Moving Write Along: Advice from the Experts – Book Proposals

Seven Rules for Writing Your Book Proposal by author Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Book proposals are not something that are going away any time soon. In fact, they have becoming more omnipresent. Once only writers of non-fiction needed to write proposals to get their ideas past gatekeepers, the editors, agents, and publishers. Now some publishers ask their novelists to write them. That is especially prevalent for novelists under contract for more than one novel, genre novels, and novels that are part of a series.

Many writers are put off by books on proposals. “It takes a whole book to learn to write one?” they say. “First we have to read a whole book, then we have to write a proposal which is practically like writing a whole book, and then we have to write the darn book?” They’re right. It all seems like too much. And it may be. …

It’s easy to make short stuff of the subject of writing book proposals simply because there is no one way to write a proposal. You need to know the basics, but every proposal will vary with the project depending on the author’s style, the genre he or she is writing in, and the way he or she visualizes the book.

So, what is a proposal all about and why are we so uncomfortable with them?

A book proposal is a marketing tool, a tell and sell document. Writers tend to be artistic or academic or reclusive and probably never pictured themselves hawking any kind of product, much less something that they’re so invested in. That doesn’t mean they won’t have to and it doesn’t mean they can’t learn to write a real kick-butt proposal. In fact, most already have the instincts for it, they just think that they must switch from real writing to brazen or boring. And know that once past the query letter, if your proposal doesn’t impress a gatekeeper, all is lost.

Below are top seven rules for writing a great book proposal from my Amazon Short: The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Book in 20 Minutes or Less.

Rule #1: Don’t slide into your business-letter writing mode. In fact, don’t do that when you write business letters. Let your personality shine through. And, when appropriate, let the voice you’ll use in your book be seen, too.

Rule #2: Don’t rush it. I’ve seen people on Twitter say they’ve written a proposal in a day. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to see the result.

Rule #3: Edit the proposal as meticulously as if you were editing your manuscript. (Carolyn is also the author of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success.)

Rule #4: Research the agents and publishers you’re sending your proposal to. Sure, it’s time consuming. But not so much as sending your proposal to gatekeepers who are sure to have no interest.

Rule #5: This may sound like repetition of #1 but, if you think about it, it isn’t. Don’t slavishly follow a template. An agent I interviewed for The Frugal Editor told me that “it’s just plain creepy.” She also said that if a writer can’t be true to themselves, she has to wonder what kind of a writer they’d be. PS: This doesn’t mean you can’t use a template. But break away from it when it seems advisable, for heaven’s sake.

Rule #6: Your job is to intrigue the gatekeeper you’re sending your proposal to.

Rule #7.: Your bigger job is to make it easy on that gatekeeper to get the information he or she needs quickly. That means, organize, organize, organize. And format so the organization is apparent.

This article was an excerpt from the introduction to Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s book: The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Book in 20 Minutes or Less. Carolyn is an award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the acclaimed HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers .

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10 Comments
  1. Thank you so much for sharing this with your fellow writers! You are always so enthusiastic about what you are doing with them, Sweet Deb. I hope they’ll all stop by to see the other things I do to support writers. Start with the Resources for Writers link at http://www.howtodoitfrugally.com but while you’re there, my Sharing with Writers newsletter subscription form is on the home page.

    Best to all of you!
    Carolyn

  2. Karen Cioffi 7 years ago

    I have The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Book in 20 Minutes or Less. It’s full of such useful information as is all of Carolyn’s self-help books.

    Thanks for an great post.

  3. […] Moving Write Along: Advice from the Experts ‚Äì Book Proposals by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the acclaimed HowToDoItFrugally series […]

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  9. […] A query is the letter sent to a literary agent, editor, or publisher, used to promote the project, as well as the writer. For tips on writing a good query, read the Write On! Online Author Q&A with The Query Queen Wendy Burt-Thomas. Non-Fiction writers, also read author Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s “Seven Rules for Writing Your Book Proposal.” […]

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