Writing a Book Proposal – Yes? No? Who’s Right?

im sorry

An author told me that she noticed a few agents’ blogs were claiming that book proposals are passé, and authors need not write them. Instead, authors should treat their nonfiction like fiction, and just send the manuscript. I’m sure this works fine for agents, but what happens when an editor asks for one?

Maybe I’m a dinosaur and editors aren’t asking for them as much anymore. As Jurassic as I may be, I still always ask for a book proposal, and I know I’m not alone. Oddly enough, there have been a few agents who wrote back saying they didn’t have one. Period. No offer to cough one up. Take it or leave it. I’m always dismayed because I don’t see this as being advantageous to the author. Book proposals are standard for nonfiction, so is it a good idea not to be prepared? After all, publishers are the ones who are making the financial investment, and they still need that info in order to help make a decision.

It’s Not Just For Editors…

Book proposals play a whole other role in that they force authors to think of their books as a marketable product and to think like a businessperson. And believe me, prospective editors are thinking along those lines. Very often, I have questions that the agent will pass along to the author. If that happens to you, are you ready with a knowledgeable answer?

What’s frustrating is that authors rightly take their lead from their agents, so if they haven’t been told to write a proposal, then where does leave me? More importantly, where does it leave the author?

Book proposals take a long time to write, but I’ve yet to hear an author say that writing it was a complete waste of time. Instead, authors were amazed at how much they learned about their own book because they had to look at it from a different perspective. And even though novelists don’t need a book proposal, I still think it’s a good idea to write one because it forces you to think about your book from the side of an editor.

There are a ton of books about writing the perfect book proposal, I think these books are a waste of money because there’s no magic bullet to writing the perfect book proposal. Save your money. You want a reference? I wrote a post on book proposals that goes into further detail, so here it is for free.

3 Responses to Writing a Book Proposal – Yes? No? Who’s Right?

  1. brianclegg says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, Lynn. I absolutely HATE writing proposals, because it is such fiendishly hard work to get all of your book in there, but I think it is absolutely essential for the author. Sometimes it identifies that you aren’t dealing with a book at all, but rather an article. If it is suitable for a book, the outline in the proposal is hugely valuable when you come to write the book. And the opening material (one page summary etc.) has many uses for the publisher. Apart from anything else it makes much more sense submitting a proposal than a whole book manuscript, as it means the author and publisher can make changes without requiring a massive re-write.

    Proposals work!

  2. You nailed it, Brian. A book proposal will expose the warts and shortcomings – or highlight amazing things you never realized about your book. I rely heavily on those proposals when it comes time for promo stuff.

  3. Penelope J. says:

    If I hadn’t written a book proposal in the first place I would never have written the book. The finished proposal elicited the attention of several agents at a conference, but they wanted to see a finished book. I went ahead with the book, one with a strong social message (former top professional makes a new start in midlife after job/career loss). As you mention above, it also highlights other aspects: a drop in social, economic, and work status, and how a low-paying job led to a new career. A book proposal is probably your most valuable selling tool.

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