Write a Savvy Book Proposal, Part 1

Has an editor requested to see your manuscript? Did she ask for a book proposal? Make sure it is stellar. This is critical, yet many writers don’t take the time to create a quality proposal.

A competitive proposal should include:

Cover letter
This is the first sample of your writing an editor will read. For nonfiction, lead with a compelling anecdote or thought.

  • “My childhood ended when I was eight.”
  • Not: “I was a victim of child abuse.”

For fiction, lead with your plot or your characters.

  • “If Everett Sloan has to preach one more sermon on gossip, he’s going to hit someone—probably Bertha McVie, his ‘EGR’ (Extra Grace Required) board chair.”
  • Not: “This book is about a man named Everett who is an unhappy pastor.”

Make your letter brief. Include a few highlights from your book and save the rest for the proposal.

Overview
Explain your book’s special features or distinctive markets, series potential, word count, and an expected completion date.

Be brief, but thorough. In my proposal for Desperate Pastors’ Wives, I explained that the book would appeal to viewers of the then-popular Desperate Housewives television show.

Marketing
Even Christian publishers must make money. They need to know who will buy your book. Explain who will be interested.

“Christian women” is too general. “Christian women 20-50 looking to heal their marriages” is better. “Christian women married at least five years who have tried every self-help book and need a down-to-earth marriage coach” is best.

Competitive analysis
Editors are generally informed about the market, but adding a chart that compares your book to those available will set your proposal apart.

My competitive analysis for Desperate Pastors’ Wives showed how few books existed with pastors’ wives as the main characters.

Next Friday: Christy Scannell is a freelance editor, writer, and college journalism teacher, and a Christian Writers Guild mentor. For 10 years she was editorial director at Rainbow Publishers/Legacy Press.

Comments

  1. says

    I, too, am looking forward to the next part, but I have a question. I thought book proposals were only for nonfiction books? I have only recently heard that some publishers want book proposals for fiction as well, and I have been searching online for the industry standard of what should be included. There are so many conflicting articles. Don’t write a proposal for fiction works; do; include a million gazillion things; keep it short and precise… What exactly should be in a proposal for fiction?

    • CWGadmin says

      Michele,

      Often it varies from publisher to publisher (or agent to agent); there’s no set industry standard. Christy’s tips are good general advice if you bring your proposal to a conference or if a publisher doesn’t offer guidelines about unsolicited proposals.

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