Ask yourself these questions and as you write your answers, your proposal
will develop before your eyes. If you have the time and want more detailed
guidelines, get one of the many excellent books on writing proposals from the
writer's shelf at your library or local bookstore. I highly recommend Michael
Larsen's How to Write a Book Proposal.
All good non-fiction book proposals should contain the following, and query
letters should contain (concisely) the relevant main points and the most
- I: COVER PAGE WITH GREAT
TITLE, AUTHOR, YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS OR AGENT'S NAME AND ADDRESS (Your
work is copyrighted by virtue of having written it. Typically it is the
publisher who registers the copyright with the copyright office in the
name of the author. You may want to consult a lawyer if you feel you need special
protection against infringement.)
- II: THREE TO FIVE PAGE PITCH
- 1) Repeat title.
- 2) Describe your book
in one sentence.
- 3) Elaborate on that
in a paragraph or two. Describe the contents of your book enticingly and
- 4) Who is the audience?
How big is the audience? Who will actually walk into the bookstore or
library and request this book? Why will the audience need or desire the
book? It's important that prospective readers won't be embarrassed to buy
the book and that they can recognize the need. For example, a book called
Why I'm Such a Stupid Jerk wouldn't fare too well in the
self-help section of the bookstore; however, it might not do too badly in
the humor aisle.
- 5) Where will they
find it besides bookstores? General or specialized libraries? Catalogues?
Garden supply stores? Gift stores? Hospitals? Hardware stores?
- 6) What important,
enticing and special points and features does this book have? For
example, will there be sidebars, interviews, quotations?
- 7) Ideally, what will
the book look like as you see it? Do you see it in paperback or hardcover
or both? Does it require a special design? What trim size (width by
height)? Number of pages? Number of entries? Number of essays? Will the
book benefit from illustrations? If so, how many and what type? Line art?
Photos? Do not prepare a cover or jacket to go with your proposal. Be
respectful in advance of the publisher's art department. But if your book
is about your famous grandmother and you have an authentic reproducible
photo of her square dancing with Abraham Lincoln, say so.
- 8) What are your
sources? How do you intend to do your research, if any? If any special
permissions or releases are required, think about how you will get them
now and what they will cost. Be certain this will not be a problem before
you approach publishers, not later.
- 9) Do you consider the
book humorous, touching, poignant? Attribute as many adjectives as you
can. Then delete some.
- 10) Why are you the
perfect author to write this book? Include your writing experience,
publishing experience, work experience, educational experience, and
special experience that makes you uniquely qualified to write this book.
- 11) What is the book's
genre? Visit a bookstore and imagine where on the shelf your book will go
(or could go).
- 12) What are some of
the titles that your book will sit next to when it is published? This is
the competition. The competition analysis is perhaps the most important
part of any book proposal and should be done before you get too far along
with your proposal or even before you start. Do a thorough search of
books in print and read the books that are closest to yours in subject
matter. How is your book different? How is your book better? Ask the
bookstore owner or manager how these books are selling and work that
information into the proposal in a way that will cast your book in the
best light. It will backfire if you say that there is not now nor has
there ever been another book that competes with yours. Publishers will
usually be wary to publish such a book. They will either not believe you,
or they will think that it is therefore not a publishable topic. Perhaps,
they may think, it is more suited to a magazine article or a TV movie.
- 13) Are there special
times of the year when this book can be promoted in a special way? Does
it speak to a growing or renewable trend (such as turning fifty) as
opposed to a short-lived fad (remember pet rocks?)? If your book needs to
be timed with an event (for example, the new millennium), make sure there
is plenty of time to publish it and that you are ahead of the field.
- 14) Are you a
promotable author? i.e. If this is the kind of book that would benefit by
a national author tour, do you and can you tour or speak in public (such
a statement wouldn't be relevant if, for example, you propose to write a
dictionary)? Do you have any other promotion ideas (that are not
- 15) Have you already
cultivated an audience that would buy the book (publishers refer to this
as "having a platform"). Do you have other affiliations or
contacts that could prove useful when marketing the book?
- 16) Can you get
glowing endorsements from famous writers or experts prominent in the
field about which you are writing? If the book is written, it would be
useful to get a quote or two in advance of marketing the manuscript to
agents or publishers.
- 17) What is your
style? Work it in somewhere. What famous authors, if any, do you think
your style can be compared to?
- 18) Anything else you
think is relevant?
- III: DETAILED TABLE OF CONTENTS
A short paragraph to describe each chapter or section should do the trick.
It is usually more important that the headings be descriptive than clever.
- IV: REPRESENTATIVE AND
INTERESTING SAMPLE CHAPTER/S OR ENTRIES
- V: ATTACHMENTS, IF ANY, SUCH
AS RECENT MAJOR MAGAZINE ARTICLES ABOUT THE TOPIC OR BY THE AUTHOR
[ Up to my home
Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc.
Copyright 1993-2000 Sheree Bykofsky
All rights reserved.