Formatting Your Proposal by Michael Larsen, AAR

Remember the adage: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? The appearance of your proposal reflects the professionalism with which you are approaching the agent or editor, the subject and your career. It’s the tangible evidence of the care you will lavish on your manuscript. Consequently, the impression it makes of you affects readers’ reactions to your proposal.

Make your proposal a document that looks like it’s worth the advance you want for it. Agents and editors know from experience that there’s a relationship between how writers submit manuscripts and how they write them.

Here is a list of fourteen dos and don’ts on preparing your proposal:

  1. Type your proposal on one side of 8 +”x11″ 20-pound bond paper.
  2. Type twenty-five sixty-character lines, about 250 words on a page.
  3. Type everything, including quotes and anecdotes, double-spaced, not one-and-a-half spaces.
  4. Don’t add extra spaces between paragraphs.
  5. Avoid “widows,” a subhead at the bottom of a page or the last line of a chapter at the top.
  6. Use a standard, serif, pica (ten characters to an inch) type.
  7. If you’re writing with a typewriter, use a new ribbon and clean keys, and set 1 +” margins on the top and sides of the page.
  8. Don’t justify the right margin; the designer will do that.
  9. Type your name, address, day and evening phone numbers, fax number and e-mail address on your title page.
  10. Use running heads. Type your last name and the first key word from the title separated by a slash mark so they appear at the upper left margin of each page. Type the number of the page on the same line, flush right:
    Larsen/Write 7
  11. Number pages consecutively from one to the end of the proposal, not be section or chapter, so that if your proposal is dropped, it will be easy to put the pages back in order.
  12. Proofread your proposal carefully and get an eagle-eyed friend to check your work. If you’re using a computer, proofread a printout to catch what you may have missed on the screen, especially those extra spaces between words that can sneak in when you revise.
    Hot Tip: Here are two tips for proofreading. Run your index finger under each word as you read it aloud softly to yourself. Proofread your proposal from back to front so you can concentrate on the words and not be seduced into reading it.
    Elise NeeDell Babcock has another way to read a proposal out of order. She mixes up the pages and reads them in five-page chunks.
  13. Always submit material without staples or any form of binding. Paper clips are acceptable, but they leave indentations on the paper.
  14. For a more professional look and greater protection in case you have to resubmit the proposal, insert it in the right side of a colored, double-pocket construction-paper portfolio. You can use the left pocket for writing samples, illustrations and supporting documents. Put a self-adhesive label on the front of the folder with your title and name.
  15. Make everything in the proposal, including artwork, no larger than 8 +”x 11″. This makes it easy to reproduce and submit.

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