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.

I’m getting close to wrapping up my series on writing book proposals, but we still have a couple more issues to address. For this post, I’d like to talk about those little “extras” that either will be included in your book or help identify the physical attributes of the book. Specifically, these are back matter, special features, and the book’s specifications.

Let’s start with back matter. What exactly constitutes the back matter of a book? This will entirely depend on the type of book you’re writing. For a children’s book, back matter may include a glossary of words that you’ve included which may be new to the child. It may also include other similar books that the child can read to learn more about your subject. Or, back matter may have a list of websites with activities or other resources that tie in to your book or your subject.

If you’re writing a fiction book, back matter will be limited if even included. I’ve seen some historical fiction books that added a page of resources at the end to direct the reader to interesting facts or places mentioned in the book. Some authors also like to include an author bio page or perhaps contact information for how their readers can reach them. Beyond this, you probably won’t need much back matter for fiction.

Nonfiction, however, can have quite a bit of back matter. Some things you may want to include at the end of a nonfiction book are: an appendix (or appendices), an index, tables or graphs, bibliography or end notes, a list of resources for additional information, an author’s bio and contact information.

The main idea of back matter, regardless of the type of book you’re writing, is to make the book as helpful as possible to the reader. You will normally list your back matter in one short paragraph in your proposal where you discuss the contents of your book. You’ll also want to give the publisher a rough idea of how many pages or words your back matter will include.

In this same section of the proposal, you’ll want to mention the special features that your book will contain. Keep in mind that special features are different than benefits of your book. Features are those things that make your book useful and appealing to your reader. Benefits, in turn, are how those features will ultimately help you reader and keep him coming back to buy more of your books.

For example, a feature of a how-to book might be its detailed illustrations that walk the reader through each step, while the benefit is that it makes your book easy to follow because everything is drawn out for the reader. A feature of a children’s book might be that one side of the spread is written at the child’s level while the other side is more in-depth so that the parent can provide the child with more information. The benefit here would be that parent and child can read together at two different levels.

Other book features may include visually appealing graphics, photographs, sidebars, maps, or a discussion guide. You’ll notice that the features I listed are normally only found in nonfiction books. Features for a fiction book, like back matter, will be more limited, if not nonexistent. Exceptions are YA novels, where you may find graphics or photos.

Special features are an important part of your book. They can go a long way to make your book more helpful, more visually stimulating, and hopefully, more interesting to your reader. And publishers will always love that!

While back matter and special features are things you can add to your book to help it sell, book specifications are what will be inherently part of your book in a physical sense that you simply need to share with the publisher. Ideas of what to include in your book specs section are: word count (including back matter word count), trim size, delivery date, and any special requirements your book may need. In particular…

word count: you need to give the publisher some idea of how long your book will be. They know it’s not going to be exact, but a good estimate is required. To come up with a good estimate, figure about 12-15 words per line and about 250-265 words per page.

trim size: if you’re expecting your book to be a standard paperback or hard cover trim size, you won’t need to mention this. But if you envision a special size for perhaps a children’s book or a larger, workbook size (like 8.5″ x 11″) book, then you’ll want to let the publisher know what you’re thinking. Specialty-sized books will cost more to produce, so that will definitely be a factor to consider.

delivery date: this is the date by which you can commit to having your manuscript finished. Most delivery dates will be around 6 months from the time the publisher issues a contract. If you’ve discovered through the publisher’s website that they require manuscripts to be finished within a certain time frame, make sure that is the time frame you state on your proposal!

special requirements: this can include many things, or you may not have any special requirements at all. Some things that may fall in this category would be illustrations or photographs that you need to secure, a special type of binding that your book will require, or perhaps add-ons that your book will be using (pull-out charts or maps or textures for children’s books, for example).

Your Book Specification section will be separate in your proposal, usually added at the end of your overview and before your outline.

Speaking of which…during my next post I’ll talk about how to best construct an outline for your proposal, so I hope you’ll stop back and join me!

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!

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.

In this third installment of my post on writing book proposals, I’m going to talk about putting together a promotional plan, or marketing plan for your book. This is the part of the proposal where you outline for a publisher or agent exactly what YOU plan to do to help market your book.

