I'll confess, I've been feeling rather nervous about this topic as I saw it inching closer on the calendar. Partially because it seems like every agent wants different things. I'm a girl who likes rules because then I know what to do and not do. But I've decided the good thing about there being no real industry standard for book proposals is that so long as you stick with a couple basic rules, it's not like someone's going to look at it and be like, "Obviously this chick has no idea what she's doing!"
Here are some guiding principles for preparing book proposals:
- Use a regular font. The agency I'm with, MacGregor Literary, uses Arial. I've seen others use Times New Roman. You're looking for something basic and readable. Black text, white background. Let the words do the work, not your pink, glittery font.
- Send what the agent (or editor) asks for. In my experience at the very least they ask for is the first three chapters and a synopsis. (Though typically that's called a "partial" rather than a book proposal.) More often it seems like they also want to see your author bio and a blurb about the book.
Here's what you might be asked for:
The proposals that my agent has me put together are fairly detailed, but the idea is you want to present as complete a package as possible. Here are the elements that go into one of my book proposals. I've put asterisks by the ones that apply to previously published writers:
- Title page: This is a cover page basically that has the title of my book, the genre, my name, and my agent's name/contact info. If you're unagented then your contact info would go there instead.
- Title/Author/Genre: The next page has my title, name, and genre again.
- Word count: The number of words in the story, rounded to the closest thousand.
- Target Market: Who my audience is. (I talked about that last Thursday.)
- My hook (also known as a one line): Here's another thing that there isn't as much of an industry standard as I would like there to be. I had been taught 25 words or less, don't use names, etc. Well, my agent tends to like longer ones that provide the basics - the who, what, when, where, and why - in an intriguing way. Other agents, however, still like the ones that are 25 words or less.
- My blurb: This should read like backcover copy.
- Comparitive Titles: Oh gosh, if you were to ask me what I dislike most about being a writer, my answer really might be, "Coming up with comp titles for my book proposals." It's helpful to be mindful of the goal of the publishers when they're looking at these titles - they want to know what's already on the market, who's publishing it, and how it's doing. So you want to pick books that have been successful ... but you don't want to pick stuff that's been crazy successful. If you're writing a dystopian, you really don't want to write down The Hunger Games as a comp title. But titles like Delirium or Matched might be appropriate. I typically struggle to come up with three. You list the title, the publishing house, the year it came out, and a brief description. You can also add what's similar about your story and what's different about your story.
- My author bio and a picture: This is just a short bio about who I am, what I've written, and any credentials I have to my name. It's not where I wax on about my two really cute kids or hunky husband.
- *Books I've published and my sales numbers: This is exactly what it sounds like. Books I've written, the publisher, the year of release, and sales numbers.
- Sales hooks/author promotion: This is where we put things like awards my previous published books won, high-profile blogs or publications that have had me as a guest, and any author endorsements I have. ("Jill Williamson, Christy award winning author, has agreed to endorse Title of book.")
- Marketing strategies: This is where I list everything I plan on doing to promote the book. If you're curious about marketing, I talked about it a week ago.
- Additional blurbs: If this is part of a series, blurbs for additional books will go here.
- Synopsis (2-3 pages)
- Sample chapters, typically the first 3.
Now, Jill Williamson and I are with the same agency, but her book proposals look different than mine and have some additional elements. (Jill has been kind enough to provide a sample book proposal for her upcoming release, Captives. She also wrote a great article on why you should consider writing your book proposal first.)
Hopefully this is helpful. I know book proposals can feel really overwhelming, but it gets easier with practice. If you have questions, I'd love to help answer them!