Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to write a book proposal.

Post 506 - This is something I get asked about all the time, so here are some tips and guidelines about preparing a book proposal that I learned from my agent, Michael Snell. Most editors ask the same questions about any book proposal that's submitted to them for review:

- does the material have a proven book-buying audience?
- does it compliment rather than duplicate what's already been published?
- why is the author qualified to write this book?
- how well does he know his subject?
- can he write well?
- will the final manuscript confirm the promise of the proposal?

So, a good proposal answers these questions, clearly and compellingly, by presenting the following information:

- a title page with the title (and subtitle), the author's name, the address of the author's agent, and the book title. The best titles are short, enticing, catchy and clear.

- a three to five page synopsis that "pitches" the book, listing previously published examples and explaining why this book is unique. Contrast the proposal with the competition. Include sales figures, statistics and other qualified arguments that show there's a wide audience for the material you plan to present.

- a one or two page biographical sketch, written like a press release, that establishes the author's expertise, demonstrates his writing ability, and depicts him as presentable and promotable. Editors give credit for previously published work, even if the work was quite different from the book that's now being proposed.

- a one-page bird's-eye view of the scope of the book, listing chapter titles only. These should be catchy, lively, clear and enticing. At the bottom of the page, include the approximate number of words, the desired format (hardcover or paperback), and the projected delivery date.

- summarize each chapter in one or two paragraphs. Show the logical flow from chapter to chapter and illustrate the internal logic within each chapter. Use concrete examples and anecdotes to enliven the presentation.

- show that the manuscript will live up to its promise by including a sample chapter from the book or a few pages of actual text from each chapter. A brilliant proposal can be ruined by weak chapter examples. Similarly, strong samples will seldom overcome a weak proposal.

Most traditional publishers won't even consider manuscripts submitted directly by a potential author anymore but rely on the endorsement of a qualified literary agent. Agents always want to represent their clients exclusively and will likely dismiss any query that seems to have gone to other agents as well at the same time. So submit material to one agent at a time and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you want a response or want your material returned.

For more information, go to: http://www.michaelsnellagency.com

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