This weekend an agent told me she wants to represent an author of mine and she hasn’t been this excited about a book since she represented two authors whose books became top sellers.
In our conversation, I happened to ask about another proposal a different client had sent in and she hadn’t seen it. Whoops. Turns out I forgot to tell the author to put “Requested material” and my name on the envelope. I knew better, but just forgot. My omission is your boon, since it’s an important point to remember.
[Note: I wrote this post some time ago. Most book proposals are sent by e-mail now, but do include “requested material:book proposal” in your subject line and include the conference where you met, the name of the person who introduced you, or anything else that will remind them of your connection .]
Here are 3 steps to make sure your book proposal gets read:
1. Send a query first. Only send the proposal once the agent or publisher requests it. Otherwise, it goes straight to the slush pile or sometimes even the trash—the penalty of not following directions.
2. Check the agent’s website to see if he or she prefers queries by phone or e-mail. Different agents have different preferences; your upfront research shows you’re a team player.
3. Once an agent has requested your proposal, either because of a query you sent or a pitch you made in person at a conference, mark the envelope (left bottom corner) [or nowadays, it’s mostly the subject line of the e-mail]: “Requested:” followed by an abbreviated version of the title of your book. If you met the agent at a conference, include the conference where you met. For example, you might write, “Requested: Saigon Effect: Harvard Medical Course.” This will get you priority reading. I find that agents will look at a requested proposal I sent them anywhere from immediately to two weeks out, occasionally as long as a month. This is much, much faster than the slush pile.
My cautionary tale ends happily and provided compost for a quick and useful blog post. The agent was very kind and understanding about my omission.
So remember: Send a query first. Research the agent’s website for query preference. Mark the envelope “Requested” and stay away from that slush pile!