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You’re at a big writing conference, heading up to your room at the end of a jam-packed day, when your Dream Agent steps into the elevator.
You say something pleasant because you’re nice like that, and after a few moments, she asks if you’re there to pitch a book. You smile and say yes. “So let’s hear the pitch!” she says. You:
- Hem and haw.
- Laugh and giggle.
- Blush and say something unintelligible that you lay awake all night rehashing in your head, amazed at your own ineptitude.
None of these answers is acceptable for a writer who is serious about reaching readers. You need to be prepared to sell your story, whether you run into an agent by accident, set up a pitch meeting, or send a query letter through cyberspace.
Some writers can’t stand talking about the entrepreneurial demands of being a writer because they don’t like it as much as the creative side, or think it turns books into products as soulless as dish soap, or are simply overwhelmed by how much it seems to add to their plate.
But as a book coach who specializes in helping writers get from inspiration to publication, I’ve seen the heartbreaking results from writers who ignore the reality that they are creating a product for a marketplace.
These writers fail to understand that publishers are businesses, that readers are customers, that books are commodities that get bought and sold.
They write in a vacuum, never lifting their head from their coffee and their keyboards, and never asking the critical questions they need to ask about how their book will live in the world, how it will connect to readers, and why anyone should care. The result is very often a book that doesn’t connect with anyone.
Yes, absolutely, writing from your heart with deep integrity is the primary task for any writer. But once mastered, you must be able to articulate what your book is really about, understand who your ideal reader really is, and figure out the most dynamic way to connect with them in a very noisy world. In other words, you have to become an author entrepreneur.
A writer who can master this second set of skills is the one who is going to write a fabulous query letter that results in a manuscript request. She is the one who is going to give a fantastic presentation when she finds herself on an elevator with an agent. She will stand out in a crowded pitch fest. And if she chooses to self publish, she will have jacket copy and a website that speaks directly to her readers’ heart.
The One Page Book Proposal helps you master author entrepreneurship. It incorporates many of the same sections of a full-length book proposal, but it boils these elements down to their essence. It’s a powerful way to start thinking about your market and preparing to pitch.
If you’re planning to attend a writing conference, you can make a beautiful version of this mini proposal to hand out to agents and editors along with your business card. It’s a professional way to set yourself apart from the pack and let agents know that you mean business.
This proposal template is completely free to use!
How to use The One Page Book Proposal
- Download and save two copies — one for the lessons in each box and one where you can slot in your answer.
- Review the directions in each box as you work through the sections.
- Sketch out your answers in another document, then place them in your “live” copy. (To get rid of the “jennienash.com” on the bottom of your “live” copy, just click and delete. It’s a text box.)
- Take your time! Completing your one-page proposal takes research and soul-searching. Can’t summarize your book in one sentence, let alone 150 words? That’s a problem you need to solve. Have no clue what other books your ideal reader might love? You’re going to want to figure it out.
From one-page proposal to networking success
Here’s how the above conversation might go for someone who filled out The One Page Book Proposal:
Agent: “So are you here to pitch a book?”
Writer: “I am. It’s a contemporary women’s novel about a group of 40-something friends who spend a crazy Fourth of July weekend together and learn why old friends are the best friends. I think of it as a cross between The Big Chill and The Fault in Our Stars – except nobody dies.”
Agent, laughing: “Well that’s a relief. So the friends have been friends a long time?”
Writer: “Since childhood. And they’re all going through major life events — fertility issues, aging parents, the marriages ending — and are feeling pretty unmoored.”
Agent: “Sounds like pretty much everyone I know.”
Writer, laughing: “I know. Me too. I think that’s why The Interestings must be selling so well. Wolitzer seems to capture this stage of life so well. My goal was to write a similar book, but there’s a health scare at the center of mine that gives it a different flavor. A childhood cancer that’s come back.”
Agent: “Oh, wow. That’s something new. Do you know something about that topic?”
Writer, nodding: “I’m a childhood cancer survivor. I’ve already been speaking to people at [Big Cancer Center] about doing events around my book launch, and I actually met a woman at this conference who invited me to do a program at her temple.”
Agent: “Is the manuscript finished?”
Writer: “Yes. Finished, revised and edited. It clocks in at 75,000 words. I have a proposal, as well.”
Agent, digging in purse: “Here’s my card. I’d love to see it — use that email address, not the one on the website. This is my floor. It was so nice to meet you.”
See how the writer was able to weave into the conversation all her hard-won answers from The One Page Book Proposal? That’s the secret power you want to cultivate so that when your opportunity comes, you can nail it.
The truth is that during that elevator ride with your Dream Agent, you may not get a chance to whip out your One Page Book Proposal. It would be pretty awkward in a lot of situations to dig around for a piece of paper.
But since you created the proposal, you have a deep understanding of how your book might live in the world and who might read it. This knowledge gives you the chance to have a lively and professional conversation that just might open some doors.
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