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!

As I close in on my final post in this series of how to write a book proposal (next week), I’d like to focus on what will be the main event of your proposal: the sample chapters. Thus far I’ve talked about some very important pieces to the proposal–from your book hook to your marketing plan to your outline and more.

The sample chapters, however, are what constitute the bulk of your proposal, both in scope and in content. This is the place where you can really allow the editor to see how good of a writer you are and how interesting your book is. Let’s talk about 5 different aspects of sample chapters.

1. The goal of the sample chapters: The main goal for your sample chapters is really two-fold: to highlight your writing skill and to prove to the editor that you have a book that readers will not be able to put down.  Your sample chapters need to convey as complete a picture of your finished manuscript as possible, proving to the editor that your ideas are able to be totally flushed out into an enjoyable piece of  reading, and that you are able to deliver on all the promises you just made in the rest of your proposal. If your proposal promises humor, make sure your sample chapters are funny. If you promise suspense, your chapters need to leave the editor hanging in anticipation.

2. How many sample chapters to include: This answer will vary depending on how long your chapters are. Most publishers will want to see approximately 25-30 pages of sample chapter writing, so you can work from there based on the length of your chapters to determine how many to include. Some publishers will specify how many to include, but not all do. If a publisher does specify, that number is usually 2-3.

Be sure to include entire chapters in your proposal. So, if 2 chapters causes your total page count to fall under 25, but 3 chapters pushes it over 30, include 3 (unless the publisher states an absolute maximum page count). With sample chapters, more is usually better than less in order to showcase your writing, unless it’s a lot more or it’s too much of the same thing. For example, if your book has similarly organized and structured chapters that also include the same type of information, just different versions of it, you can probably get by with just one chapter–just make sure it’s your strongest.

3. Which sample chapters to include: You’ll want to include those chapters that do the best job in accomplishing your goals from point #1.  Choose those samples that demonstrate your writing skills and provide the best sample of what your overall book will be like. Your chapters don’t have to be in the same order they will appear in your book, unless your book is organized chronologically, or you’re sending fiction chapters, then it may be beneficial to keep your samples in order. Otherwise, put your best foot forward, and make sure you lead off your samples with your absolute best work.  If you have a nonfiction book, it’s sometimes a good idea to include chapters from the beginning, the middle, and the end of your book if you can stay under the 25-30 page maximum.

4. When to include the entire manuscript instead of chapters:  There will be times when a publisher will ask to see the finished manuscript instead of sample chapters. (In my next and final post, I will discuss reasons why you should go ahead and finish your manuscript before your proposal, regardless.) Some of these situations include:

–when writing a picture book or early reader book

–if your book includes numerous illustrations integral to your book

–any kind of fiction book (YA, adult, or children’s). The exception here is if you are a known published author who has already proven that you can develop characters, conflict, plot line, etc. In this case, you can typically get away with a solid outline and a couple of sample chapters.

–a memoir or similar book

–any kind of book that will rely on suspense or emotional impact, in which case sample chapters won’t be enough for an editor to attain the full impact of your book

5. Where the sample chapters appear in the proposal: The sample chapter section is the very final section of your book proposal. Everything you have included in your proposal thus far is intended to get the editor excited about actually reading your work. Think of your samples as the grand finale to your story with all preceding paths of your proposal pointing toward them. This is why they have to represent your absolute best work. The last thing you want to do is let down the editor with sub-par sample chapters!

Next time, I’ll conclude this series on writing book proposals by looking at how to format, package, and submit the proposal for maximum impact.

The final two sections of a book proposal should be the book’s outline then the sample chapters. In this post, I’ll take a look at the outline–how to structure it, how long it should be, and what it should accomplish.

Chances are, if you’ve already written your book, you’ll have at least a partial outline written as well. So this part of your proposal should, in many ways, be redundant. Keep in mind when writing your book proposal outline that you are essentially writing the skeleton for your book to show how it is organized and how it will flow together.

For a nonfiction book, create a List of Chapters, where you give each chapter a catchy title (possibly also a subtitle) and the page on which the sample chapter can be found later in your proposal. You may also want to organize your book further into sections or parts. For my Grandparenting through Obstacles proposal, which is a book of compiled stories from other writers, the book was separated into four parts–each part representing a different obstacle that the writers in those sections had to tackle. For your nonfiction outline, include all your chapters as well as your introduction, but omit any back matter you’ll have in your book.

