The Danger in Writing Book Proposals
There's one common danger that writers face when writing a book proposal. It's so common that it deserves special attention here. But before I tell you what this danger is, let me ask you one question: Have you finished your book proposal yet?
If you have finished it, chances are you face this danger right now. If you haven't finished it, chances are you will face this danger even before you finish. The danger lies in failing to take the next logical step with that book proposal. And that step is to query a literary agent. Many writers who are smart enough to write a book proposal fail to deal with the next logical step for these reasons:
- They don't realize that they need an agent.
- They think the book proposal will sell itself.
- They fail to plan their next step, that is, writing the query.
- They think they can write the query after the proposal.
- They do not understand the value of working on the query even before the proposal is finished.
Many writers think they should work on one thing at a time. How wrong they are! Tennessee Williams usually worked on a short story, a poem, and a play all in the same week. Take a lesson from this master of the written word and work on your query letter while you're still working on your book proposal. Doing so will help you write the proposal.
Researching literary agents while you're still working on your book proposal is one of the smartest things you can do. It always teaches you valuable lessons about what agents want, what they're looking for, and what you can do to make your proposal better. Failing to research agents while working on the proposal is a major error.
The danger in writing a book proposal is in failing to use it properly. If you write a proposal but neglect to sell it you've wasted valuable time. And the best way to ensure that you sell your proposal is to research literary agents while you're still working on the proposal not after you've finished. Start this review process while you're still fine-tuning the proposal. Study agent Web sites. See what agents are saying in interviews. Read their bios and the "about our staff" sections of their Web sites. All this research will help you understand how to polish your proposal so that it speaks directly to what these agents are looking for. Do your homework and your proposal will be irresistible. If you take this advice seriously, you'll be ahead of the game and will understand what agents want—and what they don't want. Doing this research will make your work stand out from the rest.
Finally, researching agents can be fun. It can put you in an optimistic mood. It can show you the big names that some literary agents represent and make you believe that you stand a chance to be in their ranks. (You do!) It can also provide a needed diversion from the occasional drudgery of working on your proposal. One of the reasons Tennessee Williams worked on different projects simultaneously was to keep his spirit fresh. Follow his example and research agents before you finish your proposal. You'll be in good company. You'll improve your motivation. And you'll stand a better chance of crafting a book proposal that will launch your literary career. (Photo: Tennessee Williams photographed in 1956 by legendary photographer Yousuf Karsh.)