Thursday, March 8, 2012

Do I Need a Book Proposal? (Part 1 of 2)

I used to be the kind of writer who hated with the utmost hatred the idea of writing a book proposal. I may have even whined that my manuscripts should be judged on literary merit rather than marketing potential. I stubbornly refused to query agents or editors who required book proposals (which severely limited my prospects, by the way).

Then one day I got a boomerang response from an agent who said, “This project sounds poignant and timely. I’d like to read the proposal.”

That week, I wrote my book proposal. I saw the light, repented of my laziness, and accepted the book proposal into my heart. And now I am head over heels. I’m a zealous evangelist for the book proposal, and I am definitely trying to win converts.

Write a book proposal. You will learn so much about your own manuscript. You will influence prospective agents or publishers by sowing key themes in their minds before they even open your manuscript.

Imagine your dream agent or editor sitting at a desk piled high with dozens of manuscripts. What’s better, I ask you—an agent with all those towering dozens of manuscripts skimming yours for the good parts, or that same agent reading your few pages of compelling overview, where you have placed the strengths of the manuscript right there in plain sight?

Again, what’s better—an editor trying to remember what existing books might be similar to what it seems like yours is about and then guessing at the differences, or that editor reading through your tidy list of five competing titles with a very brief summary of each and comparison with your project? In your book proposal, you get to tell the editor exactly what makes your book unique, what makes it stand out in the market. 

What if, while writing the proposal, you realize that your book is not that different from a bunch of other stuff out there? Well, you can revise to make it stand out and increase your chances of seeing your work published. Reading competing titles can be fun and encouraging because you will see exactly how your work is different, and this will give you greater confidence, which of course will come through in your query and proposal. It’s good to know the competition—those authors will soon become your colleagues! 

I put in forty hours or more on this whole query- and proposal-writing process—and that was only for one book manuscript. What editor has that kind of time for each query in the slush pile?

Here’s my challenge to you—don’t be lazy about the proposal. Don’t whine. Open yourself up to the possibilities. Honest, the proposal writing can be fun!

Tomorrow I’ll post an overview of the elements in a book proposal and will recommend some great resources for writing a strong proposal.


  1. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post!

  2. I never even heard of a book proposal, but now I'm convinced that I must write one (should I ever have a completed manuscript to write about :)
    Thanks, Lisa!