Congratulations, you have the best idea for a novel. Should you prepare the novel and send it to as many publishers as you can? Should you seclude yourself in your house until you have grinded out at least 80,000 words? Many new authors wonder what the right course of action is. Further, what should be included in a book proposal? In my job at Grammarly, I have seen dozens of book proposals prepared at various stages of the writing process. Some writers have succeeded in publishing their books using certain methods to improve their writing. One method reminds me of an efficient way to assemble jigsaw puzzles. Let us discuss how this strategy translates to writing book proposals.
- Do the edges first.
According to the WikiHow website, one should gather all the border pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Once you have collected them all, you lay out the border of the puzzle. Similarly, you should prepare the preliminaries of your novel. Flesh out the plot and the main characters. The basic function of a book proposal is to give the potential publisher a glimpse of what the entire manuscript would be like. Rather you should prepare the entire manuscript or send proposals at the idea-stage is a matter of debate. Publishers may want to make suggestions, so an entire manuscript may engender concern that the writer will not be open to make revisions. You can strike a balance somewhere in the middle by preparing a rough draft.
- Put the pieces in groups.
Wikihow suggests grouping the pieces according to kind. As you research publishers, you can group them in a similar manner. Reject the ones that do not publish the type of book that you want to write. Make a list of those that are strong possibilities. Create a second list of weaker possibilities. Some authors prefer targeting the weaker possibilities first. This way, your chance of receiving a positive response increases rather than wanes with time.
Note: You may generate multiple proposals, divided by genre. If your book may appeal to religious, women’s fiction, and historical fiction readers, you can develop several variations of the proposal. Each version would highlight the book’s place in a different genre.
- Focus on one set of pieces at a time.
The counsel is to work on the grouped sets one at a time. As you put entire groups together, the puzzle will begin to take shape. If you try to attack all the parts of a book proposal simultaneously, the task may overwhelm you. Instead, work on one section at a time. A book proposal should contain a one-page summary of the gist of your novel, a statement about the target audience and how your book is unique, your credentials, a proposed timeline for completion, and a complete sample chapter. Proofreading is essential. Use a free proofreading program online to check each section. For a more detailed explanation of the elements of a proposal, consult this website.
- Fill in the background.
To finish the jigsaw puzzle, fill in the background. You need to start finalizing your novel. Your publisher can make suggestions that will help you sell your novel to a contemporary market. If you have no publisher yet, work on the book anyway. You will appreciate the headstart once you hear from an interested publishing house.
These steps are good for more than the 1000-piece lighthouse puzzle in your closet. You can use them to write a great book proposal. Frame your work by creating a rough outline of your novel. Decide which genres you will pursue, and make a list of publishing houses that cater to your target market. Give care to each section of the book proposal, and scrutinize each section to make sure that it contains no errors. Once you have the proposal complete, work on writing and revising your novel as you wait for responses. May each response you receive contain good news!
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.
A Digital Writers Workshop will cover the ins and outs of digital publishing. Sign up for the email list here on the blog
for further information as it’s released.
There are a few things taking place in the modern age of digital writing. Now like no time ever is it easier to get your story out there. The floodgates have opened and there’s a long line of frustrated writers, aspiring writers and professionals who are beating a path to self expression.
So, much is getting out there without the prior benefit of editing and polishing. Writers tend to think of their words as gold — all writers. And for those who have made a lifetime out of the pure mix of blood, sweat and tears that it takes to get a work printable, it’s a little more than disheartening to see the upstarts enter the field, as if all it took was the ability to craft a few sentences.
The opportunities that writing in the digital realm afford has created new styles and manners of writing AND selling. There are crafty opportunists who are using words as a sales tool and then giving it the hard sell to anyone who will listen on Facebook, Twitter and the other venues that can be turned so easily into self promotion vehicles. And, for those who are successful at this method, it leaves the rest of the pack to just scratch their heads in wonderment at how all those years of striving and hard work can be so easily passed by by an efficient sales pitch.
Part of the explanation goes to the givens that writers have adhered to through the years. Since their words are gold, it has gone that we write and it’s just a matter of the right timing and luck for our ship to come in. We write and then wait for popular opinion to grant that we indeed have the voice that guarantees our place in the halls of literary greatness. For the upstarts that dash off and upload their first drafts, and then sell, sell, sell to their mailing lists, it’s been a bit unnerving to see that these salesmen succeed in getting to the top of the charts, even if it’s only for an hour in Amazon’s top 10. Or to see these salesmen use hijinks and manipulation to push merchandise, like offering their book for little or for free in order to boost the numbers. And then there are the reviews. Beware. Some of them have been manufactured — not that this hasn’t been done through the years on book jackets and in press releases. It’s just that the lines of decency and propriety have been blurred by the guys that don’t really understand that these manuscripts are words, for crying out loud.
