Monday, December 13, 2010

That intimidating book proposal

by Jane

For the last several months, many of us here at DGLM have talked about the necessity of preparing solid book proposals. A strong proposal is so important because it not only helps the editor and publisher to know what you are doing, it actually helps you, the author, to focus on your subject and the market you are trying to reach.

Many feel that doing this work is an “unnatural” act, and I admit that it can be very difficult. Once it is done right, however, it can be a very effective tool for everyone.

We work very hard with our clients to help them create their proposals. We send them basic instructions, sample proposals and then we review and comment on each draft until we feel the material is ready to be submitted.

Because we think this part of the publishing process is so very important, I thought I would share our basic formula for putting together a non-fiction proposal.

The proposal is broken down into several parts:

The first is the Overview. This begins with a brief dramatic anecdote which is meant to get the reader, in this case the editor at the publishing company, into the material. Immediately after this anecdote, you should describe in two or three sentencesno morewhat the book will be about. This is followed by another brief paragraph on why it is being written and then another on why you are qualified to write it.

After this, you need to describe the different groups of readers who will buy your bookboth demographically and statistically. The more numbers you have here the better.

The final element of the overview is a comparative section where you compare your book to others that would be found in the same place in the bookstore. In each case, book by book you must provide the author, the title, the publisher and the year of initial publication and, book by book, you need to tell us how your proposed book will be as successful or more so.

The next element of the proposal is the Annotated Table of Contents. This consists of chapter heads and no more than a couple of sentences on what each chapter will contain.

Then we need at least One Sample Chapter that matches a chapter described in your annotated table of contents. (I always suggest an early chapter, but the contents cannot repeat anything that has previously appeared in the overview of the proposal.) The sample chapter is meant to do two things: show off the writing and tell us things we don’t already know.

Finally, there should be a more formal narrative Bio of the author.

This is followed by links that serve as Support Materialreviews of previous books, recent articles by and about you from national publications, a schedule of speaking appearance, any national media appearances, etc.

So there you have itmy holiday present to you. I know this isn’t easy, but as I said, once this is done right, it is incredibly helpful in not only selling the proposed book but also in writing it.

Naturally, as always, I am open to answering your questions.


  1. Thank you so much for this! I have completed a proposal and I feel writing the actual book is far easier! It reminded me of being in school and writing research papers. LOL But you are right; it gives you focus and direction.

  2. I'm glad I write fiction. ;)

  3. Thanks for this! I was wondering, though -- is there any equivalent thing out there for fiction writers? For example, what if you are pitching a book to an editor as a two book or three book series? My impression is that there would be the completed first book, along with synopses of the later ones...? (If that's the case, would you mind doing a synopsis overview on the blog sometime? That would be all kinds of helpful and awesome.)

  4. Jane, I second Rebecca's request... I'm looking very forward in writing an YA fantasy series. Could you please let us know how those things works? Thank you very much!


  5. Made me glad I write fiction too! Fifty pages and a synopsis suddenly seem a lot easier!

  6. Thank you for all of your comments. We will address the issue of what writers of fiction need to present in the future. Meanwhile, I am curious as to what more you would be interested in me addressing in future blogs.

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  8. Facing the prospect of a book proposal can be intimidating, but fear not! Break it down into manageable steps. Start with a compelling introduction, clearly outlining your book's essence. Dive into a concise overview, emphasizing its uniqueness. Detail your target audience, providing insights into market appeal. Present a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, showcasing your narrative arc. Highlight your qualifications and why you're the ideal author. Conclude with a powerful closing that leaves publishers eager for more. Utilize resources like literary agents or writing communities for guidance. And here's a pro tip – save on writing resources with exclusive Alibris coupon code at checkout! Remember, this proposal is your book's first impression – make it compelling, not intimidating!