We all know that writers are primarily the ones responsible for helping to sell their book once it gets published, so publishers expect for you to have some plan in mind for how you’re going to do that.

When developing your promotional plan, there are three key ingredients to keep in mind:

1. List as many realistic ideas as you have for how you want to promote your book. This is it. The only chance you’re going to get to sell a publisher on your manuscript. Don’t leave anything out. But, at the same time, make sure your ideas are actually do-able. If you say you’re planning on getting a celebrity to help sell your book for you, you better make sure you can actually do it.

2. Be as specific as possible with the details of your plan. Instead of telling the publisher that you will promote your book through partner websites, state what those websites are and how you have the connections to do so.

3. Be truthful in your claims. Don’t exaggerate on the number of readers who follow your newsletter or blog, and don’t state that you have 100 speaking engagements a year when you only really have 25.

There are probably as many different ideas for what can go into your promotional plan as there are people who wrote vampire stories last year, because everyone has an idea that may be totally unique to their personality or market. So, the following is not an exhaustive list, but rather a compilation of a few of the more realistic and common pieces to a promotional plan.

~ have a dedicated website for your book; should include links to partner websites (more on that in a minute) and your blog or newsletter if you have one

~ any specialty retailers or outlets where your book would be a good fit (include in your plan how you will reach these places)

~ hold speaking engagements on your book’s topic (include how many you plan on doing or, even better, currently doing per month or per year)

~ radio/TV/blog interviews; discuss the number of interviews you would like to have as a goal and in what media markets. Often, the publisher will set up interviews for you, but if they know you will be pursuing your own, even better!

~ hold blog tours; discuss how you’d like to arrange for blog tours for your book along with some specific promotional ideas, such as book giveaways, online book clubs, etc.

~ utilization of other social media; think of as many creative ways as possible to use social media to create a buzz about your book. Again, give the publisher as many details as possible as to what your strategy will entail.

~ book signings; popularity of book signings has drastically decreased over the past few years, and most publishers are reluctant to believe that a non-bestselling author will have much success with them. Group signings seem to work better than when authors show up on their own, so that may be a strategy you want to pursue. Also, if you can get creative with your signings and head to locations where your audience already hangs out (a cookware store for your cook book, for example) instead of the local Barnes and Noble, your chances of success will be greater.

In your promotional plan, discuss what specific places you have in mind to hold signings. These may not all pan out, but at least your giving the publisher an idea of what avenues you’ll try to pursue.

~ magazine articles; discuss what magazines you want to submit articles to that will coincide with your book’s topic; or if you’ve written fiction, what magazines could you maybe send an excerpt of your story to? Magazine articles are an excellent way to publicize your book. Instead of getting paid for your article, you can often work with the magazine editor to allow you a short bio or promo piece at the end of the article to promote your book.

~ book reviews; tell the publisher specifically where you want to send promo copies of your book to be reviewed. Be sure you’re sending them to very influential people, companies, or organizations who have a large following and can really help move your book. Otherwise, the publisher won’t be impressed.

~ promotional partners; these are organizations or individuals who complement your book in some way and who can open doors for your book. If you’ve written a book about kite flying, national kite flying organizations or hobby clubs or groups would be natural partners for your book. You would send these organizations review copies and ask to be linked to their websites, mentioned in magazines or newsletters they distribute to their members, or even have the opportunity to sell your book at their events.

In exchange you could promote these partners on your site or distribute their brochures or other marketing pieces along with your books when you speak or do book signings. If done properly, it will be a win-win for all involved.

To determine what else you can add to this list, think about your style and personality. If you hate speaking in front of large groups and know you’re not going to be able to sell your book this way, maybe you could tailor a speaking engagement to a smaller crowd, where it becomes more of an interactive seminar or workshop. Or, perhaps you could plant small book clubs around your book where you pop in as a guest and join in the discussions!

Also consider your audience. If you write for kids, chances are you’ll need to include the school and library markets, or if you’re writing a cook book, you could try to sell your book at places like Williams-Sonoma or other specialty such stores. This is your chance to show publishers just how creative you can be. You don’t have to–and shouldn’t–limit yourself to what everyone else is doing.