Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal


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Book Proposal Business Plan

This post is a companion to Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published. My expertise on this topic comes from more than a decade of acquisitions experience at a traditional publisher, where I reviewed thousands of proposals.

What exactly is a book proposal?

A book proposal argues why your book (idea) is a salable, marketable product. It is essentially a business case or a business plan for your book.

Book proposals aren’t something you dash off in a day or two. They can take weeks or months to write if properly developed and researched. A proposal can easily reach 50 pages, even 100 for complex projects.

When is a book proposal needed?

Book proposals are used to sell nonfiction book ideas.

Instead of writing the entire book—then trying to find a publisher or agent (which is how it works with novels)—you write the proposal first, which convinces the editor or agent to contract you to write the book.

New writers might find it easier to simply write the book first, then prepare a proposal—which isn’t such a bad idea, since many editors and agents want assurance that an unknown writer can produce an entire book before they commit. (But having the manuscript complete does not negate the need for the proposal.)

That said, drafting a proposal first (even sketching it) can give you a better idea of what your book needs to include to make it stand apart from competing titles.

When is a proposal NOT needed?

The easiest answer is: When the agent or editor doesn’t require it in their submission guidelines. This can be the case with memoir, where the quality of the writing or manuscript holds more weight than the business case.

Generally speaking: When your book is more about information or a compelling idea, then you’re selling it based on the marketability of your expertise, your platform, and your concept—and you need a proposal.

If your book will succeed based on its literary merit (its ability to entertain or tell a story), then it becomes more important to have a completed manuscript that proves your strength as a writer.

What about “novel proposals”?

You may occasionally hear someone refer to novel proposals, which includes a query or cover letter, a synopsis and/or outline, and a partial or complete manuscript—along with any other information the editor or agent requests. This bears little to no relation to a typical nonfiction book proposal. Go here to read more about novel synopses.

Do I have to be an expert to write my nonfiction book?

Usually some level of expertise is necessary to produce a successful nonfiction book, especially for fields such as health, self-help, or parenting, where no one will trust your advice without recognized credentials. Your background must convey authority and instill confidence in the reader. (Would you, as a reader, trust a health book by an author with no experience or degrees?)

Some types of nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction and memoir, can be written by anyone with proven journalistic or storytelling skills.

How do I know if my memoir is salable or marketable?

It’s probably safe to assume that your memoir is not salable unless you’re confident of several things.

  1. Your writing must be outstanding. If your memoir is your very first book or very first writing attempt, then it may not be good enough to pass muster with an editor or agent.
  2. You must have a compelling and unusual story to tell. If you’re writing about situations that affect thousands (or millions) of people, that’s not necessarily in your favor. Alzheimer’s memoirs or cancer memoirs, for example, are common, and will put you on the road to rejection unless you’re able to prove how yours is unique or outstanding in the field.
  3. You need a platform. If you have a way to reach readers, without a publisher’s help, then you’re more likely to get a book deal.

Do I need an agent to sell my nonfiction book?

It depends. Consider these factors:

  1. Are you writing a book that has significant commercial value?
  2. Do you want to publish with a New York house?
  3. Do you need the expertise and knowledge of an agent to get your proposal into the right hands?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should probably look for an agent. Projects that don’t necessarily require agents include scholarly works for university presses; regional works likely to be published by regional or independent presses; and works with little commercial value.

How do I submit a book proposal?

Check submission guidelines of the agent or publisher. Sometimes you have to query before sending the proposal; often you can send the book proposal on first contact. The submission guidelines will also indicate any mandatory information that must be included in the proposal. Wondering how to find an agent or publisher to submit to? Check this post.

What does a book proposal consist of?

For better or worse, there is no “right way” to prepare a book proposal, just as there is no right way to write a book. Proposals vary in length, content, approach, and presentation. Each book requires a unique argument for its existence (or a business case), and thus requires a unique proposal. For example, a coffee table book on dogs would be pitched differently than a scholarly tome on presidents, or an expose on a celebrity.

However, here’s what an agent or publisher is essentially looking for.

Always answer these three questions

While these questions are not explicitly addressed in the proposal (e.g., with specific sections), these questions will be running through the mind of every publishing professional who considers your project. Make sure, as a whole, your proposal effectively answers them.

  • So what? This is the reason for the book’s existence, the unique selling proposition that sets it apart from others in the market.
  • Who cares? This is your target readership. A unique book is not enough—you must show evidence of need in the marketplace for your work.
  • Who are you? You must have sufficient authority or credentials to write the book, as well as an appropriate marketing platform for the subject matter or target audience.

