RAISING THE BAR

27 May, 2010

I was speaking with one of my favorite editors this morning, Michael Flamini at St. Martin’s Press about how hard agents work on nonfiction proposals with their authors before ever submitting them to publishers.  “Oh, I can tell,” said Michael.  “I can really see a change over the past decade.  So many proposals are just fabulous!  They have everything!”  By “everything,” Michael was referring to a strong, well-defined author platform, a marketing plan, a clear sense of who the audience is for a given book, a detailed analysis of how the proposed book stacks up to similar or competitive books.

I was both grateful to hear that editors do recognize and appreciate what goes into the proposals and dismayed that if all other agents and authors were working as intensively as we work with our authors at our agency, then how much higher will the bar have to be raised to stand out in the future!

Indeed, sometimes it might just be easier to write the book than to write a brilliant proposal!  Even in those instances when an author has given me a full, well-written manuscript for a book, I have asked for a proposal.  “You can’t be serious,” the author sure must think.  But I am!  Editors alas do not have the time to read your entire manuscript.  First, they need the proposal to help them to decide if they want or should get involved in reading the manuscript.  Of course, there are always exceptions, but it helps to provide the editor with a proposal as a guide, as a kind of business plan for the book.  The more clearly an author and agent can articulate a vision for a proposed book, the higher the chance that the editor will give it serious consideration.

And no matter how well crafted the proposal, the editor may still have a different idea about the slant or the positioning and occasionally ask for yet more work to be done on the proposal before bringing it into their board.  I always welcome these opportunities because it shows that the editor is engaged and investing in the project.  At the end of the day, unless an editor wants to fight the good fight, it is always easier to say no.

So, if you are an author, do your homework before approaching an agent. And once you are working with an agent, if you’re asked to do more, do it are serious about getting published.  That collaboration is just the first step in a long collaborative process that just may result in a published book!