Monday Morning Music Ministry is a great blog run by Rick Marschall. In this week’s post, guest writer Barbara Haley talks about how she felt leading up to her first writers conference and the near panic that set in. Oh, how well I know that feeling! She also shares the conversation with her husband that brought her peace in regards to the conference and her writing. It was a real encouragement to me, and I hope you read it and it blesses you as well! (It applies to writers and non-writers; to anyone who is trying to serve God and sometimes gets overwhelmed or discouraged.)
What do I mean?
I’m working on a proposal for a non-fiction book right now so I’m reading a book on How To Write A Book Proposal. Very good book, good tips and information, but I find myself discouraged by the sample proposals provided. This is not the first How To book (or blog) to make me feel this way.
Sample proposals tend to fall into two categories: the Do and Don’t. Category Don’t reads something like this:
I have written the best book in the history of the world. It will be a bets sellar, so jump on teh bandwagon now! I’m looking for a huge advance and my uncle works for UPS, so don’t worry about shipping. If I don’t hear from you in a few weeks, don’t worry; I’ll find you!
It’s so bad that I feel really good about my chances: I know how to use Spell Check and that I should hint at stalking the editor. Then I move on to Category Do which reads something like this:
Author speaks in 50 major cities around the country every year and has thirty years of experience in the field related to her book. She has 490,000 followers on her blog and her first two books received rave reviews and had to be reprinted because demand was so high.
How am I supposed to compete with that? I can’t. Not yet. (Keep the hope alive, right folks!)
So I think someone should make a How To book of samples for The Rest of Us: those of us who have not yet been published, who cannot travel the country at this stage of our lives, whose platform is small but growing, and who fall somewhere between the Do and Don’t samples. What should a proposal look like for someone like ME?
Any tips from those of you who have gone before?
I recently received yet another rejection for one of my novels. I can usually brush them off and console myself by prattling off the names of famous authors whose rejection slips numbered in the double digits before they were finally published. “If they can do it, so can I!” I tell myself. But for some reason, I just couldn’t shake the uncertainty, the doubt, the woe-is-me-I’m-at-the-bottom-of-the-totem-pole attitude.
Then I got an email from someone who said they enjoyed reading my blog.
Well, that changes everything!
I don’t know why, but that snapped me out of my melancholy. One of the greatest joys of writing is having other people read what you write and like it. I may not have a book in print yet, but I’m getting a taste of that sharing-my-writing joy through my blogs.
I may be on the bottom of the totem pole, but my animal mask is smiling!
Does anyone else tend to panic a little when asked “What’s your book about?” How do I cram a fabulous plot, intriguing characters, and genius subplots into a thirty second spiel? (And all with appropriate humility, right?) No matter how I try to sum up my work, I always feel like I’m doing it wrong. My “elevator pitch” feels more like a stab in the dark. I hone it as close to perfection as I know how and memorize it, but when the moment comes, I’m a bundle of nerves. I think I’ve been trying to provide too much information about the book all at once; I need informational increments.
That’s why loglines are so great: they’re short. When my nerves are bundled, a logline is easy to spit out. And while my listener is digesting the one liner, I can take a deep breath and be ready with the slightly longer “back of the book” type spiel. Informational increments! Another plus: if my listener isn’t interested in hearing more about my work, at least our encounter was short and sweet. If I leave my listener bored or confused, what will s/he assume about my writing?
There’s an excellent explanation of loglines here. It includes lots of examples that I found helpful in writing loglines for my own work.
What have you found to be most helpful when pitching to an editor/agent or simply telling a friend about your writing?
I love writing fiction. L. O. V. E. it. (That’s Loads Of Vigorous Enthusiasm) But a synopsis, a biography, and a sell sheet are right up there with pulling teeth. Why do I have to write a proposal in the first place? Can’t an editor just pick it up and start in chapter one like the (eventual) reader will?
Ah, but the reader doesn’t do that, do they? Not really. Think about the last time you were in a book store or online shopping for a book. Before you started chapter one, what did you do? Browse your favorite genre. Pay extra attention to the books that a sign said are similar to books by your favorite author. Read the blurb on the back to see if it catches your attention.
These are not always easy questions; sometimes the answer is hard to put into words and other times the answer is boringly obvious and you feel stupid saying it. (Um, my romance novel’s intended audience is women who like romance novels.)
But the truth is that there are thousands upon thousands of people writing books and editors and agents receive hundreds of book offers per day, so if you aren’t willing to do the work of the proposal, someone else will, and since they made it easier on the editor/agent, they win. It’s not fun and it doesn’t feel fair, but it’s how the system works.
If you believe in your work, suck it up and write the best proposal you can. Even if you have to chant a mantra while you work. “Evil synopsis, evil synopsis, evil synopsis”.