Basic book proposal elements

Before I detail the most common elements of a proposal, I want to emphasize the following. Editors care about one thing only: A viable idea with a clear market, paired with a writer who has credibility and marketing savvy.Knowing your audience or market—and having direct, tangible reach to them (online or off)—gives you a much better chance of success. Pitch only the book you know has a firm spot in the marketplace. Do not pitch a book expecting that the publisher will bring the audience to you. It’s the other way around. You bring your audience and platform to the publisher.

1. Cover page and the proposal’s table of contents

Long proposals should have a table of contents.

2. Overview

A two-page summary of your entire proposal. Write it last—it needs to sing and present a water-tight business case. Think of it as the executive summary.

3. Target market

Who will buy this book? Why will it sell? Avoid generic statements like these:

  • A Google search result on [topic] turns up more than 10 million hits.
  • A U.S. Census shows more than 20 million people in this demographic.
  • An Amazon search turns up more than 10,000 books with “dog” in the title

These are meaningless statistics. The following statements show better market insight:

  • Three major sites focus on my topic at [URLs], and none of them have been updated since 2009. When I posted current information about this topic on my site, it became the leading referral of traffic for me, with more than 100 people visiting each day as a result.
  • Media surveys indicate that at least 50% of people in [demographic] plan to spend about $1,000 on their hobby this year, and 60% indicated they buy books on [topic].
  • The 5 most highly ranked titles on Amazon on this topic are now all at least 5 years out of date. Recent reviewers complain the books are not keeping up with new information and trends.

4. Competitive analysis

This section analyzes competing book titles and why yours is different or better. (Resist trashing the competition; it will come back to bite you.) Don’t skimp here—editors can tell when you haven’t done your homework. Also, researching and fully understanding the competition and its strengths/weaknesses should help you write a better proposal.

Whatever you do, don’t claim there are NO competitors to your book. If there are truly no competitors, then your book might be so weird and specialized that it won’t sell.

Most importantly, don’t limit yourself to print book titles when analyzing the competition. Today, your greatest competition is probably a website, online community, or well-known blogger. Your proposal should evaluate not just competing print books, but also websites, digital content, and online experts serving the same audience. Google your topic and the problem it solves. What terms would people search for if they wanted information or a solution? What turns up? Is it easy to get needed and authoritative information? Is it free or behind a pay wall?

Where do online experts and authorities send people for more information? Do they frequently reference books? Ask your local librarian where they would look for information on the topic you’re writing about.

For more help on this, see my post: How to Identify Top Websites and Blogs in Your Category

In many nonfiction topics and categories, the availability of online information can immediately kill the potential for a print book unless:

  • You have a very compelling platform and means of reaching your target audience, and they prefer books.
  • You already reach an online market and they are clamoring for a book.
  • You are writing something that isn’t best served through an online experience.

Many book ideas I see pitched should really start out as a site or community—even if only to test-market the idea, to learn more about the target audience, and to ultimately produce a print product that has significant value and appeal in its offline presentation.

5. Author bio and platform

Explain why you’re perfect to write and promote the book. More on this below.

6. Marketing and promotion plan

What can you specifically do to market and promote the book? Never discuss what you hope to do, only what you can and will do (without publisher assistance), given your current resources.

Many people write their marketing plan in extremely tentative fashion, talking about things they are “willing” to do if asked. This is deadly language. Avoid it. Instead, you need to be confident, firm, and direct about everything that’s going to happen with or without the publisher’s help. Make it concrete, realistic, and attach numbers to everything.

Weak
I plan to register a domain and start a blog for my book.

Strong
Within 6 months of launch, my blog on [book topic] already attracts 5,000 unique visits per month.

Weak
I plan to contact bloggers for guest blogging opportunities.

Strong
I have also guest blogged every month for the past year to reach another 250,000 visitors, at sites such as [include 2-3 examples of most well-known blogs]. I have invitations to return on each site, plus I’ve made contact with 10 other bloggers for future guest posts.

Weak
I plan to contact conferences and speak on [book topic].

Strong
I am in contact with organizers at XYZ conferences, and have spoken at 3 events within the past year reaching 5,000 people in my target audience.

