Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ask the Editor - When to Submit a Book Proposal

QUESTION: I am a young adult author who self-published a debut autobiographical novel, Confessions of a Catholic Schoolgirl almost 2 years ago. In the spring of 2008, a well-known literary agent "discovered' me on my MySpace page with a possible book project. He told me what he was looking for and why he thought I was the best writer for the job, but unfortunately he did not like the book synopsis I sent him. However, he did give me the name of two editor friends who may be interested in my next book, The Gospel According to Gabby. I only have about 45 pages of this book written. My question is when should I contact these editors? Should I finish the novel first and then send the query/synopsis?
Michelle Kane

Michelle, you are lucky to have this referral from a top agent and my advice to you is to follow up quickly with these editors while this is all fresh. Nothing is worse than contacting an editor six months from when you got the referral.

A general rule of thumb in the industry is that you finish a work of fiction before trying to market it -- unless you are a top author who can sell by name only. However, your circumstance of being referred by a top agent can change this rule just a bit. I would highly recommend that you contact these editors while this referral is fresh. Six months from now it may not have the same impact. And because you have proven that you can complete a book, that is not the issue it could be if you were contacting the editors cold with no previous publishing credits.

What you can do at this point is send them a copy of the referral, a short synopsis of the new book and a sample chapter. In your cover letter explain about the referral and give the status of the book in progress, as well as a tentative completion date. It would also be good to include a sales record for your first book, as well as some indication of how you can help market this book. The ability to partner up on marketing has become a very important factor in acquisitions these days.

Good luck. And do come back to let us know how this goes.



Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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  1. I've heard some publishers accept books on synopsis, while others want the completed book, even if you're already published by them.

    To each his own.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Great advice, Maryann. And, like you, I'd like to know how things work out. Please do keep us posted, Michelle!

  3. Morgan, nonfiction is often sold on just a proposal, but fiction, even for those who have already been published, often won't be accepted just on a synopsis. I think you have to be one of the real top-selling authors to sell on a synopsis.

    Now that is for traditional, NY publishers. Some of the new, small Internet publishers may have different standards.

  4. Good advice, Maryann.

    Don't let this sit too long before you approach these editors. And put your referrals in the opening paragraph of your letter.

  5. Couldn't agree more. Send it now. Publishers change their minds about what scripts they want to receive more than we change our shoes! Good luck with your submission!
    Carol Denbow, aka, Author101


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.