The Big Book Proposal Post (part 3) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the final edition of the Book Proposal post. In part one, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In part two, we broke down the first ten headers that a successful proposal might include and discussed them in detail. In this post, we’ll tackle the remaining twelve sections that comprise a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Competing Books/Competitive Title Analysis
It may seem counterintuitive to list your competition, but it would be a mistake to omit this category. A common refrain from a new author is “There’s nothing like my book out there! This is the only thing out there of its kind!” First of all, that is simply not true. There are more books in print now than are able to be read by a person in their lifetime, even if they spent every moment doing nothing except reading. You are now trying to add to that enormous stack of published works. Given that fact, agents have seen, read and have been exposed to an astonishing variety of ideas. This need not distress you, however; the savvy author should view this as an opportunity. Your agent needs assurance that there is a market for your book. If your book is, indeed, so niche that there is truly “nothing else like it” out there, then agents typically have no interest in pursuing it. As an author, you are conditioned to think of originality as something positive, but agents/publishers tend to shy away from the unproven and untested ideas. It would be better to come forward with a list of competitors in your field and show how you can improve on what they have done, list how you differ, or point out in what ways you are better. The key is to angle yourself into a trend that will be a safe bet for your agent, but to also show how your book differs from what is currently available on the market. You do not want to skimp on this research; a list of five to ten titles would be necessary to establish a strong foothold in your genre. In each case, list your competitors’ title, subtitle, author, publisher, year of publication, page count, price, format, and the ISBN. Then take the time to write a 100-200 summary of their book and how yours differs, fills a gap, offers more, etc. It is imperative that 1) you remain respectful of their work and resist the urge to criticize it and 2) always have in mind the need to reveal that evidence of need we first discussed in section one. This is critical for the success of your acceptance, and if you can prove that your book provides a need for readers or society, it will make it easier and easier for your agent to say yes to you. Every opportunity you have to provide evidence of need is valuable, and this section is one of the most important ones to help your case.

Proposed Back Cover Copy
Your imagination gets a workout in this section as you get to visualize the ideal back cover for your book. What is the layout that showcases your book to its best advantage? This can vary quite a bit from genre to genre: nonfiction covers may ask a few questions and follow up with a list of bullet-points that are covered inside. This style breaks up some heavier topics that will snag the reader’s interest without bogging them down in technicalities. Short fiction or anthologies may provide a list of titles on the back. Novels might prefer to summarize the plot with a blurb. This is a chance to have fun and be creative. The more you take interest in your own book and every part of it, the less the agent will have to do. They will see you as an active participant in your own product, and they will want to have you for a client.

Marketing and Promotion
Perhaps the most crucial section of the entire proposal, this relies on your careful preparation of facts and figures. Your agent/publisher is going to be looking for you to provide a history of connections. It is imperative that you do not use words like “hope”, “would like to” or “goal” here. Your agent is seeking someone who is strong, confident and determined—a person who is going to follow through on their plans, with or without [an agent’s] help. They are not only looking for sings that you have what it takes, without hesitation, but that you have a history of this kind of behavior. You are going to need to provide clear statements here, such as:

-I have blogged every week for the past year, and every post receives [insert page views]. I have current invitations to guest blog [here] and [here], and those sites each reach [give stats].

-Do not say: I plan to reach out to different sites and try to guest blog in the future.

-Say: Within six months of launch, my website reaches [insert statistic].

-Do not say: I am going to try to register for a website and start blogging soon to increase hits.

The more concrete evidence you can give that you are reaching an established audience and that you bring fans with you that are eager to read your work, the easier it will be for your agent to say yes. If you sound unsure, unmotivated and uneducated, they will pass. Fast. Do your research beforehand and make it impossible for them to say no. Now is the time to bring it all home and provide that evidence that you have connections and readers that are ready and waiting for this book. All this agent has to do is sign on the line and it’s a go. Make it sound so easy. Now is the section to persuade them that you have done all the work, there is a readership waiting … just sign it into being. Provide the facts, and it will happen.

Potential Endorsers
Not a strictly necessary section, it is just an extra. It helps to have a list of important, relevant or famous people who are willing to vouch for you. Of course, not everyone has a list of celebrities who are willing to sign for them, and that’s all right. If you are writing a book about gynecology, and you have a colleague or two who is willing to put their name and credentials in, it helps to lend legitimacy to your material. If you don’t have an endorser, though—and many of us don’t—it is perfectly fine to skip this section. If you add it in, just list your names in any order you feel shows to your best advantage. It is usually best to include how they are relevant in parentheses or with a comma after their name. This list may be as long or as short as you like.

Other Details
This includes miscellanea such as the format (hard or soft cover, dustjacket or none), the wordcount, page count and deadline. You may choose to include some or all of these details—or perhaps none—depending on how close you are to completion of the book. This is optional, of course, and merely a guideline.

About the Author
Somewhat self explanatory, you can make this section as long or short and as personal as is your preference.

Sales History of Previously Published Books By Author
If you have a great track record, now’s the time to shine. Show ’em off here!!!

Proposed Outline
Break it all down here. You have some leeway—you can propose the number of pages you want to spend. Dedication: 1 page. Acknowledgements: 1 page, Title page: 1 page. Table of Contents: 2 pages, Introduction: 9 pages. Etc. You can also give a more in-depth summary of your book here. It would be appropriate for the agent to finally get to the meat of what they are trying to say “yes” to: here is where that starts to happen.

Table of Contents
If you are including a Table of Contents in your book, you may choose to list that here.

List of Chapters/Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
If you have chapters in your book, particularly if they have names, you may want to give a list of those and include the number of pages within each chapter. I would be a good idea to give a brief thirty-fifty word description of each individual chapter.

Sample Chapters
Choose one or two sample chapters to copy here, or include a portion of your book. Make sure you note for the agent which chapters or sections your are attaching. Make it your best work! This is what your agent is going to be judging you on, so be sure to select carefully.

It is important to remember that this is merely a template for a book proposal. You may want to select different sections that meet your individual needs. Of course, you may highlight, add, rearrange or completely omit sections that do not work for your needs. The most important aspect to remember is to elevate the evidence of need for your manuscript when you are crafting your proposal; there are many ways to do that. Agents and publishers are difficult to secure, but they are not above wanting to profit. If you can successfully highlight evidence of need, you are sure to be in print someday. It may not be the first or the second proposal you submit, but someone will be able to see the worth, and you will be a (monetarily) successful author before you know it. But this post shows that this is a side to writing that may not appeal to everyone, and if you find that dealing with proposals and agents and writing business plans is crushing your creative spirit, that’s important to recognize, too. Whatever path you choose as an author, I wish you much luck and success. If you have any questions or concerns, I’m here to help! Please e-mail me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Happy writing!

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