Writing is a business for which everyone should be paid. Handsomely. Period. The amount of physical and emotional anguish that writers endure — pitching, writing, editing, revising, and promoting — can feel devastating. No writer should be paid pennies on the dollar for blog posts no one will ever see, nor should the emotional burden be saddled for free. However, there are times the prospective return on investment–on your time spent writing an unsold piece—can be both emotionally and professionally rewarding. And one type of preemptive writing could very well lead to a financial windfall…
I’m talking about the book proposal. A book proposal is a one-stop-shop summary and promotional guide for your book, containing everything from chapter outlines to excerpts and marketing strategies. The length can be anywhere from a few pages to a few dozen pages. This proposal is often used to sell nonfiction books, including memoirs. Some agents or publishers may even ask a novel to be presented with a quasi book proposal, outlining comparative titles and the author’s publishing history.
Writing a book proposal is no easy task, however. In fact, it may feel more daunting than the actual writing of the book! If you follow these four steps, writing that first book proposal will come easier, and you’ll be one step closer to selling your book for (hopefully) a large advance! How about that for time well spent?
Study Book Jackets
Spend a few hours at Barnes and Noble or your local bookseller and read only the inside flaps, front and back covers. The language used in these spaces is economical and specific and highlights the same tone you should when approaching your proposal. Channeling the structure of an inside flap will make your proposal standout and will also teach you what exactly sells books.
Create a Template
The nuances of book proposals vary between authors and projects, subject matter and style, preference and stylistic flow. The majority of book proposals have the same nuts and bolts. Creating a template for duplication and future use will give you a base from which to begin and will save you time when writing future proposals…
Publish an Excerpt
Easier said than done, I know, but an excerpt or sample chapter may be the most important part of a book proposal. It is essentially the protein of your literary sandwich. Getting an excerpt published — whether it be in a magazine, literary journal or newspaper — will show that there’s inherent interest in not only your writing, but also your topic writ large.
Don’t be shy or modest! Tout awards and accolades. Throughout the proposal make sure to highlight your achievements and future goals: where you see your career going as you continue writing and publishing. You’ve got to be your own best champion before anyone else will get behind a book you’re writing.
If you follow these steps, the time spent writing a proposal can be handsomely rewarding!
Kenneth R. Rosen is a staff writer and senior news assistant at The New York Times. As an independent journalist, his reporting from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the United States has been published by (or is forthcoming in) Harper’s, WIRED, The Atlantic, The Atavist, FT Magazine, Foreign Affairs, Al Jazeera, The New Statesman, and New York Magazine, among other print and web publications…
For more tips on how to write a book proposal, register for Kenneth’s 1/2 day workshop on Saturday, September 8th, Wrangling and Writing a Nonfiction Book Proposal