Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Writing a Book Proposal

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Today I'm back on track with Onyx Eyes, and at this stage, if I was planning to submit this book/series to publishers, I would create a book proposal.

Book proposals are strange things. When I first started going to conferences, I was told I needed to learn to write one, and I did write several. Years later Shannon Dittemore told me that no one asks for book proposals in the general market unless they're writing nonfiction. Shannon has a general market agent, and my agent works primarily within the Christian specialty market, so that's when I realized how each market has rules of its own.

Back when I started out, I had no idea there were different markets. I had simply looked up the publishers of some comparative titles (books that were similar to the book I was writing), then I tried to find conferences where I could meet editors from those publishing houses. Unbeknownst to me, this led me into the Christian specialty market. I didn't necessarily want my books sold only in Christian bookstores, but like I said, back then, I didn't understand the publishing industry and how it all worked.

All that to say, whether or not you need to learn about book proposals depends on where you want to be published. Start by making a list of publishers you are interested in. That usually starts by looking at the books on your shelves, choosing those that are most similar to your book, then looking up the publishing house to learn how to submit your book to them.

I actually plan to self-publish this series, but for the sake of this post, I'll pretend I'm going to have my agent pitch it to publishers. In that case, I would usually put together a book proposal that she could edit. Writing a book proposal can be helpful for other reasons. I once wrote a blog post on Go Teen Writers that shared 10 Reasons to Write a Fiction Book Proposal Before Your Write Your Book. Click here if you'd like to read that post.

As to how to go about writing a book proposal, Stephanie has already written a wonderful blog post on that subject, and while not everyone creates a book proposal in the same way, most of them have the same information. Your book proposal does not have to look exactly like mine. Here is a list of pages/elements that I would put into a book proposal for Onyx Eyes.

  • Title Page: All I would put on this page is the title of my book, my name, and my agent's contact information. If I didn't have an agent, I would put my own contact information.
  • The Manuscript: This is a title heading on the first actual page of the proposal. 
  • Content: This is where I put my logline, or one-sentence description of the story. For Onyx Eyes, this is what I've come up with: When a fairy princess is kidnapped, the captain of her guard must find her to prove his own innocence and stop a war from breaking out, but when he falls under the control of a human girl, his mistake may have doomed not only the princess, but his entire race.
  • Category: This is where I would list my targeted age group and genre. For Onyx Eyes, I would say: Young Adult Fantasy
  • Audience: Teens, ages 12-17.
  • Length: 80,000
  • Back Cover Copy: Here is mine:

Would you break the law to save a life?

When Princess AyannaRynn goes missing, the Grounder king gives Captain Alston FoyleDrake until the next moon to find her. Convinced the Aerials have taken her, Drake uses onyx to cast a forbidden bonding spell with a dragon so he can grow wings. This is the only way he can impersonate an Aerial and find out where they took the princess.

Drake’s search leads him and his dragon to a place called Idaho in the human realm. There he finds a changeling slave, who had been impersonating a teenage boy. Drake takes the changeling’s place. The bonding spell is starting to cause him pain, and he is so preoccupied with his search that Kaitlyn, the human boy’s sister, overhears the dragon use Drake’s true name. She commands Drake to take her back to his realm and help her find her brother.
Drake doesn’t have time for human games, but the girl controls him now. The sooner he finds the girl’s brother, the sooner he can find the princess, save his own neck, and stop the impending war. Unless Kaitlyn chooses to enslave him forever.