For a fiction book, create a similar List of Chapters. You may or may not have these chapters titled. If not, simply write the chapter number and the page the sample chapter can be found on. Again, you may want to break your book into sections.

Some books, like picture books, will obviously not lend themselves to being outlined. But any book that will be broken into chapters should have an outline to show the editor how your book will be structured. This may include everything from memoirs to how-to books, to YA novels to research books.

Content for chapter outlines: For nonfiction books, the outline will contain one or two brief opening lines that describe the goal of the chapter–what will the chapter accomplish? Use wording such as, “This chapter will provide…” Then, anywhere from one paragraph to a page can be written on the subtopics of the chapter, how it will be structured or organized, and if there will be accompanying charts, graphs, sidebars, etc.

Move your reader through your chapters with wording such as, “The next part of the chapter will show…” or “The chapter will conclude with…” which gives the reader a visual of how each chapter is organized. Each new chapter should begin on its own page, unless the outlines are very short, like maybe one paragraph.

For fiction books, each chapter outline will serve as a synopsis of what will occur in that particular chapter. Characters are introduced, the plot progression is shown, and the areas of conflict and climax are revealed. Although fiction chapter outlines only provide a brief summary of each chapter, they need to be compelling and attention getting if you want the editor to continue reading into your sample chapters. If the outline is boring, why would an editor want to read even more of the same boring story? Use descriptive verbs and catchy lines to hook your reader with each chapter summary.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the goal of your chapter outlines should be the same: enticing the reader to want to read your sample chapters. You also want to prove through your outline that you have enough material to actually produce an entire book. If each of your chapters looks too bare bones and could possibly be combined with other chapters, resulting in a book with only five chapters total, then the editor may not be convinced that you truly have a book-length manuscript ready for publishing.

After you’ve written your outline, spend adequate time revising it, making sure that you didn’t overuse certain words or phrases, that the chapters flow into one another with smooth transitions, that your organization is clear, and that each chapter is outlined concisely, yet interestingly.

Next time I’ll discuss the final section of writing a book proposal, which is the sample chapters.

Some writers launch into their book based on a great story idea or a nonfiction idea that they believe needs to be written about without ever seriously considering who will actually buy their book. Before you ever start to write–anything–it’s critical that you have identified, then catered to, your target market.

How to identify your target market

Identifying your target market may not always be that easy. If you’re writing chick lit, you could say your target market is women. But that’s not entirely accurate. Not all women are going to buy your book. Your job is to determine which women will most likely buy. What are their ages? What other interests do they have? Do they usually have families, or will your target market be predominantly single women? These are all legitimate questions that you’ll need to ask yourself before putting pen to paper.

When identifying your target market, start general, but don’t stay there. As a first step, place your potential readers into general categories of gender and age groups. From there, consider other groupings, such as social status, interests, religious affiliations, and so forth.

Do your market research

For the purposes of your proposal, you’ll want to share with the publisher what you’ve discovered about both the reader who will buy your book as well as the type of store that will sell your book.

Gather numerical statistics on the kind of reader who has purchased similar books, attended workshops or seminars on your topic, watched television shows or movies on your subject, or who is affiliated with related organizations. If you’re book is about fitness, find out how much money people spent in the last year on fitness-related products or gym memberships; research the age groups with the highest number of purchasers; and find out what other interests or affiliations these people are typically interested in.

The whole point of this section of your proposal is to show that you have a specific, target audience in mind and that you have done your homework to prove that this target market is large enough to warrant the publisher buying your book. You can never accurately estimate how many people will ultimately buy your book, but you can estimate–based on real data–how many potential buyers there are.

Aside from gathering statistics on your readers, also determine what kind of places might sell your book other than the large bookstores or online avenues. What specialty outlets might cater to your target market? Your fitness book might be a good fit for a health food store or a sporting goods store. As you research your target market, you’ll likely discover some interesting places that your reader can be found hanging out on a regular basis.

Targeting a niche market

If your book will not have broad universal appeal, like a cookbook might, you’ll have to convince the publisher that your specific niche market is still large enough for book sales. To do so, research every possible avenue, affiliation, or interest group that your audience might be connected with. Find out how many members each of these organizations has, if there is a growth trend in this particular field, and what the vehicles are through which you could sell books within this niche. The tighter the niche, the harder you’ll have to work to prove the numbers will be there when it comes time to sell.

