Two days ago, I discovered that the proposal I'd sent to my editor had never arrived. This was unhappy news as the proposal for that book was due July 27th. I learned of the missing proposal by chance and was relieved when my editor assured me that all was well and that I could send the proposal via email.
Compelled to read through the entire proposal one last time, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning going through the three pages of manuscript and 18or so pages of synopsis.
I almost wish I hadn't.
I wanted to beg Melissa (my wonderful editor) to NOT read the proposal. Because, really, I'd just come home from China when I wrote it and my mind wasn't working properly, my brain wasn't focused and the entire synopsis STUNK and the pacing of the manuscript was off and, and, and.....
BUT....the proposal is for a contracted book that is due out in July 2010, and Melissa must read it so that we can work out the kinks in the story before I turn in the finished product.
So, I just have to gird my loins and prepare for what will come.
It's not that the story isn't good and it isn't that the writing is bad. I think both are strong. What the proposal is not is my best work. In the six years that I've been writing for Harlequin, I've laid the groundwork for a successful career by turning in good, clean work on time. I offer up my best to the best of my ability every time. Turning in shoddy first draft stuff is not my way, and if you're aspiring to publication it shouldn't be yours either.
To break it down, the key to successfully snagging an editor's attention lies in:
1. Knowing your market. Before ever sending out the proposal make sure you are sending it to the correct house. Do not send a fantasy vampire story to a Love Inspired editor and do not send a clean, sweet romance to Spice. Don't waste a non-fiction editor's time with your fiction proposal.
2. Writing clean. And I don't mean in the subject matter. Whatever you're writing, write it well. Avoid grammatical errors. No one is perfect, and our work can't be either, but if your proposal contains so many mistakes that they become the editor's focus, you've lost your reader and your chance. (this is a big one for me...because, as my blog proves, I've never been great at grammar and spelling)
3. Beginning with a bang. Whether it is compelling emotion or a suspenseful scene that makes the reader want more, a first chapter should always begin with a bang.
4. Creating real characters. My first book wasn't bought on the strength of the writing or the plot. It was bought because Melissa believed in my heroine. She bought into her back story and her conflict, and she was routing for her as the story progressed. A good book must always have characters that your reader can identify with. Real people feeling real emotion.
5. Being professional. This, I suppose, is as much to do with how you present your proposal as it does anything. Print the proposal out on white paper (not pink or blue or yellow or green), follow the guidelines for your targeted publishing house to determine font and margins. Make sure your manuscript is the correct word count to fit those guidelines. Write a cover letter that is brief and to the point. This, too, will be judged by the editor because it is the first glimpse the editor will see of you.
Okay....I've got to scoot. The kids are too quite so there must be trouble brewing!