If you like adventure, romance, and fantasy worlds filled with magic and dragons, then you’ll love Onyx Eyes, the first book in a new YA fantasy series from award-winning author Jill Williamson.
  • Theme: The theme of the first book, Onyx Eyes, is sin. Drake knows it’s wrong to use onyx to cast bonding spells, but he does it anyway because he believes it's the only way to find the princess. At first, his bond with the dragon, though painful, is almost fun. Drake grows his own wings, learns to fly, and becomes good friends with the dragon. But as time goes on, Drake and the dragon become symbiotic, and eventually, they become parasites to one another. This is an allegory for how sin can sometimes seem innocent and fun, but that it often entrenches a person to the point of death.
  • Additional Titles: Here is where I list some alternate titles. This isn't mandatory, but it can be helpful to an editor if the title instantly puts them off for some reason. For Onyx Eyes, I might suggest the following alternate titles: OnyxThe Colors of Belfaylinn, Belfaylinn, The Bonding Spell.
  • Issues of Unique Interest: Fairy lore, Light vs. Darkness, sin, sacrifice, forgiveness 
  • Marketing: This is a new title heading. I also give a little pitch for why I think this idea is a good fit for the current market. Here is what I might say for Onyx Eyes: Fantasy is a genre that is growing in popularity. With the success of books to screen like George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones and Terry Brooks's Shannara Chronicles, readers are hungry for fantasy stories with deep characters and fantastical storyworlds. Onyx Eyes is brings readers into such a world hidden within their own, a world in danger that needs saving, a world in which an ordinary girl can choose to be a hero.
  • Comparative Fiction: This is where I would list at least three titles for the publisher to compare my book to. I include the title, author, year, publisher, and my reasoning how each book is similar or different to mine. For Onyx Eyes, some comparative titles might be: 
    • Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt, 2008) Comparison: Graceling and Onyx Eyes are both fantasy novels filled with magic and political intrigue. Onyx Eyes is not a traditional fairy story, but a medieval fantasy with a surprising twist on fairy lore.  
    • The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (Harlequin, 2010) Comparison: The Iron King is primarily a romance story, while in Onyx Eyes, the romance is a series-long subplot. Also in The Iron King, fairies do not have souls, but in Onyx Eyes, fairies who believe in the Creator have souls that glow.
    • Unblemished by Sara Ella (Thomas Nelson, 2016) Comparison: In Unblemished, characters travel to different reflections of the same world, while the fantasy world in Onyx Eyes is a hidden group of islands in the Sargasso Sea.

A few more things that might appear on a book proposal would be:
  • Promotions: This is the next heading, under which I would list out all the ways I plan to promote this series should a publisher be interested. 
  • Endorsements: I would either list endorsements I already had, or I would say something like "The following people are possibilities for endorsements" then list authors I plan to ask.
  • The Author: Here I would give my bio.
  • Sales History: Here I would write out a list of other books I've published and the sales numbers for each.
  • Select Speaking Engagements: Here I would list some recent speaking engagements.
  • Professional Membership: Here I would list what professional organizations I'm a member of.
  • Awards: I would list any awards I've received.
  • A Note From the Author: Here I would give the inspiration behind this series.
  • Synopsis: On the next 1-2 pages, I would put my story synopsis.
  • Series Potential: Here I would share my plans for a series.

If you'd like to see a sample book proposal, click here to see the one I wrote for my book Captives.

Whether or not you ever write a book proposal, you will likely still need to know what books would make good comparative titles to yours. List one or two comparative titles for your work-in-progress in the comments section below.


  1. *gasps!!!* How did you know I was writing a book proposal!! It's been going so... annoyingly... lately, for lack of a better word. You are amazing. Thank you for the sample and thank you for the post and thank you!!


    *is now inspired to actually finish this book proposal*

    Danielle |

    1. You are welcome! I'm so glad the post was timely, Danielle. :-)

  2. I am also in the midst of writing a book proposal ... and finding it very daunting! Thanks for this post!

    1. Well, hooray for timely posts. Glad to be of help, Olivia.

  3. So helpful! Thank you! Now correct me if I'm wrong, but a shorter query is what one would send to potential agents, and this book proposal is what your agent would later shop around to publishers, right?

    1. Yes, you'd send a query letter to an agent. You would only send a book proposal if and agent or editor asked to see one. That conversation might happen between you and your agent as you are preparing to submit your story, or with an editor at a writer's conference.