How Your Proposal is Like a Job Interview

By Hope Bolinger

Working on a pub board for IlluminateYA and as a submissions intern at Hartline Literary, I’ve received dozens of “applicants” for both companies. Each proposal, like a person, carries its distinct personality. And like all tightly run companies, we can accept a mere fraction of the personalities which burst into our inboxes.

Even though I have met several well-groomed candidates, sometimes a spontaneous applicant would stumble in and make a rather unpleasant first impression.
From my experience, here are the types of entrants you want your book proposal to avoid personifying.

1. The Underdressed (or overdressed) Applicant
Three chapters accompany a book proposal, and these often make or break the author’s career. A “missing sock,” such as a misspelled word on the first page, catches an agent’s eye right away. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen nominees trip over prom dresses as they entered the interview room: prose passages spruced up with such large vocabulary, it was clear the author was trying too hard to sound like an instant classic.

2. The Candidate with No Experience
Once at a conference I attended, publisher Jim Watkins said, “If I Google your name, and nothing shows up, my publishing company is required to reject your manuscript.”
Platform, in the publishing world, almost exceeds an author’s need to write well. I have seen my agency give a thumbs up to an ordinary work with an extraordinary platform and a rejection to an extraordinary story with a terrible platform.

Just like applicants need prior work experience before attaining a job at a publishing company (for the most part), authors require prior publications, a social media following, and some level of expertise in the branch they have chosen to write.

3. The Contender Who Didn’t Read About the Company Before Applying
In the quite literal sense, we have received manuscripts which did not suit any of the genres our agents or publisher took on. However, this also applies to a writer before they commence writing a manuscript. Did they read books in their genre? Do they know what sells in the MG Fantasy Realism market? Have they done all the research? do-your-research

Agent Steve Laube confided, at the Write-to-Publish Conference 2016, about a meeting he had with a Sci-Fi writer. When he asked the author what his favorite Sci-Fi book was, the interviewee promptly replied, “Oh, I don’t read any Sci-Fi.”
As expected: instant rejection from Laube.

With any job interview, the interviewer herself can make mistakes. Perhaps the book was perfect, but the company had no open positions. Those cases require a tight-gutted perseverance and perhaps too many doses of dark chocolate. But, with any job interview, come prepared. That polished suit jacket and impressive resume is bound to catch some employer’s eye.


Hope Bolinger is a professional writing student at Taylor University and is represented by Hartline Literary Agency.  She has served in various capacities for Hartline Literary, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, The Echo, N 2 Publishing, and City on a Hill Productions. Over 100 of her works have been featured in multiple anthologies and publications which have reached thousands such as Creative Communications and Christian Communicator. Her most recent publishing success was writing the memoir of a World War II veteran published by Taylor University Press titled The Quiet and the Storm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s