And there’s a bit of sour grapes here. Writers wouldn’t be so brazen as to assume that they could perform brain surgery without training. Why, then, does anyone think that because they can construct a sentence, that they are a writer? But there are those doing just that and some of them are enjoying success. Never mind that it wouldn’t matter if it was words or widgets, this element that writes without really respecting the craft will only have its day for a while.
So there. But if digital publishing has the traditional publishing world on its ear, it’s still for good reason. Because the traditional publishing method really does stink unless you are on the inside. There are many times that I have wished that I had wanted to be an accountant. How easy would that have been? There always seems like there’s a need for accountants. And two plus two always equals four. But, no, for some reason early on in my development I realized that I was a writer and the die was cast. I’ve said that thank goodness I didn’t want to be a poet — that’s the only thing I could think of that might be worse. That’s a really toughie.
The theory goes that we write and somehow our manuscript will capture both the eyes and the imagination of just the right editor who will catapult it and us to literary stardom, which translates into cash aplenty and the nods of the literati that we do indeed belong with the masters. Ha. And tell me about the thick skin that a writer has to have to face rejection umpteen times and continue to believe in their story and that they aren’t a fraud. The process of finding an editor is also quite time consuming. And, what makes an editor know so much, anyway? Look at some of that drivel that passes for literature these days. We know that somebody must have owed someone’s brother-in-law a favor for that to have gotten published. And insiders tell me it is very much a who know who world. Living in Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia, I didn’t know anyone in publishing in New York, Boston and London. When you are a gentle creative soul in the first place, it takes guts and strength to keep believing in yourself. Sometimes they let you down easy with feedback like “your manuscript’s not long enough” or “it’s too long.”
But the new digital opportunities are astounding. No longer do you have to wade through the slog of hoping to catch an editor’s eye. This is the good news. No longer is vanity publishing the stigma of amateurishness that it once bespoke. So, here for all those frustrated with the process, here is the open door you’ve been waiting for all these years. You can get your manuscript out there and let it happen like it should have been for all this time — let the reader decide if it’s the writing of an amateur or the esteemed musings of an learned visionary that’s viable . If it turns out to be the writing of amateurs, so be it. If it’s the great story that’s lay dormant in a drawer for two decades and has now found its wings, also, so be it.
The caveats now are to get others to read it before you take it to epublication. Get the bad grammar out. Clean it up. Nobody gets it perfect all alone. A writer gets so close to the words that typos go uncaught. That’s normal. Get a good copy editor to give it a once over. Get feedback. Get good cover art so that you don’t look like a real low rent project, unless your message is on how to publish for little or no money.
As writers are getting their works out hurridly, the errors are there. Formatting that doesn’t quite work. Links that don’t work or are nonexistent. The errant letters or numbers that appear in the middle of a paragraph. Readers will get used to some of this. It was already happening from the big publishers who were having to cut staff input for budget reasons. There are many print books with quotation marks missing or formatting errors that I have come across in recent years — the type of thing you never ran across in year’s past.
But, it’s all good. At least writers now have a chance that they didn’t have before. And the readers will make the decision about what is good and what is not. Writers will have to be more involved in marketing their products, but that was already happening in the print world. The notion that a writer writes and then sits back and waits for accolades is hooey, and probably was never much a reality for many out there.
So, if you have a message in your heart, and it’s a bit surprising that so many people are so hungry for self expression and exposure, then write. Write as if it was the most important thing. Write as if the world could change with your words. Write as if someone’s day could have more depth with what you have to say. And then have the respect in yourself to get the words presented with quality and style. You may not sell many books, but you will probably touch a few lives. You will probably make a difference to someone. Don’t quit your day job until you are making a lot of money selling books. Selling books has always been a rather tough sell most of the time. But, go for it. Be open to criticism. Believe in yourself, but be willing to make a change to a phrase you particularly love.
And thank the stars that you have the chance to make it happen rather than sadly putting your manuscript in a box at the bottom on a drawer. Step up to the plate. You may end up being your biggest fan, but you also may make a few along the way. Be willing to self promote. And enjoy your position as joining the ranks of the published for all the glory and the benefits (sometimes merely intrinsic) that this affords. You may change a life or two in the process, and that, in itself, is a thought worth embracing.
A Digital Writers Workshop will cover the ins and outs of digital publishing. Sign up for the email list here on the blog for further information as it’s released.