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How to Write a Book Proposal

Updated on August 26, 2007

Getting published starts with knowing what to do

It's been said that everybody has a book in them--an idea or story that they've dreamed of sharing with the world. The unfortunate fact is that many of those books never get written, or if they do, they end up stranded on some computer hard drive or in a desk drawer.

What makes the difference between the author whose dream becomes a published book and the author-who-never-was, is something quite simple.

The secret that many would-be authors don't know is that the road to publication rarely begins with the finished book.

Typically, editors don't want you to send them a complete manuscript. Instead, they are looking for the author who knows how to write a skillful sales pitch for his or her book--and that is where the book proposal comes in.

A well-written book proposal piques the editor's interest--its main purpose is to make the editor want to see more.

What's in a book proposal package?

=> An attention-grabbing cover letter: The opening line needs to be something informative and interesting. You as the author have very little time to appeal to the editor's curiosity. If you don't do it immediately, your busy editor will move on to the next proposal on his or her desk.

Authors often use the opening line of their book as the opening of the letter. This gives the editor an idea of your writing style and book content.

=> A Table of Contents or outline of the book. This provides the author with a snapshot of what your proposed book is about.

=>Sample chapter or chapters. This is let the editor know that you can, indeed, write. Editors often want to see sample chapters in the case of writers who are not previously published.

=> Your marketing information. This inlcudes information such as: Why is this book different than all the other books on the subject which are now in print? Why are you the best person to write this book? Is there an audience for this book? How would you help to market this book?

How do I find out what the editor wants?

Most publishing companies have writer's guidelines on their web sites. Read these carefully as they provide the clues you need to know for submitting. If you can't find this information online, you can get a copy of Writer's Market, which lists this inoformation. You can also call or e-mail the publisher to request the writer's guidelines.

Where can I get help to prepare my proposal package?

Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there from people who are experts in the publishing field.

One of my favorite books on proposal preparation comes from Terry Whalen, a veteran writer, editor and agent. Although Terry has worked in the field of Christian publishing, his advice is golden for any author who wants to see their work published. I highly recommend his book:Book Proposals that Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Purchase it here. This is the e-book version, which you can have delivered to your computer immediately. It also has some terrific bonuses that you won't get with the print version.

Armed with this information, you will be able to craft the proposal package that makes your editor sit up and take notice!

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