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!

The Big Book Proposal Post (part 2) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the second edition of the Book Proposal post. In the previous post, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In this post, we’ll begin to detail some of the sections you may want to include in a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Information

            This belongs at the top of the document and contains your identifying information, such as name, address, phone number and e-mail address.

Proposed Title

            This is self-explanatory. You need to provide a title here, and this is the title you will use throughout the rest of the document when you refer to your manuscript. Don’t worry, however, if you haven’t quite settled on a name for your story yet. This is not a legal document and it doesn’t bind you to a commitment to name your book. It is exactly what it says it is: a proposed title. You can change it later at any time. The purpose here is to show your investor that you have a vision and an understanding of your finished product.

Author

            You only need to put your name (or pseudonym) in here.

Once Sentence Description

            While this might seem self-explanatory, it can be tricky. It is often difficult for authors to boil down their novels to a single thesis, and sometimes the sentence that they might choose is not the idea that is most advantageous to them in terms of marketing. Think carefully when you construct this sentence: it is, in essence your “elevator speech” for your book: it is your one chance to distill the idea for what you’ve written into one, single clear and cohesive sentence. You are trying to aim for clarity and totality. It is a bit of a tall order, so you need to take some care to craft this part. Try to stay general and less focused on details or plot here. It can be done, but it will take some careful thought.

Category

            This is simply the category under which you might label your book, such as: science fiction, psychology, romance, etc.

Audience

            In this section, it is necessary to identify an audience for your book. This is where it is pivotal to  focus on who you are specifically targeting and avoid general statements about readership. This section is where you will begin to implement evidence of need to your investor. It is of dire consequence that you are able to demonstrate who this book is for and why they need this book. In this section, a savvy author would begin to provide a clear portrait of exactly who will be purchasing this book. Do not think that terming groups as “book buyers” and “readers” will suffice as an identifier. Including statistics that are meaningless or irrelevant would also be a mistake—make sure to include hard facts in this section, but make them consistent to your book or topic:

People who read [your genre] account for 30% of book sales last year.

Recent polls of [your genre] indicate that people want more books in this genre.

[Your genre] has the fastest-growing number of readers in the young-adult demographic.

Readers Say

            This is a nice place to include reviews and blurbs from friends, family or beta readers, if you have any. If you are an author with a larger following, you may also include anything of note that includes statements about you and your website or blog or possibly other books and articles. This is your time to promote yourself and your writing through the words of your fans! A few statements are sufficient—between thee to five individual testimonies are enough. Make sure each statement is a few sentences long at most.

Purpose and Need

            This is another important section. It can be a paragraph or two, and it should illustrate exactly what it asks in the header: the purpose and need it brings. What are the bigger questions it addresses or answers? Why do people want to read this? What it is style in which it is written: conversational, humorous, serious, academic? This is the time to discuss the current climate, how your book fits into that, why it is timely and what it has to offer. While this section need not be overly lengthy, it should offer some thoughtful insight on why it is necessary and highlight that evidence of need that will make it ever-more-difficult for your agent to turn down your proposal.

Unique Angles

            While similar in some ways to “purpose and need”, this section can be skipped for some shorter novels or some genres that do not lend themselves to exhaustive categorization. If you have a firm grasp on the concept and you feel you have something to add, however, or if the subject is applicable to it, this is a chance to shine. A nice choice for this section might be the bullet-point format.  You may choose several points to highlight in a list. This will break up the tedium and allow the agent to see some items of interest that stand out about your writing. A list of between five and eight items is acceptable here, and you can include anything that you deem noteworthy about your book or writing style.

Current Interest

            As with the previous sections, this may seem like more of the same. This difference between this section and the “purpose and need” one is that you are defining the current climate and why the time is not just right but perfect for your particular book to be released. There may be many books out there on your topic, but sometimes current events, political or religious developments can change the landscape for authors. This can and should be used to your advantage. Every time you submit your proposal you should update this section. It may not need to be rewritten at all, but you should have this section in mind and keep it fresh.

            We’re about halfway through! In my next post we’ll wrap up how to write a successful book proposal with the final eleven headers. Thank you for sticking with me, and as always, if you have any questions about this topic or any other writing questions, please address them to me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Thank you, and happy writing!