How Writing a Proposal Is a Lot Like Teething

We’ve hit the teething stage at our house which means a lot of crying/whining (especially at 2:05 am), drooling, and biting. I still haven’t figured out how Baby Boy manages to fit almost his entire fist into his mouth. I have, however, made a lot of comparisons of teething to the writing process, specifically to proposal writing.

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1. It’s painful. Have you ever seen the show So You Think You Can Dance? Each week certain contestants who are in the bottom after the voting process have to dance for their life. They are allowed to dance in their style, but they must pour their heart and soul into their dance to prove to the judges that they still deserve to be in the competition. Similarly, think of your proposal as writing for your life. It is the first major part of your writing (after the initial query) that an agent sees. It is also what gets sent out to editors. If it is written well enough and an agent doesn’t have to do much editing, that enhances your chances of landing an agent. Therefore, writing a proposal should be painful. Pour your heart and soul into it. Create the best proposal possible. Razzle dazzle your audience–show them you can write.

2. Writing a proposal includes a lot of crying/whining (especially at 2:05 am). Agonize over the proposal. Research how to write a strong proposal. Don’t just find the first one that you like and copy it. View several of your favorites and compare them, looking to see what they all include. Spend time on the proposal. Just like you spent time writing and editing your manuscript, you should also spend time writing and editing your proposal.

3. Sometimes you have to bite (on chocolate) to help you through the pain. Use whatever inspires you to write a strong proposal. Get in the writing zone. Although a proposal isn’t as creative as novel writing, to write a good proposal, you need to be in the creative zone. An agent and an editor can tell a well-written proposal verses one that is written because you have to. So, go for a walk or a run to ‘shake your sillies out’, grab some chocolate and some coffee, and sit down to write. As an example, right now I am writing outside on my balcony viewing a beautiful moon–it has that ‘man in the moon’ look, and tonight it seems as if he is whistling. The neighbors are playing country music (which I love), and I can hear crickets and the wind brushing the leaves of the trees. I am in writing heaven. Now, if a bug flies in my hair, I am going back inside to my living room couch.

What exactly should you include in a proposal? Again, there are several blogs and websites out there that teach what to include in a good proposal, but here are just a few tips to remember.

1. Platform, platform, platform (even if you write novels). Have you hit a dry spell in your novel? Consider writing a short story and pitch it to literary journals (both in print or online). If you’re a non-fiction writer, write and pitch to magazines or journals that print your subject matter. Get your name out there. Any publication is something you can include on your proposal. Connect on social media. See if you can book speaking gigs, even if it is just ten people at a local Bible study. Connect widely, but also connect deeply, especially with influencers.

2. Pretty prose (but not purple). Engage your readers with your writing. What can you do to make your proposal stand out above the others? How can you add your own style and flare? Obviously there are certain sections that need to be pretty straightforward, but there are others that lend themselves for your own personality to shine through. Start with your biography. How can you show agents and editors who you are not just by listing your credentials?

3. Polished. Consider bringing your proposal to your critique group. Have an editor read through for grammar/mechanics errors. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t just edit it once, twice, or even three times. Edit it thirteen times. Or eighteen. And have your critique partners do the same.

Q4U: How can you make your current proposal even stronger? What tips have you heard for how to make a proposal great? Has anyone ever offered you positive comments or constructive feedback on a proposal?

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This entry was posted in Agent's Desk, Writing and tagged , , , , by sarahjoyliteraryagent. Bookmark the permalink.

About sarahjoyliteraryagent

Sarah Joy Freese is an associate literary agent with WordServe Literary. She loves reading through queries and attending writing conferences to meet new excellent writers. Sarah especially enjoys working with authors make their manuscripts even stronger. Sarah received her bachelor’s degree in English and communications from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She also has an MA (emphasis in creative writing) and an MLIS degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Sarah is married and is enjoying life with her husband and two birds, Brewster and Simon. When she is not working, Sarah enjoys crocheting, watching NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy, and playing Euchre.

8 thoughts on “How Writing a Proposal Is a Lot Like Teething

  1. Excellent reminders here, Sarah, about ‘cutting our teeth’ as writers! I especially like the advice to do some shorter pieces to build platform during the dry days of writing longer manuscripts. I will put it on my to-do list. I also need more chocolate…

    • Jan,

      Yes, writing short stories does help to get your name out there, and it encourages creativity. However, it is not for everyone. As an example, I think Melville was a GREAT short story writer, but I *hated* Moby Dick. Some people can’t do both. But, if you can–great! 😉

      And who doesn’t need more chocolate. 🙂

  2. The good thing about writing proposals – it helps me find my elevator pitch. The process brings forth content we’ll need for marketing. And by the way, the marketing section is always the hardest part for me. I take that back. It’s the waiting afterwards. 🙂

    • Marketing can be difficult, but it’s a necessary evil… Although, I don’t really want to call it that. It’s hard, yes, but it’s also a part of the business of writing as I am sure you know.

      You’re right–waiting is hard! It’s hard for agents, too!

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