Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Established writer querying with a proposal rather than full novel

Queen of Sharks:

With a dozen traditionally published books under my belt, I'm trying something new: Querying agents with a fiction proposal. Go big or go home, right? This will be a paranormal mystery with an amateur sleuth and recipes included if desired. I'd like to branch out from cozy, especially since I already write horror under a pen name; but if cozy will sell. then cozy it shall be.

Do I have everything I need?
For book 1: A brief synopsis. A query. The first 3 chapters.
For books 2 and 3: One-paragraph teasers.

It goes without saying that before I start querying I will have set up the backstory, detailed character charts, a small mountain of research, and a complete outline for book 1. 


I'm going to leave aside the question of querying an unfinished book.
I know you, I love your work, and if you queried me, I'd tell you I won't take on a novel that isn't finished.

But, you didn't ask that.
For book one, yes you need a synopsis, and a query, and a whole lot more than three chapters.
At LEAST 100 pages if not more. Three chapters can be 30 pages in ms form. You need all of Act One at least, if not the start of Act Two.

For books 2 and 3, you need at least 250 words or a full page.

When you ask someone to take something on spec, you need a substantial showing of what the work will be.

 I can hear you saying, "But SharkForBrains, I have 12 published novels!! Why can't I sell this on proposal?"

What I'll tell you is you might be able to, but it's a whole lot easier to whip up enthusiasm for a finished book, than one that isn't.

And you WANT enthusiasm at this stage of your career.
You NEED people ferociously committed to your career cause without a big breakout book it's harder and harder to stay published these days.

20 comments:

Kitty said...

If OP has "12 published novels!!" under their belt, can I assume s/he had an agent? Is that agent still in the picture?

Agent issues aside... Why not just go ahead and write book 1?

Alice Loweecey said...

Brilliant advice which will be taken to heart.

Colin Smith said...

Kitty: 12 published books. It sounds like OP writes non-fiction and OP's current agent (assuming there is one in the picture) doesn't rep fiction.

Kitty said...

Colin, she said "I'd like to branch out from cozy, especially since I already write horror under a pen name..."

Colin Smith said...

Kitty: That's true. And if OP already has 12 trad pubbed books under the belt, then surely there must have been an agent in the picture at some point. SO... either there's no agent around now, or OP's current agent isn't into what OP wants to write. How's that? :D

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and I agree with your main point, Kitty--why not just write the book? If you're already going to need the first 100 pages, just go ahead and finish book 1. Then you can go to agents with a complete ms and one-page outlines for 2 and 3. Seems that would be a much more attractive proposal than a bunch of pages, an outline, and a lot of good intentions. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am wondering if this writer of 12 published novels does not already have an agent? Would they not simply tell their agent that at this point in their career, they want to try something new and here it is. I have no idea. 12 published novels is great though.

Dena Pawling said...


>>without a big breakout book it's harder and harder to stay published these days.

This is scary. Just saying.

MA Hudson said...

I'm wondering how different this is to the second book of a two-book deal? Does a debut author need a finished/polished second book to secure the deal, or are publishers happy with a synopsis and a rough draft?

Alice Loweecey said...

Good morning! OP here to clarify things. I was agented but we parted amicably 3 years ago. My current series has ended and I'm writing something completely different--a long commercial fiction. However, being published is addictive. I realized I may not have a book in stores for a couple of years. So I fleshed out idea for a new mystery series. The word for fiction has always been 'write the book first', but since I have a track record, I wanted to see if it was possible to sign with an agent on proposal alone.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

This OP obviously has writing talent, the ability to meet deadlines, and write stories that a publisher wants, that readers want to read. Congrats and best of luck as you branch out into a different genre and build more readers.

And I agree with Dena. It is scary about needing a big breakout book otherwise it's hard to stay published. I keep studying and working on my WiP but am no where near ready to query it (as I thought in January. ha).

Craig F said...

I'm lost here. What is the difference between a cozy and a paranormal mystery with an amateur sleuth and recipes? Sounds like half of the cozies that my better half reads.

If you are looking for an agent change, publishing change, or something similar I think I would be shooting for a break-out book, something truly commercial and not a niche market. Write it, hand it to your agent, and if they don't like the idea, query it.

Sorry if I'm David Downer but tomorrow I get to have a tumor carved out of my back, last night was iffy, at best.

John Davis Frain said...

Janet writes horror too.

"without a big breakout book it's harder and harder to stay published these days."

I've never read any of her cozies to quote from.

This answer was a bit of a surprise to me. I'd have thought bringing a dozen published novels to the table would also bring a few privileges beyond the norm. Doesn't sound like it, which is unfortunate.

Kitty said...

I'll say a prayer for you, Craig F. Good luck and let us know.

Adele said...

I knew a writer (not OP; this was years ago) who had a very successful career going - she had 11 (I think) books under her belt, she had built a name and won national awards for her fiction. Her books sold a lot and were translated into several languages. She was taken on by a famous agent and her future seemed brilliant - and then she suffered a family tragedy, and her ability to write left her. She thought it would come back, she tried for a long time, but eventually had to stop writing the books that had made her name, and go do something else. Famous agent understood completely, but still, there were advances to be paid back and apologies to be made.

This isn't OP's scenario, but think from the point of view of the agent: I bet agents see this sort of thing from time to time; if not among their own clients then among their colleague's clients. OP's plan is based on the assumption that the track record speaks for itself, but agents know that might not be so, and that a lot of things might go wrong. They would certainly ask themselves "if she can write the book why isn't she?"

Laura S. said...

Thinking of you, Craig F. and sending best wishes.

Colin Smith said...

I know I've used up my three comments (wow--how long's it been since that happened?!), but I'll risk the ire of QOTKU to add my prayers and best wishes to you, Craig. I hope everything goes well for you tomorrow and recovery is swift.

Barbara Etlin said...

Sending good health vibes to Craig F. ~~~~~~

Selerial said...

Pulling for you, Craig. Hope all goes well.

Brenda said...

Unless I miss my guess, it’s all about sales. Doesn’t her sales track record count more than her longevity?
Brenda