Thursday, March 21, 2013

Crafting a Winning Book Proposal? It’s All About the Hook! by Marianne Evans


Marianne Evans
Publication is a progression of sorts, isn’t it? Most writers, me included, begin with a story we’ve completed—one we’ve cried, laughed and sweated bullets over. After that, we submit, we hope and we pray. Then, by God’s grace, a contract is offered. A much deserved sense of euphoria ensues.

But once we’ve celebrated with family and friends, once we’ve shared our blessing on Facebook and Twitter, what comes next? Generally, you want to keep publishing, correct? Maybe you’ll write another manuscript and submit it to your editor, or your editor just might come back to you and say, ‘Send me a proposal for something else. If it works, we’ll set up a contract.’

Regardless of which option comes to life, at some point you’re going to have to formulate a proposal; something that will grab your editor’s heart. I know of precious few authors who yearn to write an overview; crafting that three to four page overview is the bane of most every writer’s existence.

Until recently, I’ve been a devout ‘Pantster.’ I loved the process of letting my story and characters take me away without benefit of a roadmap. Now I write on proposal, so I’ve had to completely shift gears and become a ‘Plotter.’ During that process, here’s what I’ve learned:

Don’t leave your editor hanging. You need to paint the full picture to your editor so they know what to expect. In other words, don’t say, ‘There’s a plot twist in chapter eight that’s a stunner!’ Spell it out and be clear about what will happen to drive your story. Your reader will want to be kept in suspense—your contracting editor—not so much. They’ll want to know the whole picture.

Don’t let the above guideline be stifling! There’s wiggle room. If something occurs, like a story development or character arc you never saw coming, that’s OK. Keep within the basic parameters of what you’ve pitched to your editor but let the story develop. If there’s an issue of concern, touch base with your editor. They’ll guide you. For instance, I had to ask my editor about a book-ending for my upcoming series, Sisters in Spirit. Reaching out gave me peace of mind as I moved forward.

By now, you might think: ‘But Marianne, you talked about hooks. I want to win my editor’s attention!’ Absolutely. Here’s the hook I’m referring to when I talk about winning proposals:

Let the power of your writing shine through. Proposal writing is book writing in miniature. You’ve got an incredible idea. Pour that passion into the way you create the overview of your book. Don’t just say, ‘Jillian’s boyfriend broke her heart. She knew she needed to move on.’ Rather, try something like: ‘Jillian’s boyfriend jilted her at the altar, stirring self-doubt and a need to reevaluate her life.’ See the difference? The words are just as compact, but a bit more engaging and revealing. 

Storytelling within a proposal. It isn’t about suspense and surprises. It’s about enticing your editor and pouring your passion into the way you create the overview of your book! Good luck, and God bless!

Dora here. What about you?
Do you dread writing proposals?
Care to share your tips on writing them?


Escaping the black residue of her past, Callie Phillips finds sanctuary at Queen of Angels Church. The reformed rebel is a middle-school choir teacher by day, and music director on the weekends, mingling with parish members over breakfast at her favorite after-church haunt, Sal’s Place.

Luke West embraces a devout belief in the sacredness of human life. An EMT, he takes charge of life-and-death situations and acts as guardian for his ten-year-old niece, D awn West who has a child’s zest for life and a God-given gift for music.

When Callie takes the little girl under her wing and becomes a mentor and surrogate mother to Dawn, Callie and Luke are thrown together. She’s drawn to the dynamic and handsome EMT, but her sullied past threatens any future she and Luke might share. Despite Callie’s former life, can Luke’s love teach her there’s nothing God’s mercy can’t wipe clean? Will Luke forgive even the bleakest form of sin and desperation in order to embrace the love of an extraordinary woman?


Marianne Evans is an award-winning author of Christian romance and fiction. Her hope is to spread the faith-affirming message of God’s love through the stories He prompts her to create. Readers laud her work as: ‘Riveting.’ ‘Realistic and true to heart.’ ‘Compelling.’

Evans’s novel, Hearts Communion, earned Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year honors in the Romance category as well as best inspirational romance of 2012 by ACRA, a chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Evans has also won acclaim in such RWA contests as The Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence where she has been a finalist twice, and the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence contest. 