The secret of a marketing plan isn’t the number of ideas you have for marketing, or how many things you are willing to do, but how many solid connections you have—the ones that are already working for you—and how many readers you NOW reach through today’s efforts. You need to show that your ideas are not just pie in the sky, but real action steps that will lead to concrete results and a connection to an existing readership.

7. Chapter outline or table of contents

Briefly describe each chapter, if appropriate.

8. Sample chapters

Include at least one—the strongest, meatiest chapter. Don’t try to get off easy by using the introduction.

What are common problems with book proposals?

  • They’ve been submitted to an inappropriate agent/editor/publisher.
  • No clearly defined market or need—or a market/audience that’s too niche for a commercial publisher to pursue.
  • Concept is too general/broad, or has no unique angle.
  • The writer wants to do a book based on his or her own amateur experience of overcoming a problem or investigating a complex issue. (No expertise or credentials.)
  • The writer concentrates only on the content of the book or his/her own experience—instead of the book’s hook and benefit and appeal to the marketplace.
  • The proposed idea is like a million others; nothing compelling sets the book apart

What if I’m told the market is too small for my project?

Maybe you approached too big of a publisher. Is there a smaller publisher thatwould be interested because they have a lower threshold of sales tomeet? Big houses may want to sell as many as 20,000 copies in the firstyear to justify publication; smaller presses may be fine with a few thousand copies.

Is it possible to make your subject/topic/book more marketable by employing a sexier hook? Many times, writers aren’t looking at their work with a marketer’s eye. Think about how you might interest a perfect stranger in your topic. Have you really tapped into current trends and interests when it comes to your book project, and are you framing it in an exciting way for a publisher (or agent)? Just because you’re fascinated by your subject doesn’t mean other people will get it. You have to know how to sell it.

How big does my platform have to be before a publisher will be interested?

It depends on how big of a publisher you’re pitching, and the overall nature of that publisher. Let’s assume you want the best possible deal from a commercial, New York house.They will want to know:

  • The stats and analytics behind your online following, including all websites, blogs, social media accounts, e-mail newsletters, regular online writing gigs, podcasts, videos, etc.
  • Your offline following—speaking engagements, events, classes/teaching, city/regional presence, professional organization leadership roles and memberships, etc.
  • Your presence in traditional media (regular gigs, features, any coverage you’ve received, etc)
  • Sales of past books or self-published works

You typically need tens of thousands of engaged followers, and verifiable influence with those followers, to interest a major publisher. Make sure that every number you mention is offered with context. Avoid statements like these: I have 3,000 friends on Facebook or I have 5,000 followers on Twitter. These numbers are fairly meaningless as far as engagement. You have to tell the story behind the numbers. For instance:

Better: More than 30 percent of my Twitter followers have retweeted me, and my links get clicked an average of 50 times.

Better: I run regular giveaway events on Facebook, and during the last event, more than 500 people sent their favorite quote on [topic] to be considered for the giveaway—and to also be considered for the book.

Show that you know your market in a meaningful way, show specifically how and where the market is engaged and growing, and show the engaged role you have.

For more about platform, see these other posts:

Does my book need or deserve to be in print?

Some nonfiction topics actually work better when presented on blogs, websites, or communities/forums—where interactivity and an ability to freshen up the content at a moment’s notice has more appeal to your audience.

Traditional houses are pickier than ever; producing anything in print is a significant investment and risk. They need to know there’s an audience waiting to buy. And, given the significant change in the industry, authors shouldn’t consider a print book their first goal or the end goal, but merely one channel, and usually not the best channel.

The most comprehensive guide to writing book proposals

Check out Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal, the most definitive guide on the topic since the 1980s. It will step you through every single page of your book proposal.

For more on this topic:

You can also hire me to help review and improve your book proposal. Find out more.

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  • AL Levenson

    Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/ransomstephens Ransom Stephens

    Wrt expertise, Malcolm Gladwell has no subject matter credentials and he seems to use that as an advantage. Could you address expertise counter examples like this and how to leverage expertise between fields?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist who worked 10 years covering business and science for the Washington Post before he ever published a book. Then he got a gig at the New Yorker that led to his first book deal. If he had tried to get a book deal first—before his years of experience as a proven journalist—he probably would not have succeeded.

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  • Marlene Adelstein

    As usual, a wealth of great information. Well organized, articulate, easy to understand. Thank you, Jane.

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  • http://teresarobeson.com/ Teresa Robeson

    I think this could be very helpful to my husband (climatologist/geographer and long time organic gardener) when he goes to write/pitch his book on gardening and climate for the lay person. :) Thank you!

