Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The 11 Elements of a Great Proposal

I recently spoke to the Northwest Christian Writers' Fiction Group on how to create captivating proposals. The below information is taken directly from that talk. While this post is supposed to be "Lessons from the Pros," and I know I still have a long way to go before I consider myself to be a "pro" in this business, I think you will find useful information in this post - especially if you are new to creating proposals, or have seen the last rejection slip you ever want to see! 

What is a proposal?
A proposal contains the basic information a publisher will need to make an initial decision about your book. Today’s post is about the elements that need to be included to help the publisher make a sound choice.

 As you create your proposal try to look at it from the publisher’s point of view.
It needs to contain enough information about you so they can contact you if they are interested. (At a minimum your email address, but it is recommended to include your physical address, email address, phone number, and website. Also include a short biography and a good head-shot of yourself.)
It needs to contain enough general information about the book so they can determine if it is even a genre / subject matter, target market, and length that they are looking to publish at the moment. (Be specific about genre – don’t just say romance if it is a paranormal historical romance. Length can be rounded to the nearest thousand words. Target market can be a little hard to nail down, but resist the urge to generalize. For instance, don’t say “all women,” instead narrow that down by whatever means feasible for your book – religion? ethnicity? age? political affiliations? marital status? etc.)
It needs to contain enough specifics so they can verify whether they think it will be a strong story, and assess the writer’s skills. (Chapter by chapter synopsis and a sample of the writing itself – generally the first 3 chapters of the work.)
It needs to tell them about your authorial reach – how many customers can they expect you to come into contact with directly? (List specifics here. What social networking sites do you belong to? And how many friends do you have on each one? How many followers does your blog have? Do you belong to any associations? What other places on the internet or public forums do you frequent?)

Remember that publishers see thousands of proposals a year, so it is imperative to make yours stand out (in a good way) from the pack. So let’s quickly look at the eleven major sections that should be included in a proposal and what each one should contain.
  1. Title Page – We’ve all been writing these since our first reports in the third grade, so I’m sure you know the main elements to include, but just as a refresher…. The page should contain: The title of the work, series information, your name, the fact that this is a proposal, your address and above mentioned contact information.
  2. Table of Contents – Again, just what it sounds like. List out the nine sections below (other than the Title Page and the Table of Contents) and what page that section begins on. If you are submitting this proposal online, you can even link each line to the appropriate page in the document.
  3. Overview – This section should contain three short blurbs. “Your book in 50 words or less,” “your book in 100 words or less,” and “your book in 250 words or less.” The goal is to grab the publisher’s attention with that first 50 words, get them to read the 100 word blurb and be even more interested, and then reel them in with the 250 word synopsis. Much easier said than done, but you are a professional! You can do it!
  4. Character Descriptions – Give a short analysis of each of your characters, both major and minor. (Only the ones who are the important players.) I like to put all my major characters in one section and the minor characters in another. Give a little interesting tidbit about each one and why they are important to the story.
  5. Chapter by chapter synopsis – Try to condense your book down to about three pages, give or take, and list what happens in each chapter. If you need to group a few chapters together, that’s fine. This section is just to give the publisher a general idea of how your plot flows. This section should be double spaced.
  6. Target Market – as mentioned above, try to be as specific as possible. But don’t leave anyone out! Who are the people who will MOST enjoy the book you’ve written?
  7. Author Biography – just give a little bit of your history, publishing credits, etc. Any interesting information in your history that makes you the perfect one to write this story? Be sure to list that here. Also include a picture of yourself in this section – a professional looking image.
  8. Platform and Publicity – Some of this was mentioned above, but what is your authorial reach? List your social networking sites and how many friends and followers you have on each one. List your blog and how many people follow it. Any other public forums where you are a regular speaker or associations you belong to are important too. If you’ve been previously published you can list things that you’ve done in the past to promote your books. For instance, did you do a blog tour? Did you do any book signings? Any speaking? Etc. All this gives the publisher an idea of the type of writer they are working with.
  9. Competitive Works – This section is to give the publisher and idea of some books already in the marketplace that are similar to your book. They will use this to determine sales potential and target audience for your book. Resist the urge to only mention highly successful books with the thought that the publisher will then be more likely to offer you a contract. They will see through this. Be honest. And yes, there are already other books out there similar to yours, so you must also resist the urge to throw up your hands and declare that you simply can’t find any other books similar to your own.
  10. Other Information of Note – This is the section to list the word count and genre of your book, whether the book is complete or, if not, when you expect to complete it and what percentage of completion have you attained? (Note for first time authors: Most publishers won’t even give you consideration unless your book is complete.) Is the book part of a series? You can take a paragraph each to talk about other books you have planned for a series here – also list their status and approximate word count.
  11. Writing Sample – generally it is best to include the first three chapters of your book. However, sometimes authors will choose to include the first, middle, and final chapters. I recommend you stick with the first three chapters because that will give the publisher a good idea of how your story flows together from chapter to chapter. This section should also be double spaced.  

So there you have it. I hope this has been helpful. I know it’s been a bit long, but I wanted to give you a thorough post on what to include in your proposal.

Any questions or comments for me? 
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  1. Helpful and concise. I've read whole books on how to do a proposal, but this puts it in a nutshell. Well done, my darling daughter! I'm printing this one out!

  2. Great info on an often overwhelming topic.

  3. With all the conferences going on, this will really come in handy. Thanks for the post, Lynnette!