. Part of that is educating ourselves. Part is jettisoning the fear of marketing. Part is using our creativity in new ways.

  5. As an unpublished, wannabe writer these tips are going to be so helpful--not just later but now. I'm still trying to figure out which genre I want to write, so even knowing my audience yet is kind of a challenge. But having these things in mind while I'm determining that will hopefully put me in a better position to be successful. Thanks so much for being here!

  6. Welcome to Seekerville, Cynthia! Great post with lots of food for thought. Thinking outside the box isn't necessarily my forte, but I have learned that it is always worth the effort, even if I lose a few brain cells in the process. ;)

    1. Ah, but brain cells lost make room for new ones to grow! :)

  7. Cynthia, so glad you could join us on Seekerville today. Great post! Wonderful info! Lots of ideas about how to enhance a proposal! It's a keeper, for sure!

    As Mindy mentioned in her above comment, thinking outside the box takes effort. I'll add that it also takes prayer. God bless you and bless all of your endeavors.

    1. Debby, you're so right. And I should have including that at the end! We pray for story ideas. We pray for our books to reach others. We pray for contracts. What might happen if we sat before God and asked, "What ideas can I use in this marketing strategy section, Lord? I'm listening"?

  8. Hi Cynthia, I'm a big fan of both your fiction and non-fiction works. I'm not an author, but I love Seekerville and reading about the "nuts and bolts" of the writing trade. I've been fortunate to serve on several street teams and help with book launches, and I've noticed how they've changed recently. So many new options to promote a new book! Your post today will certainly be helpful to those who do write!

    1. Great to hear from you, Connie! I'm praying it will be helpful.

  9. Cynthia, hi! Thanks for being on Seekerville.
    And Carrie, what a great guest you've found for us.
    Cynthia, this is encouraging. It's encouraging me to be more creative with marketing. This last year has been so weird with no booksignings and no conferences. That's (mostly) in the rear-view mirror now so I need to wake up and get back to work!

    1. any time I can drag Cynthia along with me on something, I do :-D Because she's awesome!

  10. Good morning, Mary! The word "pivot" has become the catchword of the last couple of years. And now we pivot again.

    1. that reminds me of the classic scene in FRIENDS when Ross, Rachel and Chandler are trying to carry a couch up a narrow flight of apartment stairs. Ross just keeps yelling, "PIVOT! PIVOT! PIVOT!" until Chandler finally yells back, "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" haha I imagine authors feel a little bit like that after the last couple of years :)

  11. Cynthia, thank you so much for sharing your expert thoughts with us today! I always learn from you and today is no different :)

  12. It's so great to see you here, Cynthia!

    This post was just what I needed., I wish we didn't have to do it. I wish I didn't have to clean toilets, either! So I do what I need to do.

    One of the things I've done during the past year is to start taking charge of my marketing. In my naivete of the past, I thought I just needed to let people know my book was available. Yeah, you're right. That didn't work.

    So I've been searching for new and fresh ideas. Strategies that will get me excited about marketing and make it a first priority rather than an after thought. Your post is sending my brainstorming in the right direction.

    Thank you!

  13. Marketing was a word that struck terror into my little writer heart once upon a time. Kind of like 'networking.'

    Then I realized that marketing is really just making new friends who have common interests...just like networking! And making friends isn't nearly as scary as 'I must convince someone to buy my product.'

    The nice thing about marketing/networking in the Christian fiction realm is that readers are lovely people who want to buy books, talk about books, read books, and then buy some more books! :)

    Who doesn't want to have friends like that?

  14. Hi Cynthia:

    When it comes to marketing strategies here's my idea.

    This book is written to appeal strongly to the widest selection of viable prospects. The story incorporates 12 elements that readers actively seek and enjoy. It's what they want and hope to find.

