Friday, March 8, 2013

What does a Book Proposal entail?

Many people believe that authors get to choose what stories they write. While this may be true for famous authors that make millions, it is not true for me and for most authors. So, when a reader sends me a note begging for another pirate book or begging for another addition to a series I wrote, I am forced to tell them it is NOT in my hands.  It's a very odd business, I agree.

So, how do my next story ideas come to pass? I'm glad you asked!  You may know that this month I have a new release out, Forsaken Dreams!  It's doing very well and getting good reviews so far. You may also have noticed that to the right I have a cute little digital countdown to my next release, Elusive Hope, in November. What you probably don't realize is that book is already written and edited. Yup. I turned that puppy in last November. I'm currently working on book 3 in the series, Abandoned Memories. That book is due May 1st. After that I'm off contract, which means I no longer am contracted by my publisher for any more books. It's a little bit of a scary position for an author to be in. Regardless that I will have 14 books published, that doesn't guarantee that I will get another contract! Things like my sales numbers, the market demand, the economy, the success of my publisher, all play a role in whether an author gets picked up again.

Anyway, all that to say that the next step for me is to put together two or three story ideas and send those to my publisher. I always like to give my current publisher first dibs on whatever I write next because they have been so faithful to me. And because I like working with them a lot!  But how do I put these story ideas together? How do I present them in a way my publisher will become all giddy about my ideas and want to sign me up for a million dollar contract? (Okay I'm exaggerating about the million dollars.)

First thing, you need a really good idea. It can't be a run-of-the-mill boy meets girl sort of idea that is already out there in a thousand books.  It must be something unique, exciting, interesting. It can be similar to other stories (because let's face it, most everything has already been done) but it has to be a new twist on it

Next, you must create a pretty extensive description of your main character (or characters if it's a romance) Personality type, age, description, faults, dreams, hopes, goals, weaknesses, etc.

Now, you need to create the bare bones of a storyline. You'll need a beginning, a crises that gets the story and characters moving, a couple of other major events that make the situation worse and worse for the characters, a climax of disaster, and the ending where everything gets resolved.  All this you include in the infamous and dreaded synopsis. Entire books have been devoted to writing synopses so I won't go into them here. Depending on the publisher, it could be anywhere from 3 to 15 pages long. Thank goodness my publisher doesn't require long or detailed synopses because I'm definitely not a plotter and I rarely stick to the synopsis I first submit. :-)  Regardless, the publisher will want to know the main story line, the characters, the main events, etc.. so they can judge whether the book will sell.

Now, research the marketability of the story. Why do you think it will sell well? What other similar stories have sold well? What movies? Why would people flock to pick up your book?  This is an important step to show the publisher you've done your homework and you're serious about writing

How to put your proposal together.  Here are the main elements of the three proposals I just sent my publisher

Book Title:
Theme:  Moral of the story or major theme that runs throughout
Backdrop:  Time and place the story takes place and why that's important
Selling points:  List what will make readers buy the book. As an example I'll list mine from one of my proposals

  • Tie in with Best-selling Pirate series in both setting and character (Port Royal, Reverend Buchan, and Captain Merrick’s son). Sure to pull in prior pirate fans, begging for another story.
  • Similar feel to it as found in Veil of Pearls: Soirees, fancy balls, upper crust, a character who flows between two worlds
  • Fascinating historical event of the Earthquake that destroyed Port Royal, the wickedest city on earth.
  • Intricate plot involving many events which lead up to saving the hero and heroine and the children from the earthquake, all directed by God’s hand
  • Reminiscent of the duel identity found in the Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Great theme that shows how what we may think is a bad thing ends up leading to a good thing if we just trust God

Heroine: name and description of heroine, what she wants in life and what's keeping her from it
Hero: Same
Synopsis:  3 to 10 pages of story plot

And that's it!!   Easy peasy? NOP.  To put together a good proposal could take months, depending on the amount of research needed and how creative I can be in coming up with a new story.

