Continuing our March theme of Wednesdays on the craft of being an author, let’s talk proposals and contracts.
Some of us Wickeds write more than one series. Some have proposals pending. Some have ideas for new series. I (Edith) think our readers here will be interested in the process. Let’s dish, Wickeds, on how we get new series into the publishing pipeline and how we plan ahead. We’ve had a few group posts on the process: first three chapters, character sketches, comps and marketing plans, and writing the synopsis. But what’s the overview of a proposal? What are all the parts?
Edith: My agent (all of the Wickeds’ agent, as it turns out) guided me through writing my first proposal back in 2011. 1. Series description. 2. Synopsis of books one through three. 3. Market analysis – in the case of my Local Foods Mysteries, how popular and widespread interest was in local organic foods. 4. Comparable series – showing other popular series with a related theme but not identical. 5. My credentials to write the proposed books: prior fiction publication credits, knowledge of the subject matter, professional memberships. 6. The first three chapters. If you have the entire first book written, so much the better.
Barb: Interesting, Edith. I wrote mine for the same agent in the same time frame, but it was slightly different. 1) Overview–description of the premise, 2) Cast of Characters–descriptions of recurring series characters, 3) The Books–three paragraphs or so about each of the first three books, 4) Sample Recipes–since mine was a culinary mystery, 5) Author Biography and 6) The First Three Chapters.
Liz: When I wrote my first proposal in the same timeframe as you two, I did 1) Overview – my main characters and their background which led to the start of the book; 2) Additional series characters; 3) Synopsis of book one and shorter synopses of the next two books; 4) Series tips/recipes; 5) The market – a snapshot of why homemade pet food would attract readers; 6) Bio; 7) First three chapters. In 2014, when I wrote the proposal for my new series, I used the same format.
Sherry: I had a great advantage since you three had all turned your proposals in about a year before I did. So you all sent yours to me and I used them as a template. So I started with a series overview, cast of characters, the books (a paragraph on each of the three books) — and it’s interesting how different the titles of book two and three ended up being. I called book two Marred Sale Madness (at some point I realized it was impossible to enunciate so it morphed to Deal or Die — Barb’s suggestion and then my editor changed to The Longest Yard Sale and book three was originally Murder As Is — it became All Murders Final! But back to the proposal: comparable titles, audience and marketing opportunities, author bio and the first three chapters. I think having all of yours as a guideline helped when John Talbot said he wanted the proposal fast. I wrote it all in four days.
Jessie: I include all the same components in a proposal as everyone else so I thought I would talk about the process of getting them ready. I have a true north I follow when I work on a project. I’ve invariably found that for something to be successful I have to follow the fun. When I am having fun everything flows. Often that fun starts with a place and a time. Soon the characters start in whispering about their lives, loves and loathes. Then, with luck, plots niggle and twitch and build. Not long after, I feel an itch to get going on the first three chapters.
Julie: I love that we are talking about this, because fifteen years ago when I started on this journey, I had no idea about any of this. I love Jessie’s addition, and can’t say enough about enjoying the journey. While proposals are the business side of writing, and you may hate to think about marketing, your platform, comparables, etc. it is a good strategy. BTW, I was even luckier than Sherry–I had a lot of proposals to learn from.
Edith: As for how we plan ahead, I do the following. If I get an idea for a new series that I’m passionate about, I run it by my agent. If he thinks it would sell, I work up a proposal, and as Jessie says, feel that itch to get going on the first three chapters. In this publishing climate, it’s always good to have something in the pipeline.
Jessie: I’m not sure about everyone else but I don’t tend to run much past anyone before working up a proposal. I do use fun, which for me equals passion, as a guide. I’ve only run one of the contracts I’ve sold past anyone before I wrote it. For the other three, I’ve followed the fun. [Edith: Have revised preceding paragraph!]
Readers: What kind of proposals have you written in your life? What do you do when you get an idea you love and want to work on it?