If you have a fiction book that also has a niche market, you can look to competitive titles in that genre or perhaps movies or television shows to prove that you are writing a story that will garner a lot of interest. A perfect example of this is the vampire craze that began a few years ago but is now beginning to fade.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, or even children’s books, much of the research you’ll need to support your case for potential buyers can be found through internet searches or through government agencies or private organizations (such as the Nielsen Group) that make it their job to compile statistics on buying trends. Use these figures to support your case for how you’ve identified your target market and why that market is large enough for the publisher to buy your book.

During my next post, I’ll cover the various things that should be included in the sections of Book Specifications, Back Matter, and Special Features.

Admit it: How many times have you grabbed a book off the store shelf, read the front and back covers, opened the book, read the endorsements, then made your decision as to whether or not you wanted to buy the book? Probably most of the time! Endorsements, cover quotes, and forewords carry a lot of weight in a purchaser’s decision.

So how does an author score those juicy endorsements, especially if no one really knows the author yet? There are a few ways of reaching the right people, but first you need to hone in on who will make good endorsers for your book. In general, your endorsers…

  • Need to be well known with your target audience
  • Need to be experts in the field of your topic (for nonfiction) or have written in your genre or in another way have a tie to your book (for fiction)
  • Need to be people of influence among your target audience

Once you have identified prospective endorsers, try one or more of the following avenues to reach them:

  • Go where they may appear: speaking events, book signings, conventions, etc.
  • Contact them via publicists, agents, publishers (if they’ve written a book), or through their industry organizations
  • If they are a company executive, try to reach their administrative assistants via email or phone
  • Network, network, network! Start getting the word out about who you need to reach, asking people how you might get to them. If the six degrees of separation theory holds, someone just may know someone who knows someone who…

Once you’ve found a way to reach your target, what then? How do you approach that person about providing you with an endorsement? First, tell why you think they are the perfect person to endorse your book and why having them lend their name to your book would be a positive thing for them. They are going to want to know what’s in it for them, so you need to have something prepared! If they’ve written their own book on a similar subject, one benefit would be free promotion for that book. If they are a company executive, their company will also gain some good PR. Be aware that many potential endorsers will require a fee for putting their name to your book. Be sure to get all the details of what they will require up front so you’re not unpleasantly surprised.

Of course, they are going to want to know exactly what they are putting their name to, but does that mean you have to have your book completely written so they can read your manuscript first? No, because they probably don’t have the time to read your complete manuscript.

You should however, have completed your book proposal before asking for their endorsement. This way, they can browse your proposal as well as your sample chapters to learn about your book, its quality, and who you are as an author. Some people may, however, request your entire manuscript, which, as we’ll discuss in a later post, is another reason to finish it before writing your proposal.

I highly suggest getting some endorsements lined up (even if they hasn’t written it yet, having their commitment will go a long way in helping your proposal) before you send your proposal to an agent or publisher. Doing so lets the agent know you have respectable people in your field who are willing to stand behind your book. Strong endorsements can push your proposal over the top!

We’re finally at the part of the proposal where you get to talk about YOU. The place where you get to give yourself a “pat on the back,” “put yourself on a pedestal,” “toot your own horn,” and any other cliche you can think of that works here. But all the while, keep in mind the main point of a bio: to let the publisher know why you are the right person to write this book. You may have a great idea for a book, but if the publisher doubts that you have the necessary expertise and/or writing experience, you won’t get an opportunity to prove yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when writing your bio:

1. This part of your proposal is typically referred to as the “About the Author” section. You could also call it “Author’s Biography.”

2. Most bios are only a few paragraphs in length, and should be written in paragraph form, not bullet points, and not like a resume. Keep the tone casual, yet professional.

3. Bios are almost always written in third person, to avoid the over-usage of “I’s.” There may be occasions, however, particularly if you refer to a lot of personal stories, as opposed to just writing experiences, where you may write your bio in first person.

4. List whatever publishing experience you have had in the beginning of your bio. Your first job is to establish yourself as a professional writer. If your book (or other published work) has had reviews, quote some of these here (not all of them if you have a lot, and only the good ones!).

5. If you do not yet have any books published, still mention any writing you have done, especially if it’s relevant to the topic of your book. If you have magazine articles published, mention some of the magazines along with the number of titles you’ve had published.