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  • Jess

    This is great info for me. I’ve been researching for a specific idea I’m nursing, scared to make the first move. In fact, I’m listing all the questions I have and hoping to meet with you at the Oklahoma conference in the Spring. Hope that’s do-able. :) I’ve read many How To book proposal books – but in a nutshell, this info helps me focus more than any. Thanks so much!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Thanks, Jess! Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  • Rob

    Jane, lots of good info here. Couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’d argue that a book proposal is just as important for the author as it is for anyone else. The proposal is a key element which is often overlooked or pushed aside, but in reality, it can be detrimental to an author’s success before anyone even turns the book’s cover.

  • ShaiLynn

    This has actually been really helpfull I have been trying to find a publisher for the book I am currently writing and this is really vital information to help me take the first step on my journey to write my first book and get it published thank you for making a post about this it’s really really helpful!

    I’ve been really nervous about taking the first step and this is the first thing that I have read that actually has given me a direction

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  • mohd suhail mohd sufian

    Thank! this really help me on my first book :)

  • stefano

    hello jane. my name is stefano magaddino and I am the grandson of Stefano magaddino the western New York mafia Don. There are hundreds of mafia books out there, each with a different approach. I am planning to write about my grandfather in terms of being my Papa. Personal stories of our relationship. No new “inside” info, just memories of what he was like as a person. A man I loved. What do you think? I looked at your post and did not seem to fit in any one category. Please advise. Thank you, Stefano. ( if possible e-mail me: s.magaddino@yahoo.com

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Sounds like you’re writing a memoir, so it falls in that gray area where you need both a complete manuscript and a full proposal to pitch it effectively.

  • Lara Leger

    I have had on my heart for quite a while now, a book idea. It is a much needed thing & when I Googled, there was only one book in that particular field (a devotional book)—& we’re dealing with the Christian book market too, I want to add—So I know this idea is not overdone & I know it’s a need. The type of book (non-fiction) that it is, it will not be like the other book out there. I’m doing it to help others who find themselves in the same situation I am in, to find strength & encouragement. THAT is my motivation! Not to make $$$. We don’t need $$ that badly at all.

  • Nicole Price

    Hi Jane, Very useful information… I am looking at writing about cyberbullying but am struggling to find publishing houses within the south pacfic region that I live in. Is it ok to approach US publishers when I am so far away? Also should I be looking at ebooks as a form of publishing given the content I am writing about?
    Regards Nicole

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yes on both counts.

  • Joy

    Can a true story based on a person’s actual experience during a particular time in their life be considered Non-Fiction?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yes, that is nonfiction.

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  • Bridget D

    Hi Jane, great and useful advice, but I have a couple of questions: I have completed the first draft of a travel memoir about my experience travelling in India but I am confused about whether I need to write a proposal for it, as it is non-fiction, or a synopsis, as for a memoir/fiction. Also I feel my platform is not very strong. I was a magazine journalist for seven years, writing occasional travel pieces and wrote a blog while in India but otherwise nothing else. Should I be concerned about this?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Hi Bridget – Since it’s a travel memoir, you’ll likely need both a full book proposal and a completed manuscript. You’ll find some agents want only one or the other (or both), so it’s best to be prepared for all cases.

    It would be VERY helpful if you had a platform, but if the writing/story is knock-your-socks-off, then some agents/publishers may be willing to overlook that.

  • kayla

    Dear Ms. Jane Friedman,

    I am currently in the process of completing my four book series on a crime fiction novel about gone wrong. I won’t say more without completely giving the entire series away. I have tried in the past six years to send out query letters to publishers/literary agents. But I haven’t had any luck.Do you have any advice or tips? Thank you.

    Kayla

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Just about everything you need to know can be found here:
    http://janefriedman.com/writing-advice-archive/

  • kayla

    Thank you so much for responding. I think part of my problem as a writer, is whether or not knowing the manuscript/series is any good? Or is the manuscript story line is too common and won’t be accepted due to that fact? I guess every writer has that problem.

    Kayla

  • SteveFabry

    What value does the publisher bring, if the author’s done all that you propose?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    (1) The stamp of approval, which can be important when soliciting media attention (2) physical bookstore distribution (3) quality control.

