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.

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:

Similarly, author and book consultant Mary DeMuth has developed two tutorials on writing book proposals, one for fiction and one for nonfiction:  and