Blogger: Mary Keeley
When teaching a workshop on book proposals, I often see deer-in-the headlights expressions staring back at me as I list the necessary information writers need to provide. Granted, it’s an involved list of components. But as I explain why editors need this information and also what editors derive from details that are and are not included, expressions change to, Ah, I get it now. You might find these insights helpful too as you prepare your next pitch or written proposal.
This isn’t going to be the typical post on how to format a great looking proposal. There are a number of good books available to help you with that, such as Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman and Deborah Levine Herman, or How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal by Stephen Blake Mettee. Instead, I’m going to take you between the lines into the impressions you make on an agent or editor by your content and delivery. For simplicity, I’m going to refer only to editors from this point forward, but be aware that agents look at your proposal much the same way as they consider you for potential representation.
A few items to place right upfront are the hook, a brief description, genre, audience, and manuscript details. Think of them as your friendly, confident, enthusiastic, professional introductory handshake on paper. The many adjectives are intentional here because they combine to create your best first impression. What you write for each of these communicates something to the editor beyond the words on the page.
For instance, the editor learns much about your professionalism as a writer before he ever gets to your sample chapters. Your ability to write a hook that excites him in a mere couple of phrases or short sentence. A paragraph description that encapsulates the motivation, inner conflict and goals of the main characters or the main issues and solutions you address in your nonfiction book. The genre that is marketable for your audience demographic and is in the right word count range.
As the editor reads your novel’s synopsis or nonfiction book’s overview and chapter list, she is also gathering mental data on the level of your craft or ability to communicate a problem and provide a compelling solution.
If you have enticed the editor to continue reading up to this point, you are doing great. Now on to the business sections. Use of assertive business language and inclusion of the essentials—social media following, speaking schedule, organization and media networking connections—in your bulleted marketing plan, tell the editor you are prepared to market your book, of course. But they also give the editor a glimpse of how well you may function in professional settings such as book tours, signings, and media interviews. If you become one of their authors, you will be a reflection on the publisher.
Your list of comparable titles, those you include as well as those you don’t, tell an editor how aware you are of your competition, how savvy you are in positioning your book to be fresh and unique or to address an unmet felt need, and how concisely you describe the similarities and differences in your book. Don’t forget to include a section on benefits your book offers readers in your proposal. The publisher’s sales team wants this information because it tells them how easily they may be able to sell your book.
If you have succeeded in keeping the editor’s interest to this point, and she is gripped by your writing in the sample chapters, she will want to present your project to the editorial committee and the sales team. The thorough information you have provided gives her everything she’ll need in her presentation. She’ll like that. And you’ll leave the impression that you are ready to be published.
Do these insights motivate you to polish your proposal to perfection before you submit it? What is your biggest challenge with your proposal?
Insights into what your book proposal communicates to editors and agents. Click to Tweet.
Editors read between the lines of your book proposal. Learn what they see. Click to Tweet.