When an agent or acquisitions editor from a publishing house responds affirmatively to your query letter, you better be ready to go to the next stage of the publishing process. You need to have a book proposal written, edited and ready for submission upon request.
I’ve written extensively about how to write a book proposal, or a business plan for your book, here on this blog. This post explains the basis of what you need to do to compile the information for this document.
What will make your proposal stand out? Here are six things you can do:
1. Focus on one convincing argument. Every section should argue for one thing and one thing only: the marketability of your idea. If you can convince an agent or an acquisitions editor that your book will sell well in a target market, you’re on your way!
2. Remember you are part of the equation. You also need to provide strong evidence that you are a good business partner for a publisher. You are basically asking the publisher to become your venture capital partner and financially back your book project. You need to prove that your product (your book) is viable but also that you have what it takes to produce it (write it) and to help sell it. That means you need to show evidence that you have an author platform—a built in readership in your target market created with visibility, reach, authority, and influence. And you have to produce a realistic promotion plan based upon that platform.
3. Make it about business. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your book proposal is a personal letter to the agent or acquisitions editor. It’s not; it’s a business proposal. It should be written in the third person in a businesslike manner. The overview can have humor and show your voice, as can the chapter summaries, but much of the writing needs to be straightforward and to the point.
4. Keep it short. It’s easy to get carried away in an attempt to influence the reader and end up with double the pages you need in your proposal. Keep your writing tight and focused. Don’t overwrite. Avoid redundancy. It’s a great idea to have someone read your proposal and edit it—a proposal expert.
5. Don’t exaggerate. Avoid terms and phrases like “the first,” “the only,” “the book you’ve been waiting for,” “a certain Oprah pick,” and “the next bestseller in its category.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep, like that you will get a foreword or testimonials from celebrities or thought leaders you don’t know and with whom you have no connection. Be realistic and believable.
6. Avoid gimmicks. There really is no need to do anything out of the ordinary to catch an agent or acquisitions editor’s eye—if you have crafted a book that will sell. Publishing professionals appreciate a well-done proposal that provides all the requested and necessary information without trying to jump through hoops at the same time. Your idea should speak for itself. The supporting information you provide is all that is necessary—if you’ve made convincing and believable arguments for the marketability of your idea.
Present the Best Possible Idea
As you write your book proposal, remember to use the activity as a creative opportunity to create the best book possible. Many of the proposal sections provide a chance for you to consider if there is a way for you to improve your idea so it does a better job of targeting the market and filling a unique and necessary place in the category.
If you just slap the required information into your book proposal, you will have done what is necessary, but you will have missed your last chance to refine your idea and impress agents and editors as well as readers. Look at the information you gather in that business plan, and then retool, revise and re-angle until your idea is polished to a high sheen. That’s when it will stand out and get noticed. For more information on how to write a book proposal and evaluate your idea, and yourself, at the same time, read The Author Training Manual.
If you would like additional information on how to write a book proposal, here are several resources:
- Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why by Jeff and Deborah Herman
- How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
- The Nonfiction Book Proposal Demystified by Nina Amir
How to Craft a Proposal for a Book that Sells
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