    1. Desirous and popular vacation location.
    2. Beautiful seaside settings and activities.
    3. Skin diving and hot air ballooning are parts of the plot.
    4. Hero and heroine have professions of high interest with proven reader curiosity to learn more about.
    5. Conflict resolution involves both helpful insights and genuine wisdom -- readers will feel smarter for having read the book.
    6. Fast reading, story moving, chapters each of which changes the trajectory of the story for a feel of rapid story movement. (Cf. James Patterson's style.)
    7 to 12...

    In effect, this book was written to intrigue and delight the maximum number of potential prospects in the target audience. The marketing is in the book and is not something external to the book created to sell the book. The marketing went in before the book was written. In short, this is a book which will sell itself and all the other books in my backlist.


    1. You've tapped into a great idea of incorporating marketing draws into the story. Now the marketing strategies will be how you get readers to open the book to find them. :)

  15. Welcome, Cynthia. It is nice to see you here today. I read you in the Mornings With Jesus devotional, so feel like I already know you! This is a great post. I have to say that the idea of websites and newsletters before publishing is scary. I don't really get how that works. I would think people won't have an interest in a website if I don't have a book ready yet.

    1. Sandy, they may have an interest in the things that interest you. :) It might be history, or trivia about famous romances, or a certain location, or the themes that show up in your books without giving away the plot. It truly is about building community of like-minded people.

    2. Hi Cynthia:

      What you've said has always been the case in all advertising. In short, "the ad must attractive the favorable attention of the best prospects to buy the product."

      These are the 'low hanging fruit' and you must get their attention.

      This is the job of the headline, title in case of books, the cover art and the blurb on the back of the book. The title tells what the book is and the artwork features those elements the reader most wants to read about. The blurb is a powerful 'coming attraction'. The blurb is not just an afterthought requirement. It's a powerful vacuum pulling the reader into the story. The blurb is the closing argument to get the reader to open the book to learn more or to just take the book to the cash register.

      The best marketing is to have the best product and to make sure the best prospects learn that it is available.

      BTW: I just ordered a large print copy of, "A Fragile Hope", and I look forward to savoring each and every page. Vince wrote this with total sincerity.

  16. Good to see you here Cynthia. I thought They Almost Always Come Home was a fantastic book...and I enjoyed some of your other books. I am anxious to read Facing the Dawn.

    1. Thanks, Jackie! I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback.

  17. What if the author has a platform, but in a different area than books? Maybe the have a strong following from posting art or some type of other talent.

  18. Is the art or other talent related at all to the books? Like a artist character in the novel? Or a nonfiction book about the musicality of Scripture? If so, then there's hope that the following will have at least a percentage of people who will be interested in the book. If there's no crossover at all, then it CAN happen but will take time to convince the following to also be interested in the "artist's" books. For an individual author, there's no guarantee that their nonfiction followers will automatically purchase their fiction, and vice versa. But if the author/artist is speaking a similar theme in both, then there's at least a starting point to build from in creating a platform/audience that will be receptive to the books.

    If the author has celebrity status in another arena--a musician writing a picture book, for instance--then the celebrity's large audience will be good targets...simply because the strongest fans are at least initially interested in anything the celebrity does. If the picture book stinks, then they'll go elsewhere for their books after that first one. :)

    Finding our audience is always hard, hard work. But platform always means "people likely to want to purchase the book."

  19. Ooh. Marketing. The dreaded M word. ;-) Since being published in 2017, I feel like I've just about earned my degree in marketing. Not really. But semi-wishing I'd taken a few classes back in college. It's something they don't warn you about when you start dreaming of publications. But I'm working on getting better at marketing along with my writing, too. Thanks for the reminder of how important it is.

  20. What a delightful author name--Amy Anguish!!! :)

  21. Thanks so much for this post. I've recently started querying my first novel, and I struggle with the marketing side and especially with how much time to put into developing my website vs. focusing on my writing. Your post and the comments have given me some ideas to implement, and I really appreciate that.


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