  • Andrew Kensley

    Hi Jane. Really helpful info. I am working on a book proposal for a travel memoir about moving my family to Europe. From my research, it seems there is a market for a) travel memoirs, and b) and few good ones about families moving with young children. I think I have a decent platform, as I write a newspaper parenting column and feature articles for several magazines, and am shopping a literary novel as well. Any chance an agent would give an advance for something like this? I couldn’t afford to quit my job and move, write the book, then hope someone picks it up. Any thoughts? Thanks. Andrew

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Memoir is a very competitive market, but if you have a strong platform, you might be able to interest an agent. You should either try pitching at a conference (where agents attend), or start work on a book proposal.

  • Diana

    Great advice Jane, thanks for all of this! I am hoping to find some more information about how to format the author qualifications portion of a proposal. Does it need to read more like the dust jacket bio or can it be more in depth than that? I began writing it more like a conversation pointing out which of my qualifications make me the right person for the book but I’m starting to wonder if it needs to be a more general, third person account. Thanks again for your insights.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It needs to be as in-depth as necessary to convey your authority, credibility or platform on the topic in question—though first-person or third-person is a judgment call. You’ll find that most are probably in third person.

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  • Diana

    Thank you!

  • chuck

    Jane, retired corporate exec writing a coming of age memoir of three year boyhood period residing in New Zealand during early 1960’s. Will include extent the unique experience/pristine environment shaped who I have become. Having trouble identifying target market. Would you suggest both a proposal and completed manuscript for this approach? Limited platform but confident in writing style and ability to tell a story. Do write feature columns & movie reviews for local newspaper that are well-received by editor, readership. Have several unpublished short stories that received high marks in creative writing classes. thanks for your invaluable insights/cl

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yes, definitely both.

  • gloria

    A friend referred me to this post. Thanks for laying it all out–this is helpful, as I have several projects in mind. One involves a collection of humorous anecdotes (some involving parenting, some involving my childhood, some involving ridiculous people) previously published on an old blog that is no longer accessible. Would you suggest a book proposal and sample chapters for that project?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yes, proposal and sample chapters.

  • TJ

    How do you prevent from your material being copied or stolen during the initial phase of seeking feed back and when should you have it copyright protected? Thanks

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman
  • C Moore

    Wouldn’t it be easier to write, print, market and sell the book yourself then hand over most of your earnings to a publisher? I’ve seen some terrible books around so I’m sure the process isn’t as stringent as you suggest. I hope nobody get’s put of writing by this article.

  • Eleanor

    HI Jane,

    Thanks for the post, super helpful! I have a question…I have read that it is helpful to address the cover letter of book proposals to a specific person. Ive tried calling the editorial departments of a few publishing houses to find out who I should be writing to but more often than not, usually the bigger ones, they say addressing the letter to the Editorial Dept is fine. Is it better to address it to no one in specific or pick one of the editors or publishers off the website and use their name?

    Thank you for your help!

    Cheers

    Eleanor

  • http://janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    It’s best if you can address it to a specific person, but as you mention, it can be tough to get a name. In that case, “Editorial Department” will suffice (no one will hold it against you). Just make sure the publisher accepts unagented/unsolicited submissions.

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  • http://saverocity.com/ Matt from Saverocity

    Hi Jane, a great post, thanks for taking the time to lay this out there. Could I ask, what criteria would you consider when deciding if the book should be published in the traditional method above VS self publishing an eBook? What questions should one ask of the product/author to help determine the best route to take?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Just ran a post on that very question! Here it is: http://janefriedman.com/2013/05/17/should-you-self-publish/

  • http://saverocity.com/ Matt from Saverocity

    Thanks Jane, I’m over there now!

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  • Shenoa Herlinger

    Dear Jane,

    I have been tossing around a non-fiction book idea (personal experiences plus anecdotes from interviews on the same types of experiences) for several years now. I have finally decided to take the plunge and just do it. I had no clue how to get started and I admit, that is definitely what was holding me back. Your blog and website are so comprehensive and detailed as to be overwhelming and intimidating but it most assuredly lays the groundwork for success if certain steps are followed and certain measures taken. Thank you for providing a step-by-step guide for us that are out there floundering.

    Also, I felt much better after reading many hopefuls’ comments about their nervousness regarding taking the first step towards publishing. I am glad I am not alone!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Thanks so much for finding me here, Shenoa—and for taking time to comment. Best of luck!

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  • Krissy Moehl

    This is the first of likely many resources I am tapping in a process of joining the literary world. Thank you for such concise information and great links to more.

