Want to Be Published? Learn How to Write a Book Proposal

“I’m thinking about writing my autobiography,” a friend said. “Which publisher should I contact?” Like many would-be writers, he thought he could write a book, send it to a publisher, and receive his “rich and famous” contract. This has never been true and is definitely not true in this economy.

But I wanted my friend to succeed and asked if he had checked the “Writer’s Market.” Apparently he had the book on the shelf, but never opened it. He had never heard of a book proposal and lost interest when I started to explain it to him. “I have a story to tell,” he said, ending our conversation.

You may have a story to tell. Unfortunately, your chances of seeing it in print are nil if you don’t know how to write a book proposal. A book proposal is like a mini thesis. Dennis E. Hensley looks at the fundamentals in his article, “Ten Factors to Consider when Writing Book Proposals.”

“According to most acquisition editors at publishing houses, the knack for writing contract-wining book proposals is seldom mastered by freelance writers,” he says. Do not join this group. Your book proposal is a sell piece and you need to get it right.

1. Follow the guidelines. The public library and local book stores will have book proposal references. Organize your proposal according to these guidelines. The platform should be the strongest section of your proposal. Before you submit the proposal, make sure it contains all of the elements and check for typos.

2. Check submission guidelines. The publisher may accept multiple submissions, ask for an electronic proposal, or a print out. Adler & Robins Books, Inc., has posted an article about electronic proposals on its Website, “How to Write a Computer book Proposal.” The company asks for a one or two-page summery [usually called the Executive Summary], at the beginning of the proposal.

3. Tailor to fiction or nonfiction. “Writing Nonfiction Book Proposals,” an article on the pages.prodigy.net site, notes that “Inexperienced writers may feel that it is part of the editor’s job to do all the necessary market research with which to make a decision about acquiring the proposed work.” This is wrong. Marketing research is part of your job and it takes time.

4. Spotlight uniqueness. Why is your book different? You have to punch this point. I just wrote a proposal and developed a features and benefits chart to illustrate the uniqueness of my book. Adler & Robins Books, Inc. says you may also make “a bulleted list of what makes this book stand out from an editorial and a publisher’s perspective.”

5. Be neat. Yes, it smacks of gradeschool, but neatness counts. Acquisitions editors are busy people and don’t want to slog through sloppy, smudged, dog-eared, or un-numbered proposals. “You get only once chance to make a first impression,” says Dennis Hensley, “so it had better be your best effort.” Bold or colored headings (no wild colors, please) will make the organization of your proposal clear.

Writing a “bulletproof proposal” (a term coined by Robert Bly) takes time, patience, and revisions. Like doing a puzzle, it can be a fun and creative project. According to the hiwrite.com Website, you need to sell your idea to a literary agent first, and then an acquisitions editor. “Don’t sell the book — sell the proposal,” advises the site. This is sage advice — advise that leads to a sale — your first book in print.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

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