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Freelancing Is Not For Free

A Proposal That Won't Get You Married

by Lloyd Brown
May 12,2005


A Proposal That Won't Get You Married

Just for a minute, pretend you're not a freelancer. Pretend you're a publisher. You're slogging through e-mail, deleting porn and scams from Nigeria and you have two e-mails left.

One of them is from an unknown writer wannabe (that will be you again in a minute, so keep up). It says something vague about one of the nations in the campaign setting you publish. Not very interesting. You're about to spit out your well-memorized form e-mail telling the writer that you can't use his idea, then you check out the second paragraph, wherein the writer establishes his credentials. Nothing gaming-related, but it does mention a how-to book on using a computer language and a couple of magazine articles. That's pretty good. His final paragraph mentions a word count and reasonable deadline--one that gives enough lead time for a GenCon release. Maybe he's not a total flake.

You file away your typical response for now and try to draw out a bit more detail on exactly what he has in mind. You fire off your question and continue with your e-mail. We'll come back to e-mail number two shortly.

The wannabe that wrote e-mail number one comes back the next day with a little more mystery about his project. Now it involves goblins and elves and magic and an adventure. Is this an adventure? It sounded like it might have been a setting book at first.

So you ask.

Eventually, after 7 redundant e-mails, much gnashing of teeth and virtual yelling, you get a feel for exactly what this joker wants to write. "Sure," you write him. "Go ahead." Now you're dubious about his focus. Will his writing be as vague as his proposal? How much time will you have to spend editing that dreck to make it publishable? How much hand-holding will he need during development? All of a sudden you aren't sure if this writer is someone you want to work with. If they could all be so easy as e-mail number two.

Now you're a writer again. Stop being a publisher.

E-mail number two doesn't really exist in this industry because publishers don't expect it. It is a pipe dream of publishers that I'd like to make real. Once they get used to it, they'll start to require it and just start deleting all of those vague stream-of-consciousness proposals. E-mail number two is the book proposal. No, I don't mean an idea that you and the publisher hash out over long e-conversations like in e-mail number one. I mean a non-fiction book proposal as defined by publishers in the real world.

On paper, the book proposal should be prefaced by a cover letter. In e-mail, it should be attached to your query letter in a format the publisher can read (you did check his website for his preferred attachment formats, right?).

The first feature is an overview. You describe the book in general terms (more than in the query letter but less than the rest of the proposal). Give the work some value to the publisher by describing how it fits his needs. "The new Gadgetguy class in your Widgetworld core book is largely undeveloped and offers great customizability and rich play options."

Your outline covers all of the main topics you plan to discuss. If you're writing a book on a setting's gods, the publisher will expect that each god might have its own heading, but you might also discuss the role of the laity, the average person's take on religion, running a religious-based campaign, and the power of the church(es) within the campaign setting. Include every relevant topic, plus an index and glossary if appropriate to the book you're proposing.

Your outline can be written out as text in a paragraph or in an outline form, where it should correspond to a chapter and sub-chapter format that's easier for a publisher to visualize. I recommend the outline form. The editor can more easily comment on that form and give you feedback on what direction he'd like the work to move in.

Your professional credits should come next. Many publishers in the gaming industry keep track of prominent writers, but don't count on that. Point out who you have worked with, include contact information for those people, and point out any positive reviews your work has gotten or awards it has earned. The rest of the proposal sells the idea of the book; this is your chance to sell yourself--subtly. You can include a link to your website in this section, but be aware that most publishers won't take the time to visit it.

Include marketing information for the book. Is it for players or GMs? Will it cross-promote other products? Does the book follow a recent trend in gaming? How essential is it? The closer to "core" the topic is, the greater the sales potential. If it fits within a certain product line, point out your awareness of the publisher's products by stating so (that also shows that this isn't a generic proposal you're spamming publishers with).

In this section, I also like to include a page count and cover recommendation (hardback, perfect bound, or saddle-stitch). "As a 96-page perfect bound book, Black Belt Brawlin' will be a perfect addition to Fantasy Flight Games' Horizon line of D20 products." While the publisher will have his own thoughts on how he wants (or can afford) to print the book, the recommendation helps complete the visualization. The best way to think about this is to compare to an existing product. A trip to your friendly local game store should provide numerous models of the type of book you're proposing.

Most RPG publishers have finite resources and can only commit to their regular schedule of books at one time. By the time they get around to paying attention to number one again, the writer that sent the book proposal will have another proposal in their in-box that will make them want to spend their work-hours and printing & promotion dollars.

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What do you think?

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