  • Kasari

    Thank you for your very helpful insights Jane! It appears to me from reading the post above that a blog or personal website is necessary to show that you have a ready made audience. Is this true? I appear regularly in local and national media and have regular public speaking gigs – do you think this will be sufficient to show readership or should I work on building a blog before going further on my book proposal?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    A blog might not be necessary, but a website, absolutely. It’s your online business card — a place where the people who hear you speak can go for more information and follow everything you do.

  • Alex

    Thanks so much for your post. I am a new book editor, and I recently completed editing a manuscript for a book by a dermatologist. He has his own product line, has been interviewed on TV numerous times and has keynoted many professional conferences. My question: given that the book is already written, and given that he has some decent name recognition/seen as an authority in his field, what should be my next step?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It’s time to write a full book proposal.

  • Kathleen Richardson

    Hi Jane: I need some direction: I’m about two-thirds of the way through my memoir of living with and loving an abusive alcoholic who was also a womanizer on a grand scale. I’ve had the first 70 pages critiqued by a Writer’s Digest person and she says, “You are a good writer,” and “I LOVE the opening passages about the sky writer. They’re brilliant? I was swept right into that writing,” and a comment about my characters feeling “whole.” My questions: should I put the book on the back burner and focus on finding an agent? And, should I do the proposal before I finish the book? Or should I continue the book, finish it, and then write the proposal?

  • Kathleen Richardson

    Hi Jane: It’s Kathleen again. Whoops, I meant to put an exclamation mark after “brilliant” instead of a question mark. It’s the critiquer’s mark, not mine.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    My advice: Definitely finish the book first, then take time to write a book proposal. Most people rush to find an agent, but 9 times out of 10, it’s a mistake. Take your time. :)

  • Susan Kerr

    Jane, What would you recommend for a book proposal for a war diary? (Civil War) Thanks for this excellent article.
    Susan

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    All the same rules/principles apply …

  • http://www.borderlessadventures.com/ Michelle

    Thank you so much for this article, it’s the best I’ve seen on writing a book proposal.

  • Cindy

    Good morning
    I am a public school bus driver for elementary school children. There is so much to be said , I believe with my heart. Any advice?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Focus on writing a good book first. Much later, think about publishing.

  • Guylaine

    If you have a web site on a closely-related topic, how do you decide then what to share on the web site and what to save for the book?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    My philosophy or practice is that website content is VERY different from print-based (or book) content. Website content is generally optimized for search and focuses on very specific anecdotes, tasks or ideas. Books offer big-picture or comprehensive takes (or stories).

    Think of it this way: It should be nearly impossible to take a series of web articles or blog posts and put them together into a book without ANY editing or further writing/revision. They are two different mediums.

    Another way to think about it: If you published a series of magazine columns or articles over a period of months or years, you could either do an anthology (no change to the material), or you could do a book (drawing on that material, but not an exact replica).

    I hope that helps.

  • Guylaine

    Thank you for the reply! Now that you mention it, my proposed book IS sort of an anthology. It’s a guidebook with separate chapters on different places. So I could easily see some of these chapters as blog posts. Long blog posts, yes, but still blog posts. So perhaps I shouldn’t include any of these “places” in the blog, just include similar places that will NOT appear in the anthology?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    That is one possible strategy, yes!

    It’s tough to say, “Do it THIS way,” because much depends on your long-term goals and expectations for the material, as well as your overall marketing plan. Just make sure what you do has a strategic purpose.

  • Guylaine

    Thank you!

  • Arthur Marx

    Nice article Jane. Thank you for being generous and revealing some hidden truths. I am a health professional from Sydney. The initial idea was to write a book to promote my brand and authority. However, because of the important and urgent message and my passion for the subject matter, it has become more than a self published trophy to put on my desk. On the plus side it is a relevant issue and I am 29 with an appealing look and presence. When people experience me in person, they want to buy from me. I achieve amazing results with my clients. I have 100 video testimonials and am currently working on a pilot tv show documentary. My struggle is that my following is limited and apart from my immediate social group, nobody knows I exist and can do what I do. I have no big name endorsement and my external resources and media networks (apart from an ex girlfriend journalist, who I haven’t seen in years) are limited. Should I get an agent?

    PS: The book is finished and took a year to complete it in full with illustrations.

