Just what are you proposing, exactly?

Please have pity on a fool. I've spent the last month trying to educate myself about your business, and I have asked this question elsewhere before, but what do you mean by a proposal? I understood this to be for a project that was not yet written.

It's both--some people write them before they create their work, so they have a better idea of where they're going; some people write them after, and they're used so that editors can bring in a proposal to the ed board meeting and everyone has a good idea of what the book will be like without reading the whole thing.

If you'd like some guidance, I'm partial to
The Art of the Book Proposal, by Eric Maisel--he does a wonderful job of explaining why it's a tool for you, as well--not just for those who may purchase your work. It includes great thoughts about brainstorming and the creative process, too.

That said, when you do write the proposal, you'll need the following (cut and pasted from an email to a writer friend):

  1. A cover letter. Be sure to be cordial.
  2. Title page--include your name, address, email, phone.
  3. Table of (proposal) contents
  4. An overview--1-3 pages
  5. About the Author--1-2 pages, focusing on things relevant to your work--but make sure you appear human, too. That said, don't list all your hobbies, pets, and childhood aspirations.
  6. The Audience/market--who will buy your book, and what you plan to do to promote it. Some authors make crazy promises (I'll fly myself to every major city); most promise a Web site (which doesn't have to be ready yet), mentions of networks you have (if you belong to organizations that know lots of readers), etc. 1-2 pages.
  7. Competing Works--a quick run-down of the works closest to yours currently on the market. Each one should get a paragraph describing, in a sentence or two, the other work--the bulk of the paragraph being about why yours is better. Try to aim for 4-5 other works, or 1-2 pages...more if necessary. You could also cram it all together in one big mini-essay, noting the major points, but usually the paragraph method is best.
  8. Special Marketing and Promotional Opportunities--if applicable. Usually unnecessary.
  9. Manuscript Specifications--word count, how soon you can deliver the manuscript after signing an agreement, any special requirements (photographs, permissions, etc).
  10. Manuscript outline--usually by chapter, with a few bullet points under each to note the major points. Note which are included in your sample chapters. Some people summarize each chapter in a paragraph. It's up to you--we just need to get a good idea of the material covered in the book.
  11. Your sample chapters--usually 3-4 chapters, or around 50-60 pages.

Hope this helps.


ChristaCarol said...

I'm so glad I found your blog through GLA. Though I haven't written anything nonfiction, it's awesome of you to take the time to answer peoples questions. Really good info here!

Barb's Writings and Recipes said...

Love your blog, especially the post about proposals. I have read books dedicated to the subject, but this was clear and concise--exactly what I needed to organize my own proposal.

Barbara Klein

Barb's Writings and Recipes said...

Great blog! Thanks for the blog post on proposals. Unlike some books on the subject,it was clear and concise-- exactly what I needed!

Barbara Klein

Pat Harris said...

This is amazingly helpful, timely, OMG thanks.