Monday, June 9, 2014

Proposal Writing Tips from Chip MacGregor (Part 1)

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend The Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference which takes place at the Ridgecrest Conference Center near Black Mountain, NC. It’s a different setting, and therefore atmosphere, than ACFW, but a great place to gain the high quality teaching and remarkable fellowship you're used to at ACFW but with a more relaxed 'retreat' feel.

Anyway, I took a proposal writing course by “Agent Extraordinaire” Chip MacGregor (who represents our very own Amy Leigh Simpson). Known for his excellent track record in publishing, his fantastic wit, and his occasional appearance in a kilt, Chip brings a wealth of knowledge to the proposal writing process.
There were 11 components to Chip’s Chat on Novel Proposal Writing, so I’m going to present Part 1 now and Part 2 next time (June 23).
Chip started with a ‘big picture’ view by getting us to think about the proposal this way:

-          What is the overarching purpose of the proposal?

-          Think in terms of “resume”

-          A proposal is seen by a small (and very select) audience
So what are the bare-bones components of a proposal? (I’ve included examples from one of my proposals to help with definitions)

We’ll discuss the first 4 components today.

1.      Title (don’t get attached to it ;-) Of course, it's what you call your book (instead of 'that thing' or 'my baby')

2.      Hook – a summary of your story in one-two sentences (a summary which shows why your story is meaningful)
Does true love have an accent?

A speech-language pathologist determined to move up the academic ladder and out of rural Appalachia makes a deal with her arrogant supervisor to change a thick-accented and big-hearted cattle farmer into corporate world material by Thanksgiving. An Appalachian twist to My Fair Lady                                             

3.      Overview – this short description introduces your main characters and gives the basics of your ‘core story’.

a.      9 sentences or less

b.      Can be seen as the ‘back cover blurb’ or even the elevator pitch (I’ll do another post about this as conference time draws nearer)

Dr. Adelina Roseland feels confident she can correct anyone’s speech. Accent reduction is her specialty and she’s worked ten years in research with it to attain her dream job: Professor at the University of Virginia. Her dreams come to a full stop when she is sent to a tiny town in Appalachia to begin a new program for UVA’s satellite university there. Determined to prove herself, Adelina makes a daring wager with her arrogant supervisor: If she can pass Appalachian cow farmer, Reese Mitchell, off as a Harvard grad and help him with a job interview for a corporation in Chicago, then she can present her research at the National, launching her career to further heights and moving her as far away from Appalachia as possible.

But Adelina didn’t plan for the faith and friction of single-dad Reese Mitchell or his chaotic family. Drawn into a culture she’d been trying to forget for the past fifteen years, Adelina finds the warmth of family, the hope of faith, and the joy of love melting away at the deep wounds of her past. But when Reese discovers that he’s been a mere pawn in her step up the corporate ladder, will he be able to forgive her deceit or will their miscommunication end in two broken lives. Will some good old-fashioned Appalachian grit from a meddling mother rescue this culturally-diverse couple in this modern day My Fair Lady story with an Appalachian Twist?

4.      Synopsis – more detailed (BUT STILL BRIEF) description of your story, without the ‘teasers’.

a.      Motivations of your main characters

b.      Story and character arcs

c.       Main plot points

d.      Answers the main questions posed in the beginning of your story through the end.

e.      About 2-2 ½ pages

f.        Present tense

g.      Single-spaced

h.      Plain font

i.        Clarity is key

j.        Shorter paragraphs than in your prose writing
To save on space, I won’t include an entire synopsis here – but perhaps we can write a post about it on the alley as conference season comes into full swing ;-)

So, of these first four what component of proposal writing do you find most daunting?


Unknown said...

Oh the synopsis by far. It's heart-wrenching to take your carefully crafted story and reduce it to the Reader's Digest version or worse. It sounds like something told around a Cub Scout campfire by the time I've stripped it down to the bare bones. Hate it hate it hate it!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I'm with Ron! Writing the synopsis is misery! You fight your instincts the whole time, you strip your words of their beauty, and youre upfront with all of your secrets... It's just not natural ;) Great examples, Pep! And excellent and timely advice from my man Chip!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

The back cover blurb intimidates me. I try to write it and freeze, feeling like there's nothing interesting to say about my story. :) Call me crazy, but I don't mind the synopsis that much (okay, I'm leaving the room so you can throw tomatoes now).

Pepper said...

Ron and Ames,
Yep - that synopsis is gruesome some times. I've had one book where the synopsis wasn't so scary, but most of the time it's tough getting all the pieces of my book to fit into a small amount of space :-)

Pepper said...

You rebel, You!
I love writing blurbs! They might not always be well-written, but I like writing them.
You rock - if you like writing the synopsis ;-)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great post, Pepper! Hopefully it will take the fear factor out of the proposal process!


Casey said...

Brilliant. So brilliant. I loathe writing proposals, so having it broken down like this is awesome. Definitely a class I would have sat through. Thanks, Pep! (and Chip!)

Ashley Clark said...

This is SO helpful. Proposals are one of the hardest things for me to write, and a large part of that is because it seems so hard to find solid instruction about them. Everyone usually speaks in such vague terms. Great post, Pepper!

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

Well, I am so very new to the game that it all freaks me out, but the synopsis looks especially daunting. Thank you for this post. What a wealth of information!

Warren said...

Nice job, Pepper. I'm not all that practiced up in either of the points. What I tend to do is write like I think a movie trailer would look like. Pop in and out of portions of scenes. Probably not rocket science, but it gets me a thing to give my editor!