Well, we’ve finally arrived at our final post. I truly hope these past articles on “How to Write a Book Proposal” has been helpful in some way. If so, I’d really like to hear from you to see how they’ve helped and what you may still be struggling with.
For my final post on this topic, I want to discuss how to make your proposal as visually appealing as possible and how to put your whole package together in a professional manner. I will also touch on the benefits of writing your manuscript before diving into your proposal.
To make your proposal visually appealing:
1. Keep it simple! Use simple, easily readable fonts, such as Times New Roman or Arial. I know these aren’t the most exciting, but it really is what editors want to see. Use a 12-point font, double space, keep bolding and italics to a minimum (it’s good to use these techniques to separate text or bring out important phrases or subheads, but don’t overdo it), and set your margins at 1″ or 1.25″ all around. Readability and lack of clutter should be your goal.
2. Create an uncluttered title page. The title page should contain the lines: “A Proposal for…”; title of book; your name. These lines should be centered about 1/3 of the way down the page. Then, with all lines flush left at the bottom, include all of your contact information: mailing address, email address, phone number, web or blog site address. No more or less than this on the cover.
3. Begin a new page for each section. Starting with the title page, be sure that each section begins on its own page: Table of Contents, About the Authors, Competitive Books, Marketing Plan, Sample Chapters, and so forth. Then when you’ve finished, make sure the Table of Contents pages match up with each of your sections.
4. Include headers. Add your last name, book title (shorten it if it’s lengthy), and page number to each header.
Submitting a professional package:
1. Include published clips. If you’re writing a nonfiction book and you have published clips, especially relevant articles on your book’s topic, including them would give the editor an opportunity to review some of your already published work. Don’t overdo it though; 2-3 is usually plenty.
2. Write a strong cover letter. Your cover letter to a proposal is like a resume to an interview: one will typically invite–or deter–the other. Make your cover letter engaging, opening with a great hook, and closing with the reasons why the editor absolutely has to read your proposal–NOW! If your cover letter is really good, the editor won’t be able to wait to read your proposal. If it’s not so good, it may end up back in the slush pile.
3. Do not bind the proposal. If you’re sending your proposal snail mail, do not staple, paper clip, or in any other way bind the proposal. The only exception to this is if you want to place it inside a portfolio folder. Otherwise, simply put it in a sturdy envelope in loose sheets and send it registered mail.
4. Don’t get cute with your proposal! Having worked with many editors, I’ve heard dozens of stories about proposals that have arrived in cute or unusual packaging, or have included some gimmick inside the package. As a rule, editors really are not impressed with this. There may be exceptions depending on the type of book you’re writing, but my guess is that these exceptions are few and far between. When in doubt, always choose professional over cutesy! Much of this is moot anyway, since most publishers prefer email over snail mail nowadays, but just in case…
5. Proofread thoroughly. Proofread your proposal at least twice then have someone else proof it. Trust me, you’ll never catch all of your own mistakes yourself. Read through slowly and carefully, reviewing formatting, consistency in headings and subheads, checking for redundancies and “pet” words, as well as general spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Click here for a guide to proofing your own work.
6. Follow guidelines precisely. Sometimes I think editors ask to have proposals submitted a particular way just so they can see who follow directions! Every publisher will ask for something different when sending a proposal. Take their requests seriously, and follow every guideline and direction they give. Don’t give them any reason to say no before they even read your proposal.
Reasons to write your manuscript first:
Let me clarify that when I talk about writing your manuscript, I’m referring to having it in a completed draft format, not necessarily having every word proofread and all formatting to perfection. I will also say that some writers, such as those who already have books published and those who are writing a more reference-based nonfiction book, will not need to write their manuscript first.
For novelists and children’s book writers in particular, but also for nonfiction writers who might be a new name to publishers, writing your manuscript first affords you many advantages.
1. If the editor is interested in seeing more, all you’ll need to do is minor revisions and proofing, and the completed manuscript is in her hands. This could mean the difference between sending it within a month or sending it in another six months. It’s always good to strike while the iron of interest is hot.
2. It will help you in constructing your proposal’s outline and sample chapters. By having a full draft of your manuscript, you’ll be able to send a more complete outline and the best chapters you have.
3. You can use your manuscript draft to shop around for endorsements, marketing partners, and general feedback. You can’t successfully receive any of these without a near-complete manuscript (unless you are a known author).
4. By telling the editor in your proposal that you already have a completed manuscript, you’ll be able to prove that you have enough material for a full-length book and that you are actually able to write the book you are proposing.
The opposing argument to writing your manuscript first, of course, is “Why spend all the time writing it if it may never sell?” But in my experience, you will have a better chance of selling it if it’s already complete. Not only are there benefits to you as you try to write your proposal, but there are benefits when the proposal gets into the editor’s hands.
Thank you for bearing with me throughout all 11 posts on the “How to Write a Book Proposal” topic. I hope you’ve found this information beneficial, and I wish you all the best with your proposal writing!