Digital book proposals are here to stay, and while I kicked and screamed about it for quite a while, at some point about a year ago I decided to take it as my own personal challenge. I pride myself on thinking
like as an editor as well as thinking like an agent, so I said to my editor-self: “What’s different about how you experience a book proposal when you’re reading it on a Kindle?” And I answered, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s actually a pretty different feeling!”
I checked out my hypothesis at BEA last spring with a very official survey (“Hey, editor friend, do you react differently to a printout than to a digital proposal?” Answer: “Well, now that you mention it, I guess I do.”) I even pitched it to Writers Digest as webinar, but no bites yet.
In any case, I promised I’d follow with my Five Keys to digital book proposal success. I also want to mention New York Times bestselling author Richard Buskin, who kindly sent me a sample from one of his digital proposals and blew me away with his digital savvy. (Richard does ghostwriting and proposal writing, by the way, if you’re looking to hire a pro.)
Jody’s Digital Proposal Tips
1.) Include a hyperlinked proposal contents page. If your proposal contains discrete sections (and it should) such as “About the Author” or “Competition,” include a “Proposal Contents” page and link to each section. In the past, I’d have said adding a Table of Contents to a book proposal was an iffy proposition–it can be helpful, or look a little ostentatious. But when editors can’t quickly zip through your pages to find each section because there ARE NO PAGES, they need all the digital help they can get.
2.) Link within the proposal to the proposal. You don’t want to do this too much, but I think, again, since editors can’t quickly flip pages, if you want to emphasize a point you made earlier and make sure it’s read–link back! Here’s an example: in your “About the Author” section, you list your amazing number of Twitter followers. In your “Market” section, you also want to talk about your followers, but in a different way (perhaps you list numbers in one section, and how you plan to reach those people in the other.) I think a link here is appropriate and useful. Your goal: help the editor get the information she needs, but don’t overwhelm her with blue ink.
3.) Keep the external links to the end. This is me talking, not crowds of editors, but I think you want to keep editors IN your proposal as much as possible. Yes, hyperlinks are a great way to show editors your YouTube videos, articles you’ve written, and other supporting materials. But I think you’re best served if you include those in one place, and at the end of the proposal. Editors are human, and if they see a cool link in the middle of reading; they’ll be tempted to click. And you know what happens once you get out there on the Internet–before you know it the editor is reading about the latest political scandal and the bus has reached his stop and your proposal is forgotten.
4.) Use frequent heads and subheads. Because it’s much easier to get lost digitally, the more grounding you can give an editor, the better.
5.) READ YOUR PROPOSAL ON AN E-READER. The only way you can hope to predict an editor’s experience is to try it out yourself! One of the most frustrating things here is that you can’t control the font size (some editors will read big, some small) or even the look, so that visual impact is somewhat out the window. But you can at least get a sense of the experience. Observe yourself as you read–do you need more breaks? More references?
One last note–I’ve been told that Word docs work much better for editors digitally than PDFs. Word docs are scary, though–if you’re not careful you may include all your tracked changes. So make sure your document is clean before you push that button!