Once upon a time in a land far, far away, I was a book editor (200 titles), a magazine editor (1,000 + articles) and, briefly, a literary agent. During that time I saw proposals and manuscripts without number. Most failed to even engage my attention because they failed to tell me what I, as an editor, really needed to know.
When I became an agent I developed the following document for my clients who were having trouble writing a simple proposal. Typically, they'd get bogged down in creating a long, drawn out monster that was too turgid and too worked over to be of use.
A writer new to the game of publishing (and it is a game and a clumsy and ugly one) would always spend far too much time getting to yes or no. My writers would have a lot to say about their subjects and they seemed to feel that by saying a lot in the proposal they were improving their odds. Wrong. Less is more in this game, trust me.
And besides, a proposal is just that. A proposal. There's no sense in investing a huge amount of time in something that isn't going to be published and for which a writer is not going to be paid.
Contract first. Book second. Hear me now or hear me later after you've wasted a year or more of your life.
At any rate, I had an email exchange today with a writer who is struggling with the proposal. I sent that writer this document I dredged up from the depths of my back-up hard drive. It struck me that it might be of use to other suffering writers. And so, here it is.
Some may scoff and say that "books are over," but don't you believe it. The plain fact is that even now, in the ever so advanced 21st century, if the human race really values knowledge, books are where we put it.
The 330 Word Book Proposal Schematic in 5 Parts
1) What the Book is About (1 -2 Pages)
Start with the title and subtitle. Make these two elements as attention grabbing as possible. They will be the "handle" the editor uses for pitching the book to the acquisition committee.
Single-spaced, this section sets out the condensed form of the book. Think of it as expanded jacket copy.
What's it about? What's its point of view. What is the arc and shape of the book? What patterns will it reveal? How will it educate, illuminate, amuse or inspire? Why is the book important now?
Function: This section gives the acquiring editor reasons for recommending the book for publication.
2) Chapter by Chapter Outline of the Book
Each chapter is given a title and then one or two paragraphs that set out what will be covered in the chapter when written.
Function: The allows the editor understand the structure of the book.
3) Sample Chapter
Pick one chapter from the outline and write it start to finish.
Function: This allows the editor to know how the author will write the book and, indeed, if the author can in fact write.
4) Core Market for the Book (1 Page)
Who is going to buy the book?
Who are the people who will be interested in the book?
Be fairly specific here. It's not a "There are 300 million people in the United States and they all eat, therefore my cook book...." argument. Editors want to have some idea of the "hard-core" market of buyers' the people who have to have it.
Indicate other similar and/or complimentary books and influential magazine / web articles on the subject.
Function: Helps the editor identify and quantify the possible market for the book.
5) Why the Author is Qualified to Write This Book. (1 Page)
Why you? What are the author's particular qualifications for writing this book? Include degrees, writing experience, web credentials, background.
Function: Allows the editor to know that the author has the expertise to write the book.Posted by Vanderleun at August 27, 2010 12:39 AM