Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Write a Book Proposal

Your query letter is only the "TV Guide" to your book. Your book proposal should offer the real meat of your story to the agent.  

Cover Letter - Must include return address. Should not be longer than one page. Briefly explain why you are writing to the agent or editor in question--for instance, does he or she work with authors whose writing resembles yours?  Be sure to offer a one to two sentence description of your book.  For example: “My novel is the Latina Coldest Winter Ever.

Overview - In two or three paragraphs, describe your book's content and purpose. What gap does it fill in the market, if any? For nonfiction, what need does it fulfill, or what problem does it solve? Include supporting statistics, if relevant. For instance: “The fastest growing sector in the U.S. for small businesses is not only women, but Latinas.”

Author Biography - Focus on relevant information regarding your education, credentials, experience, awards, and achievements. If you write fiction, have your poems or short stories appeared in journals or won awards? Do you have an M.F.A., and if so which program did you attend? Do you know well-established writers who would give your manuscript a glowing pre-pub quote? Have you published any other books? If so, provide name of publisher, publication date, and--most importantly--sales for each previously published book, including those that were self-published. Did your past books garner positive reviews? Were book club and foreign language rights sold? Did your past books win awards, or appear on bestseller lists? If your work has only been published outside of the U.S., indicate the country, or countries, in which it has been published. Are you an acknowledged expert on the topic on which your book is written? Does your writing regularly appear in magazines, newspapers, or online? Do you have a syndicated column? A radio or television show? Are you the creator of a popular web site, and if so how many hits on average does it receive?

How You Will Help Sell Your Book - Selling your book is not just your publisher's job--it's also yours. Do you regularly hold seminars, workshops or lectures at which the book could be sold? If you do, approximately how many speaking events do you present a year, and approximately how many people attend each event? What kind of organizations do you speak for (i.e. Fortune 500 companies, universities, non-profits, etc.) Do you have any contacts with the media--television, radio, newspaper, magazine, Internet--that would be helpful in promoting the book? Are you willing to hire a publicist at your own expense to complement the publicity efforts of your publisher? Have you ever founded or are associated with a relevant organization? Do you have a database of clients/members/fans to whom the book could be sold? Do you plan on buying a large quantity of books at a discount to resell? If you have a web site, will you promote your book on it? If not, will you create a web site to help promote your book?

Competition - List the books in print that most resemble your book, preferably those that have sold well. Describe how your book differs from each, and how that difference will help make your book sell as well, if not better. For example, if you've written a low-fat Mexican cookbook, every other low-fat Mexican cookbook in print is competition. If there aren't any direct competitors, list the books in the same category that come closest; in this case, regular Mexican cookbooks. Note: There is no such thing as a book with no competition. Every book published on the same subject and located on the same shelf as your book in a store is, technically speaking, competition.

Specifications - Approximately how long is the final manuscript in terms of word count? For novels, do not submit a proposal until the manuscript is complete. For nonfiction, if the manuscript is incomplete, how much time do you need to finish it? Have you already shown it to other editors and/or agents? If so, what was the outcome? Indicate whether the book will include any special features, such as illustrations (color or b&w, photos or line art), tables, sidebars, excerpted or reprinted material, etc.  Note: Authors are usually responsible for supplying art as well as obtaining and paying for permission to use art and/or reprinted material.

Synopsis/Table of Contents - For fiction, include a short (no more than three pages) synopsis. For nonfiction, include a complete table of contents with a brief paragraph describing each chapter. Indicate if there will be a resources section, appendix, bibliography, etc.

Sample Chapter - For both fiction and nonfiction, provide only one sample chapter, preferably one that best represents not only your writing ability, but also the book's basic premise. If you wrote your manuscript in Spanish, have at least a chapter of your work translated into English by a translator you trust. Do not send an entire manuscript unless the editor or agent has specifically requested that you do so.

SASE - Always include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) large enough to contain all the material you wish returned to you.  It is not appropriate to enclose cash or checks to cover postage. Though rare, submissions are occasionally misplaced, so do not include original art or anything of value that cannot be replaced.

Clippings - Include copies (not originals) of recent clippings about you and your work. For instance, if you were quoted in an article by a local paper, include a copy of the article. If you've ever appeared on television, network or cable, include a video. Include clippings and/or videos even if they are in Spanish.

Presentation - Don't use fancy binders, covers, plastic comb binding, etc. When editors/agents get excited about a proposal, they need to Xerox it and share it with colleagues as quickly as possible, and fancy binding gets in the way. Save your money and use rubber bands, paper clips and/or binder clips instead.

Used by permission of Marcela Landres. Contact:

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