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Book Proposals That Will Get You Published
by Cheryl Sloan Wray

In the past five years, I have sold four nonfiction book proposals to publishing houses. In talking with editors after my sales, I have learned that one key point helped me make the move from un-published to published book author. One primary ingredient convinced editors that their publishing company needed to publish my book.

What was that one key point? That one primary ingredient? Editors have told me that it was my book proposal. My thorough book proposals impressed the editors enough that they were convinced I could write them a book that would be well-written and marketable.

How, though, do you write an effective book proposal? How do you convince an editor that your nonfiction book idea is just what her company needs? My experience has taught me that there are seven important elements of a successful book proposal.

1. A saleable idea. You could write the best book proposal in the world, but if it’s not written about a marketable idea you’ll never sell it! The publishing industry is ruled by sales and, like it or not, we writers must come up with books ideas that will sell! How do you know if your idea is saleable? Study the market (what kind of books seem to be popular at your local bookstore? what books are being talked about in industry magazines and on the Internet?) and come up with ideas that have a clear audience (does your book idea have a built-in consumer? Does it appeal to children, or parents, or religious individuals, or writers, or entrepreneurs, or some other audience?).

2. A quality summary. Your book proposal needs to show that you thoroughly understand how your book will be laid out. It needs to communicate to the editor that you have a well-thought-out plan. So be sure to include in your proposal a thorough summary of your book manuscript. List the book’s theme, its main points, even a sample table of contents. You don’t want any editor to look at your proposal and still ask himself, "What is this book about?" Give him a clear understanding of your book.

3. Sample chapters. It’s important to include several sample chapters in your book proposal because they show that you can actually write what you say you can write; they also give the editor a better understanding of your book’s tone and style. Look at your table of contents and choose two or three chapters that will do this well. (I usually include the first chapter and then at least one more of my "meatier" chapters.)

4. Marketing strategies. Book publishers need to know that you’re going to do your job in marketing the book—-they want to know you will augment their marketing plan with some work of your own. Include, then, a section in your proposal that explains the marketing work you will do; some of this work might include willingness to attend book signings, set up a website for the book, write magazine articles to go along with the book, take part in television interviews, and other marketing practices.

5. Know the competition. The perfect book is one that has no competition—-one that is meeting an unmet need in the marketplace. The next best thing is a book that has a special slant that no other book has. Convince an editor with your book proposal that your book is better than its competition (or that it doesn’t have any true competition) and you’re much closer to having your proposal accepted. To do this you will have to research the competition by doing thorough Internet searches and visiting bookstores and libraries.

6. Your author’s credentials. What makes you the person to author this book? In your book proposal, include information such as: writing credits, personal experience with the topic, and professional experience with the topic. Include appropriate clips if you have them.

7. A professional approach. Always be professional in the way you approach the editor. Write a professional, grammatically correct cover letter; put your proposal together in a neat fashion; never push the editor to make a decision; always present yourself as a professional who knows how to do things in a professional way.

One of the most gratifying experiences of my writing career took place when an editor told me that the book proposal I’d written for an inspirational book was one of the best she’d ever read. She said that very rarely does she and other editors receive book proposals that are so thorough and professional; my proposal made it easy to make a decision about my book idea. And isn’t that what all of us writers want? To do a job so well that an editor can’t wait to say, "Yes, I’d love to see what you’ve written."

© Copyright 2004, Cheryl Sloan Wray

Cheryl Sloan Wray is a freelancer writer with more than 1000 articles to her credit. She is also the author of Writing for Magazines (McGraw-Hill), a popular guide for freelancers.

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