Tips for Writing a Book Proposal
My first tip for writing a book proposal is to go to Steve Laube’s website and listen to the audio on this subject. You will also find a book proposal template. Download it. Study it. Use it as you see fit. You can also read my previous posts on this subject.
Other than your search for a literary agent, writing a book proposal is the most daunting task you’ll ever encounter. There are not many shortcuts. So, you might as well roll up your sleeves and pour yourself a very strong cup of caffeine, say a prayer, and get started.
I had no idea what I was getting into until I listened to Steve Laube’s audio class about a month ago. Since listening to his lecture, I’ve had time to think on this. My mind is always churning in search of ways to make things run smoother, and sometimes to my detriment, faster.
Here are a few things I came up with to help write that book proposal.
If you are in the beginning stages of writing a new book, I suggest you write a two-line synopsis at the end of each chapter. Highlight that synopsis in yellow, or whatever color you prefer.
Because in most book proposals, one of the things they’ll request is you give them a chapter-by-chapter rundown of the book. Not all publishers will ask for this, but it is better to be prepared than to start from scratch. You can also choose, like I’ve done with my completed manuscript, to write this synopsis during your last read of the book–the last read that comes just before you send it to your editor.
I’ve also found that this is an idea project you can undertake while beta readers are reading your book. This exercise helps calm the nervous energy stirring in you while you wait for feedback on your book.
NOTE: It won’t hurt to write this synopsis in your manuscript, especially if you highlight it. For one, if you do this, the synopsis is always there and a part of the book. Two, if you highlight the synopsis, you can easily delete it before you forward it to a publisher/editor/literary agent. Three, it is easily identified whenever you feel a need to update it. Four, it’s easily accessible because it’s located at the “end” of each chapter.
The other thing that keeps us stuck in the mud about writing book proposals is the tedious task of coming up with a pitch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled “pitch,” looked up examples, and I still struggle with coming up with one that fits my book. Who goes around summarizing their book in one to two sentences? I’m, as you know, longwinded. You have any idea how hard it is for a longwinded person to summarize anything in one or two sentences? I’m doomed!!
Okay. That was bit of an exaggeration. Still …
One of the things that’s proven helpful is to go to Youtube or search new or old movies and read their tag lines and pitches. See, I don’t even know if they are one and the same (tag lines and pitches). The other thing I’ve done is search through books listed on Amazon.com. Most don’t have them, but ever so often I’ll find one. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky enough to go to a writer’s website and find a pitch of their newest book, along with a “purchase/buy me” button. If they’ve done a good job with their pitch, you’re tempted to make the purchase.
Publishers will also want a synopsis of your book written like a book jacket. I’ve experienced different requests from several publishers. Some want your synopsis to be no more than 200 words. Others want your synopsis to give the full details of your book, including any surprises, and the ending.
When I first ran across a request like this, I didn’t want to comply. Something told me to go over my notes that I’d taken when I listened to Steve Laube’s audio on book proposals. During his lecture, he stresses somewhere along the way that publishers don’t want to bank money on a book that they later find out sags in the middle and doesn’t deliver in the end. Wow!
So, like it or not, we must give away the goods when requested to provide a synopsis in this fashion. Bite your inner lip my dear colleagues and give up the goods of your book.
The other thing that really gets me about book proposals is the Competitive/Market Analysis request. My first reaction to this request was: “How would I know. I’ve been busy writing the book. I have no blasted idea who will read it. And I sure don’t know a thing about the marketing side of the writing business. How’s a newbie to know such things anyway?” Straightforward answer to that snippy attitude: I BETTER FIND OUT!!
We must do our homework. If you hate research, you will utterly despise it before it’s all said and done.
It’s not like in the old days (40 years ago) when editors/literary agents and publishers marketed your book for you. They are no longer in the business of carrying the brunt of that load anymore. It’s up to us to do most of the heavy lifting. Unless, however, you’ve already made a name for yourself (i.e., you’re a Brett Farve, a Tom Brady, a Morgan Freeman, a Beyonce Knowles, a Serena Williams).
Until our names are in lights, we will need to dig in and find creative ways to market our books. To do that, we must have an idea who will read our books and how we plan to attract readers. Like you, I’m stuck in the mud on this one, always trying to determine who I wrote this book for and who might be my unlikely reader. Ask yourself this: How will I attract readers to my book? In a sea of writers, how do I get noticed?
To overcome the first part of this hurdle, I began asking myself, “What book have I read that influenced the writing of my novel?” Rarely is there one influence. List them, and include their authors. Then choose two or three that were the most influential.
Believe it or not, you have just fulfilled the request of the Competitive Analysis of your book proposal.
The Market Analysis side of the question has many components. I tossed and turned for nights over this one. Then one day during my search on the internet I ran across a term I hadn’t heard before: “swag bags.” Huh? When I realized what this was, my mind wouldn’t shut off. You can offer swag bags in so many different ways: as gifts for being one of the first ten purchasers of your book; as a gift for persuading someone else (or persuading two or three people) to buy your book; as a gift with the purchase of your book. Use your imagination. Look up swag bags on the internet. The pictures alone generate ideas.
The other thing I thought of regarding marketing is: purchasing those magnetic signs for my car with the picture of my book on it. I really, really, really like that idea. I don’t care if you borrow these ideas. You don’t write like me, and I don’t write like you. Dismiss the myth. There’s nothing to fear. Some people will like my book; while others might like yours. There’s enough of a share of the profit to go around. Use any idea I’ve posed here, and expound on it if you can. Do whatever works for you. But remember this, if you don’t write well, it won’t matter. Our books still won’t sell if you don’t put out a good product. It’s best to find a good reputable editor. Lose the fear of sharing ideas. We can learn from each other.
There is so much more I could share, but because I really need to edit my upcoming novel, I must stop here. However, if you have questions, ask away. If you have corrections to what is written here, I’m open to receive them. The only important criteria to your suggestions: Lose the meanness. Exert professionalism. I’m no expert. I’m still learning. But if you’ve read my “About the Author” page, you’re well aware that I’m determined to share all that I’ve learned with you. Hope you do the same.
The business side of writing is forever changing, and we must change with it. It can be a pain in the butt. Lawrence Block once responded to someone who wanted to write a book, “If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.”
Why didn’t I take his advice?
Donna B. Comeaux