A lifelong resident of Michigan, Evans is active in a number of a number of Romance Writers of America chapters, most notably the Greater Detroit Chapter where she served two terms as President. She’s also active in American Christian Fiction Writers and the Michigan Literary Network. Connect with Marianne:  Website  Blog  Facebook Reader Page  Twitter 

16 comments:

  1. It' so nice to meet another Michigander, Marianne Evans!
    I very much enjoyed your advice
    about knowing where the story is
    going, although I love to change
    gears, and have a good hook. I've
    been learning this and know we have
    to create the action - not tell it.

    What a nice share and great advice.
    Blessings~

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    1. Hi there, Diane! I'm Michigan born and raised. Love the mitten! :-) <3 Thanks so much for stopping by! Glad you found the post to be helpful. The key is, don't be intimidated. Proposals are simply an abbreviated form of story telling. Hook 'em with your plot and characters!! God bless!

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  2. Great post, Marianne. I'm so with you on shifting gears from pantser to plotter, and I appreciate your tips! Keep on cranking out those awesome stories, my friend!

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    1. <<< Keep on cranking out those awesome stories >>> The same goes for you, Miss Dora! :-) Thanks for the visit to Seriously Write! Hugs to you guys - you're all amazing!! Shifting gears from Pantster to Plotter has definitely been interesting. I think I've converted completely! :-) Blessings!

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  3. I'm a pantster with plotter tendencies and I HATE proposals! LOL.

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    1. Proposals are beasts -- but I promise they can be tamed, Dana - especially by a writer with your skills!! God bless, and so glad you dropped by!

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  4. Hi Marianne, always so good to "read" about you! Hi Dora too. Without you two, I don't know what I'd do! Love ya bunches, and keep up the wonderful writing. My Kindle is loaded with you both. I'm not doing proposals any more, but rather finishing up some projects (which is not going well, sheesh) and then taking time to catch my breath, decompress, and recharge. In Lake Tahoe (my favorite), then the Canadian Rockies and in October, Colorado to watch the aspen change color. I'm so excited. God bless and keep. xoxo

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    1. Well, Tanya, we'll expect you to be recharged enough and totally inspired after visiting those beautiful sites to write quite a few more books. Love you back!! :-)

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    2. Tanya, I'm totally with Dora on this one! Come back from those fanastic and inspiring spots with energy to burn and a writing angel that feeds you sure and true! You're amazing, and such a treasure! Hugs and love!

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  5. Great post, Marianne. I don't write on proposal (yet), and in truth, I'm so scared to! What if I can't finish the book? :-)

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    1. I understand your fear, Liz. I feel the same way. However, I wrote a proposal only for the first time last year. Though the book wasn't contracted (it came close), I finished it anyway. My problem is, had it been contracted, I'd now have to cut it down by a few thousand words. :-) Maybe it just takes experience, but it is a scary thing.

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    2. Hi there, Liz - my fellow "Gem!" (Yes, you'll forever be a gem to me!!! xo ) I just got home from work and can pay visits to my favorite 'net spots. You hit on the crux of circumstance that could become a post of its own. Again, the key is editorial relationship. When you contract on proposal, always, always set realistic expections. Use your calendar and build in enough time. Don't be shy about it, either. Yes, the cardinal rule is never miss a deadline. However, I had to ask for a two week extension once, and my editor was more than understanding and agreeable. Life happens (in my case medical stuff - nothing threatening, so no worries---but still, it interferred with my writing time, and mood) Be up front, honest, and keep an open rapport going with your editor. Blessings to you my friend! So glad you stopped by!!

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    3. Sandra, you make a great point about another aspect of proposal writing: Word count and the editing process. In general, like I said in my post, there is a bit of wiggle room, and there's an understanding that stories evolve and shift a bit as they're created. I doubt a trim of a few thousand words would have been a deal breaker. I have to admit, you nailed it: fears abound -- meeting deadline, making the story shine, honoring the faith that's been given. Some writers find that motivating. I find it nerve wracking! LOL! Writing certainly isn't for the faint of heart, is it? :-D God bless, and thanks for letting me be part of the blog!

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  6. Ugh, hate writing props. Would rather write another complete novel.

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    1. LOL, Linda! I hear you loud and clear! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Great post and I enjoyed the comments as well. Bottom line is the Lord works it out after we come to our own process. I still use a mix of plot/panster to get going on a project and follow my own goals. My editor always brings out the best if there is something I need to attend to in my stories.

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