  • Thebe

    Hello Jane, thank you for the very helpful post. I pitched my memoir at a recent conference and some agents have requested partials and an annotated outline. I have a question about the partials — the agents’ websites emphatically say NO ATTACHMENTS. Wow, does that mean I paste 50 pages’ worth of content into the body of an email? All single spaced? Do I keep the double spaces after periods? My second question is about the outline since there’s so much conflicting advice out there. Should the chapter summaries be third-person? Present tense? But I keep reading that proposals should be in the same style as the manuscript. Sigh. Again, thank you for your help.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Hi Thebe,

    Usually “no attachments” means don’t send an attachment without being invited to do so. If a partial or full manuscript is requested, they will instruct you on how to send it (via attachment or snail mail), and it should retain double spacing, etc.

    Chapter summaries are generally third-person, present tense. I have more on that here: http://janefriedman.com/2011/10/25/novel-synopsis/

  • Thebe

    Thank you for your quick response and for the link. The agents did not instruct me on how to send the pages, so I guess I’ll just paste it in the email. I will say that writing an outline in the third person was a great exercise for me. It gave me a little distance and helped me think of myself as a character instead of that emotional “I.”

  • Arthur Marx

    Sorry, let me re-write my post:

    Nice article Jane. Thank you for being generous and revealing some hidden truths. I am a health professional from Sydney. The initial idea was to write a book to promote my brand and authority. However, because of the important and urgent message and my passion for the subject matter, it has become more than a self published trophy to put on my desk. On the plus side it is a relevant issue. My struggle is that my following is limited and apart from my immediate social group, nobody knows I exist. I have no big name endorsement and my external resources and media networks are limited.

    Have you ever experienced anyone solving the Platform challenge quickly?
    Is it even possible? Where is the line between believing in yourself and your message with conviction vs too much self promotion?

    Cheers,

    Arthur.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    The one author I know who was able to build a platform quickly (less than a year) was Chris Guillebeau. I recommend downloading his manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success — you can find it at his website (easily Googled).

  • Arthur Marx

    thanks Jane! I will check it out and tell you if it changes my life..who knows maybe I will even write about it.

  • DodgerBlueGal

    Thanks! Very helpful. I feels possible now! :)

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  • Nate

    Hi Jane!

    Thank you for all the advice above! I’m writing a non fiction book in which I have little credible expertise compared with other authors who have written about the same subject (Music learning). Would you recommend to write the book first and then decide whether go down the self publishing route, or write a proposal in the manner in which you have indicated above? Many Thanks!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Even if you do self-publish, it’s good discipline to write the proposal, since it will work as a road map for the project.

  • Nate

    Thank you for the reply! I’ve written most of the proposal and it has really helped to focus everything. Do you think the best bet would be to write the book anyway and decide about publishing once it is done or at least almost?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It definitely can’t hurt.

  • Nate

    Thank you!

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  • Ryan

    I am thinking about working on a non-fiction book and I found your site to be very helpful. I think I have a good idea with a unique twist that combindes a couple of old ideas, but my market is narrow. There are several publishers that deal in my subject matter. Is it a wise idea to submit a proposal to several publishers at the same time? Or, should I submit one at a time?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It’s fine to submit proposals simultaneously.

  • Mazen

    Hello Jane,

    Great post, many thanks for the info.
    I am a Syrian Christian and I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about what life is like for people like myself – we are what is referred to as ‘a killer identity’. My plan is to write a book about some of my friends and myself, the kind of hardships we run through both for the people who stayed in Syria, and for the ones who relocated abroad.
    I get very excited about the thought of getting it all down on paper, but do you believe that I can realistically get published (assuming I can write something decent and captivating)? Its not really my story, its the story of my people and generation.
    Is there a market for such a story?

    Thank you.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It’s an impossible question to answer. You have to write it first.

  • Arthur Marx

    Jane I have one more question I hope you can answer (please). I am a little confused about query letter vs book proposal vs manuscript submission. At the moment I am applying finishing touches to a book proposal (I already sent it out 3 times to an agent and two publishing houses, but no responses so far). It contains all the things you mentioned – overview, audience, competitive advantage…Should I prepare something for a query letter and then again for a manuscript submission? Searching Google hasn’t provided a clear answer so here I am. Also I have been sending out the proposal as a pdf and it contains an image of the proposed book cover made professionally by a designer. Is this causing more harm than good?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Arthur,

    You should follow the submission guidelines of each publisher/agent. Some prefer to be queried; others want the proposal on first contact. If you can’t find guidelines, it’s probably best to query first.

