January 2012


Lately, I’ve had people ask about writing book proposals. Perhaps it’s the time of the year when writers’ thoughts turn to what they want to accomplish in the upcoming 12 months, which usually includes dusting off that old manuscript and finally getting it ready to submit to a publisher or agent. In light of this curiosity about book proposals, I am about to embark on a several-part post that will cover all of the major and essential elements in preparing a book proposal.

I’d also like to add here that even if you’re still torn as to whether or not you want to try to publish through a traditional publisher or go the route of self-publishing, it’s still helpful to force yourself through the proposal process. You may discover after finishing your proposal and your manuscript that you don’t want to wait for the long process of a traditional publisher and would rather do it yourself through a company like Lulu. But whichever path you end up taking, it’s beneficial to have had to define your target market, construct an outline, and hone in on a book hook. This will all come into play whether you self-publish or go through a traditional publisher.

Proposals for nonfiction, fiction, picture books, and pretty much everything in between all contain certain components (listed below). Throughout the upcoming posts, I will discuss what each of these components are, offer ideas on how to incorporate them into your proposal, and talk about how they may differ depending on the type of proposal you are writing.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that a writer really only needed a proposal for nonfiction work. But that went away with the days of relying on a publisher to do most of your marketing for you. Now, whether you’re writing a novel, a picture book, young adult fiction, or any kind of nonfiction, plan on sending in a proposal either before or in conjunction with your manuscript.

The type of manuscript you’ve written will be one of the major differences reflected in how you present your proposal. For instance, with nonfiction, you can get by with an outline and three sample chapters of your manuscript. For novels and picture books (and sometimes children’s nonfiction), you will be required to submit your completed manuscript along with your proposal.

Often, even with nonfiction, many industry experts recommend completing the manuscript before writing the proposal, even if you’re not submitting it at the same time. There are many reasons why this makes good sense, and I’ll address these points in a later post when I discuss the details of a nonfiction proposal.

For now, here’s an overview of what every good proposal should include (the order of these elements may vary, except for the Table of Contents, Overview, Book Specs, Outline/Summaries, and Sample Chapters–these need to be placed in the very beginning or the very end):

– Title Page

– Table of Contents

– Book Overview (contains your Book Hook)

– Markets or Audiences for Your Book

– Comparable and/or Competitive Titles

– Author Bio

– Marketing / Promotion Plan

– Endorsements

– Book Specs

– Outline and Chapter Summaries

– Sample Chapters or attached manuscript

In my next post, I’ll start tackling these sections one by one, and then discuss areas of differences in how to present them based on the type of book you’re writing. In a final post, I’ll cover how to professionally format your proposal and package it for submission.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some resources to check out for a more thorough exam of writing book proposals.

There are two books that I’ve used extensively for helping me walk through the book proposal process, and I highly recommend both:

Book Proposals that Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success by Terry Whalin, Donna Clark Goodrich, and Steven Laube

How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen

One more book that comes highly recommended is Author 101 Bestselling Book Proposals: The Insiders Guide to Selling Your Work by Rick Frishman.

Additionally, you may want to take a look at editor and author Terry Whalin’s 12-week e-course which covers just about anything you’d need to know about writing proposals and the proposal process: www.writeabookproposal.com

Similarly, author and book consultant Mary DeMuth has developed two tutorials on writing book proposals, one for fiction and one for nonfiction: www.marydemuth.com/store/book-proposal/  and  www.marydemuth.com/store/fiction-proposal-tutorial/

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I’ve recently researched some upcoming writers’ conferences for the new year. The list includes conferences from January through August so far. I will continue to update the list as new ones are added or definite dates have been confirmed.

In a separate category are conferences targeted specifically to those who write for children. Most of these, but not all, are under the umbrella of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They include both their two national annual conferences as well as some various regional events around the country. You do not need to be a member of SCBWI to attend, although you will get a better rate if you are.

Please check out my Writers’ Resources page to view the conference list. Don’t wait too long–some take place later this month!

I realize that money is tight for many, and time is even tighter. But I encourage all of you who want to learn more about the art of writing (in any form) or who need to make some good industry connections for 2012, to choose one or two of these conferences to attend.

If you can find a local one in your area you may be able to save money if you don’t have to stay overnight or fly to get there. If not, perhaps you could work a conference around a vacation. However you need to do it, I highly recommend going to at least one this year. You will always learn something, and you just never know who you might meet–your next agent or publisher perhaps!