Book proposals: She said I was a nut job…

…the author revealed this to me in a query – she thought I was a nut job. Now, normally I’d just hit the delete button and move on, muttering something under my breath which only the beagle can understand. But this was someone I’d spoken to at a writer’s con, so it’s only fair that I hear her out, right?

See…here’s the deal; when I met her, I suggested she write a book proposal. On a novel. Yah, book proposals are for nonfiction. Ok, ok, let’s all join in, shall we? “Pricey is a nut job, nut job, nut job!”

There. Feel better? Now, let me explain the method to my madness. A book proposal forces you to analyze your book in ways you probably hadn’t thought of – and this is a good thing because you’ll probably write a much better query letter and have a better appreciation/understanding of how and where your book now fits in the marketplace. I never learned so much about my own novel and its potential audience, message, and marketability until I wrote a book proposal on it.

And that is the point.

You’re in this game to sell yourself better than the writer next to you, and there is no better way to float your literary cream to the top than taking the time to write out a book proposal for your novel. I’ve written about book proposals before, but it was written with the idea of helping writers with the process. This post is about analysis.

Here is what a standard book proposal should consist of:

  1. COVER SHEET (title and subtitle of book; genre, word count, author’s name, address, phone, fax, email)
  2. CONCEPT STATEMENT (optional—briefly state the target audience, why they need this book, why your book is unique or timely, why you are an authority on the topic, and what your book offers that other books don’t).
  3. OVERVIEW (how you came to write the book—weave in attention-getting facts; this must be the most compelling part of your proposal!)
  4. PURPOSE OF THE BOOK (what will your book do? what need will it fill? how will it benefit readers?)
  5. THE MARKET/AUDIENCE (who will buy your book? why do they want or need it? give statistics)
  6. COMPETITIVE BOOKS (what else exists? where is it shelved? how is your book new and better? how does your book differ from all other books on this topic?)
  7. MARKETING OF THE BOOK (bookstores, book clubs, Internet, clubs, associations; if applicable—these are sales outside of a bookstore environment such as retail store chains, specialty stores, catalogs)
  8. PROMOTION & PUBLICITY (list newspapers, magazines, TV & radio stations that the publisher should contact)
  9. AUTHOR’S PROMOTIONAL CONTRIBUTION (list everything you’ll do to make the book successful; be sure to include all of your ideas for author appearances and events)
  10. COMPLETION OF THE BOOK (state that “x” months from date of contract you will deliver the manuscript—usually a 9-12 month period is allowed)
  11. SEQUELS (optional—list 1-3 other projects that interest you and that have a large audience)
  12. ABOUT THE AUTHOR (your background and experience; why you are the best person to write the book)
  13. THREE SAMPLE CHAPTERS (your first three chapters)

Aw, why, Pricey?

I know, it’s a lot to deal with, but this isn’t just busy work – this is information we need REGARDLESS OF GENRE because all this stuff goes to our distributor’s sales teams so they can pitch your title to the libraries and national accounts. If you increase your BIC (butt in chair) index and do a proposal, you can write a smashing query letter that whets an agent’s or editor’s appetite.

No, not all at once

You’re not going to send in a book proposal on your novel because almost everyone wants a query letter first. Besides, the industry at large doesn’t consider book proposals on fiction – which I think is dumb because we do need this info. Rather, this is Girl Scout time, and this means that you’re getting prepared should someone contact you to send pages. There have been any number of times when I’ve been on the fence about a work and wanted more information before I actually asked for pages. If you have that info already done, you are better able to sell yourself.

There is a lot of gray in our industry, and being prepared to intelligently advocate your book’s strengths is the difference between “send me pages” that may lead to a contract offer, or a “no thanks.” A book proposal can transcend your advocacy.

So getting back to the writer who told me I was a nut job…she thanked me for the suggestion because she learned all sorts of things about her story that she hadn’t considered before. And heck, that’s what it’s all about, right?

7 Responses to Book proposals: She said I was a nut job…

  1. Bill Webb says:

    You, a nut job? Who knew?

    Now the beagle….

  2. Gene F. says:

    My critique group doesn’t think that this is a saleable book, but you wrote to write about something that you know about. I have had gastrointestinal problems most of my adult life. I would like to write a book abour Overcoming IBS. I think that this could help some people. It would be a self-help/how-to /memoir. What do you think?

  3. Gene, it isn’t my place to tell you whether you have a marketable book or not because I have no clue. Only you can make that determination by understanding the following:

    – Your competition (what is already out on the bookshelves)

    – The unique elements of your book (compared to your competition)

    – Your audience (who is your readership?)

    – How you plan on promoting your book to that readership

    – Your platform

  4. Lynn, this is sensational advice – every writer should know their book inside out and have a strong idea of who the audience will be. Perhaps not from the get-go (or we’d never get anything written) but writers should examine all of your points before sending proposals/queries out.

    So many people think ‘I’ll just write it, the publisher can sort out the rest’ but it really doesn’t work that way.

  5. S.P. Bowers says:

    Great idea, I’m going to have to do that.

    Gene, If the book is well writen you’ll find the market. My hubby has IBS and we’d look at a book like that.

  6. Pelotard says:

    Can I be a Boy Scout instead? I don’t look good in skirts.

    And I’ve written a thriller. It’s not supposed to be too different from anything on the shelves. 🙂

    Actually, I came across something new when I looked at an agent website the other day: he wanted not only a general “list of comp titles,” but specified 3-5 recent titles and a short explanation of why mine was different to each of them.

    I liked that. I’m writing it up and will submit. Because he’s got a professional attitude, and expects me to have one, too.

  7. This is actually a great idea. It forces the author to consider the “business” side of writing…an area that many authors struggle with.

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