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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 its not written about a marketable idea
youll 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
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 books theme, its main points, even a sample table of contents. You
dont 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. Its 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 books 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"
4. Marketing strategies. Book publishers
need to know that youre 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
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 doesnt have any true competition) and
youre 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 authors 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
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 Id
written for an inspirational book was one of the best shed 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 isnt that what all of us writers want? To do a job so well that
an editor cant wait to say, "Yes, Id love to see what youve
© 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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