Book Proposals Go Digital #1

 Book proposals are read on Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers, and that should mean something to you if you’re writing or selling nonfiction.  

I will explain.

When I picture myself in any of my three corporate book publishing editorial jobs I always see a multicolored stack of two-pocket folders in a wire basket on one corner of my desk.  I often knew which proposals were from which agent by the color of the folder.  Smart move, I thought, so I copied it when I opened my agency.  I hoped the book editors who were now on the other side of my desk would move the “Jody Rein navy blue” folders to the top of their “read” piles, as I had done with literary agents whose taste I paticularly respected. I’ve been known to be painstaking in preparing the physical presentation from books sold through my agency, even going to far as to hand-stick little gold sparkly stars on the label of a proposal for a satirical work.  Just before packing the proposals into their 25 or 30 Fed Ex packages (score one big advantage for email), I would sit at my desk and stare at a the proposal, open and closed, complete with my pitch letter snuggled into the right hand pocket.  I’d rifle through the pages as presented, attempting to channel my old editor self into the physical interaction with the pitch–it did make a difference (we are all human, after all).

Now–throw that all out the window.

Proposals are now almost exclusively sent, and  generally read digitally.  If they’ve been printed out, one looks just the same as the other in that wire basket.

I did an experiment with my last submission–reading it both on an e-reader and printed out.  It was like reading two different proposals.  The proposal worked much better as a print-out, and was far less effective digitally.

Why?  The writing was clear and compelling–but the book was complex, with many different characters and a somewhat confusing timeline.  As a  printout, I could jump back to any sections I had skimmed for clarification.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it–until I noticed I was doing it.

On the e-reader–the same work left me confused and a little frustrated. 

There were different words on each page, and different numbers of words per page.  The images worked differently.   The spaces and headings didn’t guide me.  You can scroll back and forth of course, but it’s work.

What this said to me:  Re-think the proposal, baby!  Spend that half hour or more in the editor’s shoes once more…but this time 

Michael Larsen’s great book on proposals

those shoes are on the subway, and the pitch is on the Kindle.



Next:  Jody’s Keys to a Successful Digital Book Proposal.


  1. lonnie Hanzon says

    those shoes are on the subway, and the pitch is on the Kindle. Brilliant.

  2. Sounds like the key for editing/analyzing is to use both digital and print/paper at the same time (ie have a paper copy to highlight and sticky-note tag for reference). As a writer I always edit with pen and paper before making changes on the computer. I think we’re all quick to assume that our minds will easily and quickly shift from digital to paper for all tasks, in the way that our ears moved from tape to CD. My guess is that for the human mind, the digital format works best with finished books, but of course I’m an old dog trying to learn new tricks.

    • Thomas, I agree! I’m a much better editor on the page than on the screen–and I’m not so sure it’s analogous to tapes vs CD; it seems to me a much more drastic change.

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