Open Letter to Agents Addendum

I’ve heard a little bit of blowback from my Open Letter to Agents post. I never anticipated that I’d come through that post without some bruising, but I heard from a couple agent friends of mine whose prospective clients read my post and misinterpreted the part where I talk about the Book Proposal.

I’d like to clarify this point here and now:


Why? you ask? I’ll give you six reasons – all of them are previous posts that I’ve written about what book proposals are, why they’re vital, and how they can make you smarter, smell better, have whiter teeth, fresher breath, and will win you friends all over the world.

But the main importance of knowing how to write a book proposal is this:


Don’t ever kid yourself – writing is a business. It’s not about fuzzy kittens and gooey mushy nothings over the phone. It’s hard work that involves icky things like marketability, competition, platforms, distribution. Writing a proposal forces you to think like a business person, not a doe-eyed author looking for rainbows, soft clouds, and warm muffins from your editor.

If your agent signed you without a book proposal (depending on genre, of course), then consider yourself lucky. Agents are all different, and some won’t sign a client without the author providing a book proposal. But if your agent tells you they need you to write a book proposal, then I cannot urge you enough to WRITE THE DARN PROPOSAL. You’ll learn a tremendous amount about your book, and you’ll make your agent happy. In turn, that agent will make me happy.

Your agent will use your proposal as a foundation to send off to scuzzy little robots like me – who scream bloody murder for proposals. If you have the temerity to go grouch muffin on your agent when she asks for a proposal then you’re revealing yourself to be a prima donna and truly not serious about your writing future.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – even if you write mainstream or genre fiction, it NEVER hurts to write a proposal because it consists of information that you’ll need at some point in your promotion.

What goes into a book proposal? I thought you’d never ask:

  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)


2 Responses to Open Letter to Agents Addendum

  1. Moondoggie says:

    VERY informative post, Lynn. Thanks so much. Even though no one’s asking, I’m going to write a proposal exactly as you suggest. I think it’ll be great practice. (Plus I’ll be locked and loaded when I finally hear the words, “We want to publish your book!”)

  2. Steven says:

    When I was a grad student, proposals were required by my committee before I could begin my MS or PhD research. I found (as was part of the design) that a well written proposal helps to make the final product MUCH easier to write. When I started to consider writing a for-the-non-technical-public book, I had wondered if a proposal was the way to go.

    Thanks to this blog and many other books–as well as letters to my favorite author–later, I’m halfway through the second draft of my proposal. Writing the proposal has helped codify my thoughts, helped me consider audience (and market!), and allowed for massive structural reorganization without the headache of having to rewrite whole chapters.

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