Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Notes from "Book Proposals that Sell" by Dakota Banks

Last Saturday, February 27, Dakota Banks (aka Shirley Kennett) gave an educational presentation to a packed room of Saturday Writers on “Book Proposals That Sell.”

Here are some notes I took during Dakota's information-packed presentation:

· You need an agent to stay out of the slush pile

· Query Letters must be perfect
o No grammar or punctuation mistakes
o Have at least three people read it before sending it out
o It is the first sample of your writing an agent sees
o It is the teaser to entice the agent to ask for more
o Personalize – send to an individual at the agency (not Dear Agent)

· First paragraph – The Hook
o Should have a short, exciting teaser. (Think jacket copy from the back of the book)
o Purpose is to get a reader to request your full manuscript
o Hyped-up mode. Find the “heat” of your story
o Same for nonfiction—exciting, different, new slant on an old topic
o Memoir – same rules apply
o Poetry – rarely uses a query letter, just send the poem

· Second paragraph - for fiction, bio part of protagonist
o Characters sell books as much (or more than) plot
o Here is where it is okay to TELL, DON’T SHOW because you don’t have time to show in this brief space.
o Give the boiled down version of your story
o Tell about characters in an interesting way

· Third paragraph – Business part
o Include your relevant publishing credits
o Tell why you are the best person to write this book
o Mention books the agent has handled
o Include word count, point of view

· Fourth paragraph – Direct request to send more material
o Write: May I send you the complete manuscript or a synopsis and sample chapters?

· Synopsis
o You may include a synopsis with your query letter
o Keep to one page, as if a movie pitch
o Double space
o Write the synopsis in the PRESENT tense
o Start with conception of the book
o Show some emotion - No “heat,” no story
o Don’t include dialogue or subplots
o Include high points - Peak-to-peak, no valleys
o Include resolution
o Can change when writing the book
o Book should be recognizable from the synopsis
o Reveal end of the story
o Voice – engage the reader to cause an emotional response
o Chapter length – end for suspense or tension
o For non-fiction, the chapter outline serves as your synopsis

· Finding an agent
o Look in dedication or acknowledgements of books you like
o Attend conferences
o Ask friends
o Literary Agent guide books

· Questions to ask agents
o Ask practical questions about fees, extra costs
o Updates: how often do they send updates on your manuscript’s progress
o What kind of rights do they pursue (foreign, movie, audio)?
o Subsidiary rights?
o What happens to book sales after termination of the author/agent agreement?

· General comments/suggestions
o Multiple submissions – start with 12
o If an agent asks for a full manuscript, it’s generally an exclusive basis
o Etiquette - Don’t send out full ms to different places
o Be honest when sending material beyond the query letter
o Putting a copyright symbol at the bottom turns off agents
o Publishers copyright the work in your name
o When in doubt, read the publisher’s guidelines
o The Author’s Guild is a great resource, especially to review contracts, but they are not the negotiators of your contract.
o If you’re unhappy with an agent, you can switch, but do so carefully and contact the Authors’ Guild for advice.

Dakota also has a blog, where she shares tips with writers. Later this month I will post an interview with Dakota. Anyone who posts a question or comment for Dakota will have their name entered in a contest to win a signed copy of MORTAL PATH, the first novel in her DARK TIME series.

Here's what bestselling author Steve Berry has to say about DARK TIME: "Seductive, sophisticated, and imaginative, DARK TIME has a multi-dimensional quality with beguiling concepts and a labyrinth of fast-paced suspense. There's food for thought on every fascinating page. Dakota Banks is firing on all cylinders."

Today in St. Peters, MO: Sunny, high 49 degrees.


  1. Great post, Donna.

    Shirley had so much information and a very helpful handout. You did an excellent job of condensing her presentation!

  2. Hi Pat,
    Thanks. She really is a wealth of information.


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