    It’s probably not a good idea to send a publisher or agent a designed cover for an unpublished book. While it may be a perfectly acceptable cover, it indicates to industry people that you may have unreasonable expectations about what you control in the publishing process (since the cover is almost always the publisher’s call — at least at traditional houses).

    Good luck.

  • Arthur Marx

    I will make the adjustments. Thank you for the advice Jane. I appreciate it!

  • Robyn M

    Jane, thanks for your generosity and and thoughtful advice. I am finding getting my third book published is much harder than the first two. It has been been strongly recommended to me to get publishers interested, I should have “major star”power (ie celebrities) contributing to the book I am editing. I would love your opinion on this.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yes, that is very common with anthologies or collections, and sometimes useful when the author doesn’t necessarily have a big platform or name recognition of her own.

  • lojack87

    Hello Jane,
    I know it’s been a while since you’ve posted this article but I just came across it and found it helpful. I’ve been sitting on a memoir idea for a while but have been hesitant about writing it only because I’m still pretty young (26). But, I do feel like there is a market for young adult memoirs, based on blogs I’ve read about others who share humorous and relatable coming of age experiences. However, I am not an author of a blog nor have had the longevity to write for a well-known paper or magazine. Would you suggest still pointing to blogs or other popular forums that address my platform as a strong case for marketability? Or do you strongly think starting a blog and seeing if it gains momentum before approaching a publisher is best? Does it look weak to not be completely immersed in writing 24/7 and is it often that you find writers who have emerged successfully in the memoir genre with little credited works?
    Thanks!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It is very difficult to publish a memoir—regardless of your level of experience. If you don’t feel invested in it, or if you can think of better things to do with your time, then avoid writing and publishing a memoir.

    This may strike you (and readers) as discouraging, but you have to want it so bad that discouragement doesn’t matter.

    To directly answer your question, though: Write the memoir first. See if you can actually wf finish it. That’s the first step.

  • alisha

    thank you so much for this just what I was looking for.

  • jen

    How do you retain the rights to the book idea once you send it out to various publishers? I have a great topic for a book/screenplay, but I really do worry that once I get it out there, someone with more experience will run with it.
    Thanks

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    It’s not possible to retain or claim rights to an idea, only to tangible work. If you’re submitting scripts, I recommend registering that script with the WGA. For all other works, worrying about this is counterproductive. See here: http://janefriedman.com/2011/10/19/idea-theft/

  • akbarsultan.sultan@gmail.com

    Hello i have a written a book and the name of the book is ( Poor people against government ) if you are interested in this book contact me iam an indian and in india i belong to karnataka, bangalore –phone no….8050038736

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  • Charlotte Tiller

    Your website is fantastic and has really helped to put me in the right direction! i will be heading to your website for more tips and hints as i begin writing! thank you!

  • HappyOne

    Great article! I am writing a book on self-harm, as this topic has definitely touched my family and brought some very tough yet insightful conservations. I am wondering if you know if this is a topic publishers are interested in, or tend to shy away from?

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Very difficult to say; it depends on so many factors, such as the performance of comparable titles, the angle of the book, where it’s supposed to be shelved in the store, and if it’s a topic in the media (to give it timeliness). I wish I could be more helpful, but probably the only way you can know is by attending a writing/publishing conference and speaking to an editor/agent who is actively acquiring similar books.

  • Arthur Marx

    Hi Jane

    Re-working my book proposal, I decided to put the “chapter outline” and “sample chapters” parts together. I decided to go with taking out parts that I like from each section of the book (the book has 5 sections in total, each capturing an “umbrella” theme). The issue now is that the book proposal is over 50 pages long! My questions:

    Is it a smart move to put the two parts of the proposal together in this way?
    Should I include a separate pdf file from the rest of the proposal for these sample chapters?

    Would you recommend any way of putting these samples together. I am including selected samples from each section e.g. “From Section One- Being Smart” And I am separating the samples simply by adding three dots to the end…

    Then I start the next sample for section…

    I understand the proposal is supposed to “sell the book”. So another challenge is to arrange these samples so that they flow together and read well. It’s taking a lot of time!

    Am I doing something wrong? Should I just pick out two decent mini chapters and keep it simple?

    Thanks :-)

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Sure; there are no hard and fast rules, and you should organize it in a way that makes sense for your book. Do keep it all in one file, however.

    Don’t worry too much if the samples flow together or not (unless you’re writing a narrative). You need to show the best content and illustrate how you’ll execute on the idea most of all.

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