Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Writing Your Book Proposal in 8 Steps

Coming in a close second to writing your dreaded synopsis is preparing the book proposal to submit to an agent or publisher. I don't know why it isn't the other way around since the proposal includes a synopsis, but perhaps having the synopsis written lowers the fear of tackling the proposal. At any rate, it's a tough nut to crack.

When I was a finalist in the 2009 Operation First Novel competition sponsored through the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, I took full advantage of that fortunate circumstance by talking to as many editors and agents as would listen to me at the conference. I didn't win the coveted $20,000 prize with publication by Tyndale, but my status as a finalist helped me get a foot in the door, and I was very happy with that. I left that conference with requests from at least six editors and/or agents for a proposal and the full manuscript.

That was fine and dandy (and believe me, I was thrilled), but I still had to write not only my synopsis, but the entire proposal as well--and get it out to those who requested it before they had a chance to forget who I was. They were aware mine would be a simultaneous submission (sim-sub)and were fine with it, but that's not always the case, so be sure to check. A few weeks later, I was accepted by Terry Burns of the Hartline Literary Agency for representation, which was one of the happiest days of my life!

Most publishing houses that accept un-agented submissions will have their rules posted online, and those guidelines should be followed to the letter. If you're submitting to an agent hoping for representation, check out his/her literary agency's website for their requirements. If they say "no simultaneous submissions" (i.e., no sending it out to other editors--or publishers--while you wait for their answer), that means you send your proposal out, wait for their response, and go from there. If sim-subs are okay, send out as many as you want, but do so responsibly. Make sure they (agents/publishers) represent/publish your genre, that your word count matches their needs, etc. Keep in mind that even though they're busy, they'll remember gaffes and word spreads quickly in the book business. Make sure your name (your most valuable asset in publishing) remains untainted by careless errors or by disregarding requirements.

The following list is what I submitted in my book proposal, but is certainly not all-inclusive. Needs differ from one publishing house or agent to another. I've geared this one to a fiction proposal because that's what I write, but keep in mind that non-fiction proposals differ.

1.     Cover letter--an entire blog post could be written on the cover letter alone, but there are plenty of sites you can visit to help you prepare your killer one.

2.     On your cover page, put your name, address, email/website/blog addresses and phone number(s) in the upper left corner. The word count goes in the upper right. About one-third of the way down the page (centered), tell him/her what kind of proposal it is. Historical Romance Book Proposal or Cozy Mystery Book Proposal are examples. Two or three spaces beneath that (still centered), type the name of your book, another couple of spaces, then your name. Three spaces down and double-spaced, type the equivalent of your elevator speech. Here's mine:

When a retired Air Force chaplain becomes the pastor of a historic church facing financial ruin, he inherits a congregation of ornery old folks, a caretaker with a violent past, and mysterious, unsaved Emma. Against the backdrop of a record-breaking blizzard, the new pastor fights to save his friend from those who seek to kill him as he pursues the problem of saving Emma's soul.

(For space purposes I typed that in single space--that, and the fact I couldn't figure out how to double-space on this site.)

3.     Synopsis--Check your agent's or publisher's guidelines to find the number of pages you can devote to telling your story from start to finish. Agents and publishers are busy, so to make sure they make it past the synopsis, give them a great one that will capture their attention and pique their interest. Every turn of the page of your proposal is just one step closer to garnering their interest. Make it worth their time.

4.     Marketing sheet--This is a strange category. I called mine "Uniqueness/Competition." It tells your agent/publisher how your book is not only unique, but also similar to those books already published. They want to know if your book is similar enough to successful books already on the shelves (i.e., they want to get on the bandwagon), as well as how your book is unique from others out there (because they want to get on the bandwagon with a book that's delightfully unique and extremely well-written). They will probably ask for examples of similar work on the shelves.

5.     Marketing and Promotional Ideas--This is fairly self-explanatory. They want to know what you're going to do to market and promote your work if they (both agents and publishers) accept your proposal and your book is published. Think outside the box.

6.     Author's Qualifications--This is where you sell yourself. List your education, any previously published work, what groups you've spoken to (what groups to which you have spoken?), how your life experiences make you uniquely qualified to write this book (mostly for non-fiction proposals), and any other information pertinent to your work.

7.     Table of Contents--I'm not sure if this is a universal requirement of proposals or not, but I included a short paragraph of every chapter in my book to give him/her an idea of how the story flowed.

8.     First three chapters--Finally! You've reached the part of your book proposal you've already written. Hopefully, the entire book is written because he/she might request the full manuscript (a very good thing), so make sure it's written, edited, and ready to go at a moment's notice.

If I can do it, you can do it. Follow the guidelines of your target audience, and give it your best!
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