Use High Quality Proposal Ingredients

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

High quality proposal ingredients? Can attention to this detail make a difference for writers?

Preparing a proposal mirrors preparing a fine meal for guests.

high quality proposal ingredients

Any recipe will fail if the chef works with inferior ingredients.

In the writing world, that might mean:

  • ambiguous past sales numbers
  • a weak bio
  • missing pieces
  • a marketing plan that shows lack of understanding of the author’s role and the publisher’s role
  • unclear reader takeaway
  • indefinable target audience

Just as a meal may turn out memorable for all the wrong reasons, so can a book proposal. The results will be disappointing if the proposal is made from stale ideas, leftover or recycled information, outdated concepts, bargain-bin marketing, a moldy title, a limp synopsis, an over-salted bio, or dried out chapter summaries.

What do agents and editors consider high quality book proposal ingredients?

  • Strong Hook
  • Succinct but clear Brief Description
  • Longer Description that makes an editor or agent lean forward with interest
  • Clearly defined Target Audience
  • Compelling felt-need Takeaway Value
  • Well-written Synopsis (fiction) or Table of Contents and Chapter Summaries (nonfiction) that hints at the flavor of the writing style reflected in the book
  • Compatible Author Bio that fits the book’s genre and interests of that’s book’s potential readers. A compatible bio will contain information that matters to the agent/editor
  • Solid Author Platform info with specific numbers
  • Carefully researched Comparables
  • Complementary, creative Marketing Plan
  • Attention-getting Sample Chapters. The chapters should represent the book well and invite the agent or editor into the experience.

The above are among other ingredients of a high quality book proposal.

A proposal is an invitation to the table.

high quality ingredients


One of our measures of success is if an editor or agent says, “This looks delicious. I can’t wait to dive in.”

Another measure is when they tell others, “You have to try this!”

Bon Appétit

19 Responses

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  1. I love the analogy. Great meals take a lot of planning and preparation, too. Or else the timing of the different components will finish at all the wrong times leaving some parts cold, some parts over cooked, and some parts just perfect. My house is always the family meal house so it is a lesson I learned quickly after the first few blunders.

    That said, I’ll be working on my first proposal ever. Does anyone have recommendations on resources or examples? I am so new to this, I don’t even know what the format is.

    I can’t wait to start my research for it after school let’s out. Two more days! Woot! Woot!

    Thanks for sharing, Cynthia.

  2. I tell folks that I’m a woman of many talents, and cooking isn’t one of them. I hope I write better than I cook! I certainly spend more time at it.
    * Thank you, Cynthia, for this food for thought.

  3. Interesting analogy, and like preparing a meal in the bush with the inclusion of a lizard who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ve got to use what you have.
    * Tabasco sauce’s a big help, though.

  4. Carla Gade says:

    Elements of a fine meal to serve up with confidence! Thanks for the great analogy and post.

  5. OK, this makes me hungry! Perhaps I should also look over my proposal … while nibbling a snack of course.

  6. Cynthia thank-you for this clear post on the proposal. The analogy is oh so perfecto! I have written a proposal–lasy year for a memoir. But that dish is in the freezer for now awaiting the right dinner party. The dish I am preparing to serve up at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference Conference is totally different. Janet will be the first “official master chef” to check out how it is plated and presented. Then…the taste. I’m working hard to make sure Janet says (hopefully) , ” Wow! That burst of flavor from the moment it hit my palate. Oh, it is something I was wondering about, but just hand on here because I have got to go grab Wendy and some others to taste this!”

    My prep time was cut short by family emergency, but I am prepping all my ingredients now and keeping my eye on the clock.

    Your recipe and instructions will surely help.

  7. I’ve never understood how to get the numbers of other successful books in the same or similar genre or how to do comparables well other than AMAZON searches. I read what I can afford, but it’s not like 50 books as I was recently told by a successful author. Another thing, I can see trends, but I don’t know if they’re sustainable. I could have it all wrong even though I don’t think I do. What does this say about my personality? Hah! Suggestions, anybody?

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      If a successful author told you to include 50 comparable books, that author was suggesting a list that will choke an editor or agent’s workload as they read through the proposal. You need–for most purposes–three or four comparables. Fairly current (within the last couple of years, typically). Not the biggest books in the industry (since none of us are assuming our book is competition for or even to be compared to phenoms. I usually suggest that authors look for books that are in the same genre but also might offer a great compare and contrast point to latch onto. “That author’s book also includes a theme of bullying, but leaves out the impact on the bully’s family, which is the primary theme of my book.” “That author’s book has as its backdrop the Great Depression viewed through the eyes of the street children of New York, while my book takes the viewpoint of the elite and wealthy society children whose lives were sent into a tailspin when their father’s lost all wealth, status, and position. Ill-equipped to survive without the expected cushion, where did they find the fortitude to rebound?” “That author’s book deals with the Appalachian crisis from an academic approach, while my book tells gripping stories from the mouths of the people experiencing it.” Agents and editors are looking for the significant similarities but also the clear differences. Yes, read as much as you can in your genre (and others), but if you choose well, you don’t have to feel negligent if you can’t read 50 books like yours. If there ARE 50 books like yours currently on the market, that’s a red flag anyway.

      If you write historical fiction, for instance, choose books from a similar era, theme, or setting–books that are being talked about in reader circles. And for what you might think is a good comparable that you haven’t read yet, consider reading the sample and full description from online sites…plus a few well-written reviews. That may give you some insights.

      • You are beautiful! Thank you for unpacking this for me. Now I have a better understanding of what’s involved. I was at a loss. I am right in the middle
        of it and this information will help. I appreciate it.