The Power of Proposal

The Power of Proposal


Thanks to for the intro and outro music!


ASK THE AUTHOR: Jenny Snow: Is there any rule about how often to use the character’s name vs. he or she? For example: A. Sarah dashed a note to her husband. Or B. She dashed a note to her husband.

AARON: Another excellent question. The only rule I know of here is “be clear.” For the most part, pronouns are fine and good, and likely preferable to using the name over and over. As long as it’s clear whose POV you’re in, the pronoun should be fine. One exception would be if you’ve got two people of the same gender within a paragraph. Then things can get confusing. “She gave her her oatmeal when she was done eating.” Here, you’ll need to use the names to differentiate between the two. Also, if you’ve not used the name in some time, you may want to revisit it. Lastly, I’d say to always begin chapters and scenes with the name to orient the reader as to whose POV will be in that scene.

AL: Aaron is right. It all comes down to clarity and flow. The one thing we harp on here at Firsts in Fiction is to never lose sight of the reader. If the reader has to guess about the owner of the pronoun, then they have been bumped out of the the story. Sometimes a beat (an action used to identify a character) will identify a pronoun. For example, if it has been established that Julie is eating oatmeal and Laura is eating only toast then a beat like “She stirred the contents of her bowl again…” tells the reader that the “she” is Julie and not Laura. So, use the name freely but also use pronouns freely. It’s all about keeping speed bumps out of your story.

MOLLY: My rule of thumb is to mention the character by name once every two or three paragraphs. During dialogue, it’s rarely necessary as we don’t call each other by name in every sentence. I use proper names when I need to identify a character, but typically I use pronouns 75% of the time.

Firsts in Fiction

Power of Proposals


  • MJ: I’d like to mention right off the bat that although our podcasts are mostly stand-alone episodes, I definitely recommend for our audience to watch or listen to all the November episodes on Proposals. The information shared builds and connects and gives a complete picture, one piece at a time. Think of these episodes as LEGOs. You can build whatever you want with them, but it’s better when you have more pieces.

The purpose of the proposal.

  • For this program we’re focusing on proposals for novels. The program is, after all, called FIRSTS IN FICTION.
  • It is your first point of contact with the acquisitions editor.


  • For our new audience, can you explain how an acquisitions editor is different from a “regular” editor?
    • Sure. An acquisitions editor (sometimes called the “acq editor” is the one who sorts through submissions and presents possible books to the pub board (the people making the decision about new books–we’ll talk a little more about them later in the program). Not to be confused with line editors and copyeditors.


  • It is your sales representative. It needs to speak for you and do so in a very convincing manner. At this point, the proposal will do more work than your agent.


  • Do you recommend having an agent before submitting proposals? Isn’t submitting for consideration what an agent does?
    • Many houses require submissions to come through an agent. But smaller houses still take direct submissions or you may have pitched your idea at a writer’s conference and the editor asked for the proposal.


  • It is a digest of your idea.


  • The proposal consists of vital information about your project. It will contain marketing information, a biography, sample pages, a synopsis, and more!


Be an editor/agent for a moment.

  • Your office. Desk, phone, coffee cup, and several large stacks of manuscripts and proposals. Okay, that’s an old image. The clutter has moved inside the agent/editor’s computer.
  • It’s your job to find a manuscript that meets a set of goals that have been set for you (or by you).
  • Once you find something you like, you will then have to take it to a pub committee (or similar) and sell the idea.


  • What’s a “pub committee” and how does it work?


  • You have hundreds of proposals from which to choose and a limited number of new titles available. Some of which are already under contract to the current stable of writers.
  • You’re tired.
  • How do you choose?
  • Saleable synopsis.
  • Professional look.
  • Easy to read.
  • Professional presentation.
  • Confidence and professionalism is clear.
  • Concise.
  • The magic moment occurs when the editor says, “Hmm.” The trick is getting the “Hmm.” As soon as you do, you’re different than all the other proposals.


  • This “hmm” moment may come from any section of the proposal. The key is to minimize simple mistakes that result in an immediate “no” (typos, stock characters, cliche story set-up or description, etc.). You also want to maximize the originality of your project, which we’ll talk about more throughout this cast.


The standard proposal.

  • Cover letter. Be concise, direct, and confident. (If you have an agent, then most likely he/she will provide this.)
  • Biography. Include any special qualities, education, experience that may apply.
  • Story Synopsis.
  • One line
  • One paragraph
  • Full synopsis
  • Contact information (you and your agent)
  • Sample pages
  • Twenty or thirty pages.
  • Offer to send the full manuscript upon request.
  • Don’t skip chapters. It raises a red flag.


  • Marketing information
    • Include similar titles and their sales numbers.
    • Establish your “platform”
      • For new listeners, what is your definition of “platform” and how is it established?


What the editor/agent wants to know.

  • What’s the story about? They want to know this right off the bat. Don’t be coy. Give the Big Picture.
  • Details of the book:
  • Genre
  • Audience


  • Who would buy this book for himself or herself? Be specific. Think gender, age range, fans of …, etc.


  • Length (in word count)
  • Point of View
  • Status of the project (either complete or in progress)
  • They want to know about you as a writer:
  • Author credits (if you have them)
  • Bio (include a photo)
  • Expertise
  • Connections
  • Endorsers
  • Social media
  • Speaking
  • Any media experience (if you have some)
  • Writing style:
  • Marketing research
  • Author marketing

Selling the sizzle


  • What’s at stake for the character or something the character cares about? What happen if the protagonist fails?
  • Unforgettable characters: Think of your favorite characters in your favorite books. What makes them special?
  • A story the readers will care about and not soon forget.
  • Interesting setting. This could be an uncommon, even otherworldly place, or it can be a common place made unique.
  • “Al-isms”
  • Taglines
  • Pull quotes
  • Formatting (front matter)
  • “Factoids”
  • Three act structure in the full synopsis
  • Alternative titles (six or so)
  • Sample of endorsements
  • Sample reviews from previous work
  • Sample of positive reader comments
  • CAPITALIZE names of primary characters (first mention)
  • How it works.
  • Choose your primary pitch. This is the book you want to write now.
  • Include the standard material but…
  • Add a character list,
  • plot structure if necessary. (“Double helix” of SHIP; Skipping through history in VANISHED.)
  • Use teaser lines. [“How far would you go to save a life? How far would you go to save thousands?”]
  • Make it easy to read. No fancy fonts or artwork. Proper artwork and color is okay.
  • Keep it organized. Things should be easy to find. Everything you do should make the editor’s job easier.
  • Use a little color. (Think of women’s makeup. The right amount looks good; too much looks cheap.)
  • Send it off (and then to work on your next project).



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