I've looked at two book proposals recently for aspiring authors with agents eagerly awaiting their submissions. The writers came to me for what they considered a "cursory review" because they felt their proposals just needed a "finishing touch," another set of eyes to glance over it before they attached it to an email and hit "send." They were ready and eager to send the proposals on to the agents, who had requested the proposals after a pitch session at a conference. They didn't want to keep the agents waiting.
These writers were a bit surprised when I told them to wait; they still had a lot of work to do. Here's the advice I offered them:
- Your book proposal must, first, impress an agent and, second, impress a publisher. As the old saying goes, "You only have one chance to make a first impression." Don't blow it by being in a hurry to send out a product that isn't finished. Take your time; get it right. Make sure all the pieces are in place.
- Your book proposal represents the publisher's business plan for your book. Take time to write a great market, promotion, and platform section. Also do a good job researching the competing and complementary books sections. These are all VERY important. These sections can make or break your chances of selling a book.
- Be sure sure your overview section has an enticing lead followed by a pitch or book hook, a sentence that describes your book in a short, pithy manner (preferably in 25-50 words). Follow this with the details of the book, in particular the benefits to the reader and any unique features you plan on including. However, benefits are key. Answer the questions "What will the reader get out of reading this book?" and "Why would they wan to read it?"
- Include 25-30 pages of sample chapter (for nonfiction).
- If you don't know what goes into a book proposal, get a good book, such as Mike Larsen's How to Write a Book Proposal or Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over! Or you can learn how to compile the information necessary for a book proposal by using my Evaluate Your Book for Success Workbook. Make sure you include all the sections described.
- Have the proposal and your sample chapters edited and then proofread.
- Don't skimp on your proposal; have it professionally edited by someone who knows what goes into a book proposal and how to craft a winning book proposal (one that gets accepted at least by an agent). This may not be a cheap venture, but it will be worthwhile if you sell your book.
- Write your proposal wearing your business person's hat, not your writer's hat. Remember the document you are creating is all about business. You are trying to convince an agent and a publisher that your book will sell. Yes, you want to prove you have a good idea and that you can write, but the fact that your book has a market, you have a built-in readership (an author's platform) and that you can promote it well (sell it) more often than not trump these other two factors. Creativity factors into how you present your idea and write the proposal to some extent, but it is a business document--a business plan.
- Have your proposal ready before you meet with agents at a conference. This will help you avoid doing a rush job in an attempt to get the document into an agent's hands while he or she still remembers the project.
- Don't send your proposal out to 50 agents at one time. Send to four or five at most, and then analyze their comments and incorporate it into your proposal. In other words, revise your proposal as you get feedback.
If you do all these 10 things, you should meet with a fair amount of success--if your idea has worth.