Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Proposal Tips by Stephenia H. McGee

I have been doing evaluations for a literary agent for the last sixteen months. It's my job to send the agent a short evaluation of the author's proposal and whether or not I think the book will catch a publisher's attention. During this time I've noticed a few things that make some proposals pop, and others fizzle.

The first thing I look for should really go without saying. Did the author follow the agent's instructions on what he wants in the proposal? You'd be surprised how much this actually means. The agent wants specific things included for a reason. Following directions automatically puts you in a good light.

Next, I look at the word count. Most publishers will toss out a proposal before they even read it if the word count isn't in their specified parameters. If an author states the book is a novella and then shows me a 60,000 word count, I know they haven't done their homework.

Genre is another snag a lot of authors hit. Really try to do some research into genres and make sure you have the correct one for your story. I once got a proposal where the author presented a romance, but then gave me a happily married couple in their mid-fifties starting up their own private eye firm. Knowing your genre means knowing your market, your audience and what agents and publishers are a fit for you. If you're sending a great book to the wrong agent, you're still going to get a rejection letter.

The next portion of a proposal is usually a summary of the book. Don't be afraid to tell everything that happens, including the ending. While it is impossible to include every sub plot in a summary, the agent wants to see the major themes, plots and conflicts. This is not a reader pitch where you want them to be interested enough to read more. This is a brief overview of the entire book that will show the agent if you have written a complete storyline with a satisfying ending.

The last portion I evaluate is the author's sample chapters. First and foremost, have someone else proofread your sample chapters for typos and misused words. Too many mistakes are sloppy and unprofessional.

When I am evaluating an author's sample chapters, I look for something that grabs my attention, has engaging characters and an interesting premise. I ask myself: Does the story flow, is there good dialogue and beats, and is there some kind of conflict occurring? Does the book fit the author's specified target audience and type of publisher they are seeking?

And finally, I look for what I call "clean" writing. Here are a few brief tips for common mistakes I see: 1) Show, don't tell. Let me see a conversation; don't tell me what the characters talked about. 2) Don't give a huge section of backstory. Avoid the urge to tell the reader the character's past and motivations all at once. Weaving these details throughout the story feels like a natural way to get to know the character and gives the reader a sense of mystery. 3) Don't head-hop. It is very frustrating to be reading a paragraph inside one character's point of view and thoughts, then jump inside another character's in the next paragraph. It is confusing to the reader and breaks the spell of bringing them inside the story. And 4) Choose your point of view carefully. First person works best with only one character, not several. Third person and deep third-person work well for multiple characters and for plot driven novels.

Don't stress so much over your proposal being perfect that you never send it in. I have seen several proposals where the story needed a little work, but the agent was willing to represent the author if they made the corrections. Having a great story that is well-presented and being open to suggestions will always makes your proposal pop and help you to land that perfect agent.

Stephenia's Bio:
Stephenia McGee wrote her first story from a first-grade spelling list. Many more have followed, but A Legacy of Lies is her first novel. She is a member of the Christian Writer's Guild and continues to work with other writers to hone her craft.

In addition to writing, Stephenia also enjoys painting and working with horses. She has a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University in animal science and has worked and trained for several equestrian farms. She is the Chairman at Spirit Horse Ministries, and continues to use these skills in the youth programs.

She is a lifetime member of the AQHA and a member of the Fort Rosalie chapter of the DAR.

Stephenia is married to her best friend and greatest blessing, Jason, and they currently live in Mississippi with their two sons.

Stephenia’s new book –

A Life Built on a Legacy – A Legacy Built on Lies

Sarah Sanders was always the reasonable sort, until she kissed a cowboy against her better judgment. Feeling strangely drawn to this mysterious ranch hand with a dark past, she finds herself swept up in an adventure that will force her to question everything she believes.

Jim Anderson’s cowboy gig is going pretty well. Except for one thing – he thinks he's going insane. Night terrors, hallucinations, and now a girl he has no business falling for. It’s better to keep his distance. But when Sarah is nearly killed, he will risk it all to save her.

When tragedy brings him back to the home he tried to escape, Jim will have to face the truth behind his strange circumstances and hope that Sarah will believe him. Digging up the answers to questions long buried, does he have the strength to face the dark family secrets that threaten to destroy them both?

Available at Desert Breeze Publishing,


Stephenia McGee said...

Thanks so much for having me, Anne!