6. Aside from your writing experience, let the publisher know of any personal experiences you may’ve had that qualify you to write your book. Have you started a business on your subject? Have you studied your topic intensely while at college? Is your subject also a lifelong hobby of yours? If you’re writing fiction, maybe you’ve spent the past five years at the setting for your story, or your book is actually based on characters from your past. Whatever the case, offer the publisher a compelling reason why you are qualified to tell this story.

7. Other elements you can add to a bio include professional organizations you are a member of or officer in (definitely list writing organizations but also any others that may be relevant); writing contests you’ve won; writing conferences you’ve attended (if this is a long list, choose the most prestigious or those you frequent most) or better yet, taught at; other awards you’ve won; your education; your hobbies or interests, especially if relevant.

8. Mention your family and where you live, along with an interesting fact about yourself or just something you’re interested in–this shows the personal side of you that editors are interested in as well as your writing side.

In your bio, it’s important to maintain a balance between showcasing everything about you that  helps qualify you to write your book and staying out of the minutia, which causes your bio to be three pages long! Say what you need to say, but say it briefly.

One final tip: If you are co-authoring a book, title it “About the Authors,” list the authors in last-name alphabetical order, then write a complete bio for each author. If relevant, you may also mention why the authors came together for this joint project, and how their combined backgrounds make them the perfect writers for this book.

This is your chance to shine! Don’t hold back on your accomplishments; just be sure this section doesn’t become longer than the rest of the proposal!

In Part 4 of Writing Book Proposals, I’m going to talk about the section of the proposal that I believe many writers gloss over without taking adequate time to develop. The Competitive and Complementary Titles section can be a huge ally for your proposal if done correctly.

Some writers combine the Competitive and Complementary Titles section and discuss both lists in the same place in their proposal, while others separate the two sections. In my opinion, one way is not better than another. However, I would recommend combining them if both sections are relatively short.

As the title suggests, competitive titles are those books similar enough to yours in either theme or subject matter and function that they will provide competition in the marketplace. Complementary titles are those that will not provide direct competition but are still similar enough to yours that they will help prove the market for your book.

One mistake many make is thinking that there aren’t any books out there that would be considered direct competition for theirs. Agents and editors know better. By approaching this section too lightly, writers are simply showcasing the fact that they haven’t done their research.

A better technique is to list at least a handful of books that could potentially provide competition, then two or three that might be considered direct, head-to-head competition. You don’t need to list every book found in your research. The main objective to this section is to let the publishing house know that you are well aware that your book is going to have competition, and by researching exactly what kind of books yours will be up against, you now better know how to position yours in the market.

When listing the competitive books, start with the title, then the author, then the publisher and date. You should also include the number of pages and the format for the book (hardcover, paperback, mass market). In your listing you should write a brief description of the book. Then briefly tell of its shortcomings, and use this point to illustrate how yours is different and better. Maybe the book is a how-to on making birdhouses but only has black and white illustrations of the final product, where yours has full-color photos of each step in the process. Describe, then compare and contrast, making sure yours is the clear winner.

Be careful when listing any negative attributes of other books, however. You never know–the same editor that you’re trying to sell your book to may’ve worked on the competing book at another publishing house! Be as factual and honest as possible and don’t just throw around your opinions.

There are potentially a lot of books on the market right now for the book you want to write. So, how does yours stack up with these others, and why should a publisher buy yours with so many already out there? These are the questions this section of the proposal must answer. If you do a good job answering this question, the editor or agent will be much more excited about reading the rest of your proposal, knowing that this book may have a great chance of selling well.

The Complementary Titles section offers you another opportunity to help convince an editor that there is a need for your book in the marketplace. By researching and listing books that are similar to yours and that have sold well, you are showing that people are buying these kinds of books and that there is room for others. If any of these books happen to be published by the publisher you are submitting a proposal to, be sure to have those books on your list. Since the books will complement and not compete with one another, it is an advantage to do so.

With both the competitive and complementary titles, list books only a few years old and newer. Books much older than that are most likely not selling anywhere anymore and would not be relevant. Also, many people ask about the relevance of e-books or self-published books in this section. Unless the book is widely known and popular, I would not include it on either list. The only exception to this is, if you’re thinking that your book will also be published as an e-book, then you should research similar e-books as well and make note in your description how they have been selling.

Stop back next week when the discussion turns to you–how to write a compelling bio.