Anyway, I just sent in 3 proposals to my publisher!  I'm praying they will be interested in at least one of them. As soon as I know anything I'll let you all know!  I'm excited. Really excited about all 3 stories, so we'll see where God leads me!



  1. It's quite a process, isn't it? It's the stage I'm at now, and I've discovered how difficult it is too! How to hook an agent ... how to hook a publisher ... how to hook a reader ... all so dependent on this proposal business. Gone are the days of an author simply (ha - or not so simply!)writing a good story, sending it in and being published. Yikes. It can be quite daunting. After the first one, does it get easier?

    Again, congratulations on Forsaken Dreams, and the books to come. :) I love your writing! I'll keep you in my prayers as you pursue book contracts beyond those. :)

  2. Fri March 8th,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Wow -- I can sure see/hear how this writing business 'keeps you on your toes' ! Always having to be 'ten steps ahead of the game' .... thinking, planning --writing proposals 'in advance' ... to see/hope they will be 'picked up' by your Publisher ! And all, whilst still working on Book 3 of this current series !!! Oh my goodness, MaryLu ... my brain is tired just thinking about it all !!! Talk about -- committment, devotion AND let's not forget about "perseverance" !!!
    This sure explains 'why' you do what you do -- because you love writing and creating stories !!!
    Sure "hope" that -- one, two, and/or three proposals ... are picked up by your Publisher.
    Never once, did I think that this entire line of work was 'easy-peasy' .... absolutely NO WAY !!!
    And, this would totally explain why "you" are the Captain of the Redemption ....
    And like you -- we'll be praying that God continues to lead the way, through your stories.
    Thanks so much for sharing. (Hope, that once-in-awhile, you get some well-deserved "time off" for good behaviour !!!)
    Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda

  3. WHEW! That's quite the process. Never realized that you couldn't just write what you wanted. Thanks for 'pulling back the curtain' on what the life of an author is like. I assure you whatever you write I will be among those who flock to pick it up.

    I am so thankful for Christian authors like you who can spin a beautiful story with action and romance and Christ as the "anchor" (wink! wink!). You truly have been blessed with a gift and I know that God will continue to open doors for you. I look forward to seeing you on bookshelves for years to come.

  4. Wow, thank you for sharing with us how it works for you, MaryLu. It really can be intimidating not knowing if that next book is going to be contracted. I'm trying not to fret as my next proposal is in with my publisher right now :) And this was such a comforting post to see a little picture into your own journey and how you navigate it all. I am excited to read Forsaken Dreams and just realized this morning that it will be a trilogy. Looking forward to the others! :) God bless!

  5. Morning MaryLu,

    Wow!.That is a lot just to get a book up and published. Thanks for a peek behind the scenes for us. I am glad God has blessed you with the gift of writing, I love your books. I will be praying your book proposals go good ;) Happy writing:)

  6. Oh wow, now not only do I have to be praying hard for your proposals to be accepting, but I need to add Joanne to that prayer list. You two ladies have touched my life and heart so much through your writings, that my heart would truly break if you could not keep writing. PRAYING PRAYING PRAYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Oh Caroline.. I can SO relate.. yes... so much depends on the proposal and how you come across and also the market. You could have the best story in the world and it may never see the light of day. So sad for some authors. So, you've already written a book? That's SO COOL! I'm praying it finds a home.

    Brenda.. thanks for your prayers! I need them.. but I'm not sure about my good behavior. Hubby may disagree with you there. :-)

    Thank you so much, Amy! Yes. Christ is the anchor!!

    Joanne, so we are both in that "waiting" phase to see if our proposals get picked up. No wonder I can't keep my nails long! I'll be praying your publisher picks up your next proposal too!!

    Thanks for your prayers too, Rebecca!

    Chaplain, you're such a joy! Thanks also for your prayers!

  8. That is a lot of very hard work!
    Thanks so much for sharing this information with is nice to know what writing a book proposal is like.

  9. Thank You for walking us through that. I can't imagine coming up with new thoughts, adventures without retracing the old. What a mind you all have!