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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Keys to a Great Book Proposal ~ by Tamela Hancock Murray

“I think book proposals are one of the most difficult things to write, second only to obituaries.”

When I received this email from one of my authors, Sherry Gore, (and yes, I have permission to quote her), I could relate. I’ve never written obituaries, even though writing one’s own is a popular goal-setting exercise. But I have written and read many book proposals so I know they aren’t easy to write. Sometimes they aren’t easy to read. So how can you make your book proposals easy to read? When my assistant and I are scanning proposals, here are the key points we first notice:
1) Format: Is the overall look of the proposal easy on the eye? A poorly-formatted proposal won’t be rejected if we are wowed by the content, but proposals with a pleasing appearance make a great impression.
2) Title: Tell us immediately what we are viewing: Fiction/nonfiction? Series/standalone? Genre? Historical/contemporary?
3) Hook: What is the spirit of your book?  Fried Green Tomatoes meets Star Trek? Or A Systematic Approach to Spiritual Spring Cleaning?
4) Back Cover Blurb: In two or three short paragraphs, make me want to buy your book. Take the time to make this sparkle, because great back cover copy will help sell me on your book, then the editor, then the pub board, then marketing, then your readers.
5) Info: Can critical facts be found with little effort, including:
      a.) published/unpublished status

       b.) sales figures for published authors

       c.) manuscript status, including when it can be completed

       d.) manuscript history
6) Summary: I find that one-page summaries usually work best. If you have already invested in a lengthy summary, you can include a short summary and a long summary.
7) Market Comparisons: Showing us books that are similar to yours will help us know where your book will fit in today’s market. Be respectful rather than critical of other authors’ work when comparing. Show how your book fits into the market, but is still unique enough to attract readers.
8 ) Endorsers: This area causes many authors anxiety because they may not be acquainted with big name authors, or they are afraid that listing a friend may be promising too much. Rest assured that no agent or editor thinks a big name author is a guaranteed endorser. We all know that popular authors’ schedules are packed and that the timing to read your book may or may not work. I recommending listing three names of authors you know well enough that you can approach them for an endorsement. If you honestly have no idea, it’s better not to list anyone than to list impossible names. Don’t distress — your agent can work with you here.
These key points are by no means inclusive. I have only hit the high points on some of the areas that tend to make authors jittery. Don’t worry. Do your best with the proposal, and write the best book you can. That’s all we ask!
For complete guidelines, visit our site here. These may be our guidelines, but they are universally accepted as an excellent and proper way to write a proposal.
We look forward to seeing your work!
Your turn:
What do you think is the hardest part of a proposal to write?
What is the easiest part of a proposal to write?


  1. I think we all hate to write book proposals. Those and the synopsis are harder than a the manuscript, and we know how much work that takes. Thanks, Tamela, for the tips!

  2. The comparisons were pretty hard for me at first. Thanks for the post, Tamela! The easiest part is the stuff I all ready have done, first three chaps, bio, etc. LOL

  3. The hardest part? Hands down: How do you plan to market your book? Realistic response: If the professionals have no clue what works, how am I supposed to know what will? ;)

    Easiest? There isn't any.

  4. HA--I've actually written obituaries and they were easier to write than a proposal, no kidding! I've read so many differing lists of things to put in proposals, I'm glad you have a comprehensive one out there, Tamela! And I'm thankful for an agent who knows how to take my measly attempts and turn them into something respectable!


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