April 24, 2017


By Lea Wait

My nineteenth book was just published. And, yes. I’ve sweated through proposals like everyone else.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

First: look up the editor or agent you’re submitting to. See what they want. (Yes: you should personalize each submittal.) Do they want a letter? A proposal? Email or snail mail? One chapter? Fifty pages?

A cover letter is not a proposal, and a proposal is not a long cover letter.

A cover letter is one page that includes 1) one or two sentences about your writing credits, 2) the genre and “elevator pitch” of the book you’re proposing, 3) other books similar to yours, and 4) how much of the book you’ve written.  

Your proposal expands on that. The first page should have your name and address (including email and telephone number) single spaced in the upper left hand corner. The number of words in your completed manuscript is in the upper right hand corner.

The word proposal should be centered about a third of the way down the page, with your book’s title beneath it. Everything should be double spaced, with 5 space indented paragraphs, two spaces between paragraphs, and one space between sentences. Most editors prefer Times New Roman 12. Don’t forget headers that list your name, the page number, and the name of your book. 
Next you write a synopsis of your book’s plot, or attach as many chapters or pages as he or she wants. (Note: Like the proposal, they should not contain any typos or spelling or grammatical errors.)
But (and here’s where many people miss the boat), your proposal should also include:

A Competitive Analysis. What other books are like yours? Who publishes them? How are they selling? If they are a series, how many books are in it? ( can help with this.) When I proposed a traditional mystery series with a background of needlepoint I analyzed the eight best-selling craft mystery series for popularity, location, and style.   

Selling Points. How is your book different (better) than those books you just mentioned?  What readers will it appeal to? I pointed out that the Maine coast is a popular location for mysteries, my characters would be men and women from their 20s to their eighties, the background would be a custom needlepoint business, and the mystery would be edgy, not cute or cozy, and would include details about historical needlework.   

Marketing Your Book. I listed magazines for needlepointers, conferences, and the two major organizations of needlepointers in the United States, with membership numbers. I also included organizations I was a member of. (Nothing to do with needlepoint, but contacts.)

Why are you the best person to write this book? What can you add that no one else can? I am branded as a Maine author. I’m a fourth-generation antique dealer and have degrees in American Civilization, so have the expertise to include historical elements in my plots.

If you’re proposing a genre book, is it (or could it be) the first of a series? If so, list the first three books in the series, with titles and brief (1-4 paragraphs) plotlines. (I did this, in addition to sending the first fifty pages of the first book in the series.)

Within a month I was offered a three-book contract, and subsequently have been offered two additional contracts for the Mainely Needlepoint series.  

The bottom line: Write the best book you can, but while you’re writing, think of how it can be marketed and sold. It will pay off in the end, when you compose a professional, convincing, proposal.  
USA Today best-selling Maine author Lea Wait’s nineteenth book (TIGHTENING THE THREADS) was just published. She writes three mystery series: The Shadows Antique Print series, the Mainely Needlepoint series, and (beginning in 2018) the Maine Café series, under the name Cornelia Kidd, as well as historical novels for middle readers. As a single woman, Lea adopted four older children from Asia. Now she writes mysteries about people trying to find love, acceptance, and a place in the world to call home. She is married to artist Bob Thomas, and loves to row, walk, and sit on the porch of her 1774 house, reading or writing. She invites you to like her “Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd” Facebook page, and friend her on Goodreads.   website: Blog: (with other Maine mystery writers)

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