Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to Get Your Novel Published: Putting together Your Book Proposal

by Stephanie Morrill

After a brief detour yesterday about discovering the truth in our manuscripts, let's get back to talking about how to get novels published. I gave a quick overview of the process here, but as a reminder, these are the steps I had listed:

1. Write a good, full-length book

2. Educate yourself on the industry

3. Work to identify your genre, target audience, and brand.

4. Grow your audience (also known as "build a platform.")

5. Use the above results to create a book proposal.

6. Acquire a good literary agent

7. Work hard to make connections and build your presence.

I already discussed writing a good, full-length book and educating yourself on the industry. Today I'm going to tackle steps 3 and 4, which are necessary before you can put together a good book proposal.

3. Work to identify your genre, target audience, and brand.

  • Genre: Your genre is necessary because your book needs to be shelved somewhere at the store. Jill Williamson put together a list of genres, so if you're having trouble, that can be a good place to start. Some writers balk at the idea of being categorized. I know it can chafe against our free spirited side, but readers want to know if they're picking up a romance novel or a mystery, so we have to find a way to communicate that to them.
  • Target Audience: I've talked about this previously, but all your trying to do here is share who your intended audience is to help the publisher know how to shelve you and where to market you. They need to know to market my books to teenage girls not men ages 20-40. You can also get more detailed with it: "Women—will appeal to the traditional readership aged 30-50, but will also draw in those in their 20s." Or, "Women between ages 25 and 60 who enjoy clean romances."
  • Brand: This may not be something you know yet, and that's okay. You don't have to specify it  in your book proposal anywhere, but it's a hot topic with publishers and agents, so it's something to give thought to. Your brand is your promise, as I've heard Chip MacGregor say it. Why do you buy a Toyota? Or an Apple product? What do you expect when you go into Starbucks? These are all companies who have established a brand, who promise something to their consumers. It can be the same for writers. I have different expectations when I open a Sarah Dessen book than I do when I open a Jodi Picoult book. Again, your brand isn't something you need to define before you start querying, but it's a good thing to keep in mind as you continue to produce stories.

4. Grow your audience (also known as "build a platform.")

Publishing houses are a big fan of numbers. How many followers on Twitter does this writer have? What are her blog stats? It's not the end-all-be-all, for sure. I've seen writers with no website and no social media presence sign contracts with big houses ... but anything you can do to show that you have people ready to buy your book can only help you.

The good news is that as a fiction author, your platform isn't as important as if you're a nonfiction author. But still, it helps for agents and publishers to see that you know how to network or grow an audience. Some things you can consider doing are:

  • Joining a writer's organization or two or attending writers conferences. Not only do you get a chance to network and pitch projects, but it shows that you're dedicated enough to your writing to invest dollars in it.
  • Writing articles for online magazines or blogs. Not only are these extra writing credentials, but if an editor Googles you, your name will come up.
  • Having your own blog. Amanda Luedeke of MacGregor Literary has a marketing series on the agency blog. She posts every Thursday. Some that might be the most useful to you regarding blogging are:

On Monday I'll talk about book proposals, which can be really intimidating because it seems everyone wants something different.

Also, for those who are doing the 100 for 100 challenge, today is day 25. You're a quarter of the way done!


  1. Wow! A quarter of the way done already?! It didn't seem that long...

    Again, thanks for the post that will definitely be good to already know when I need it later :)

  2. Thanks, Stephanie! I look forward to your post on Monday. :D

  3. Thank you so much for this post, Stephanie! This is truly the part I'm on right now...figuring out how to make myself a "presence" out in the world so I'm not entirely unheard of if an editor or agent goes googling. :D

  4. Sheesh, a quarter already? Neat-o!

    Ditto Rachel. :) Timely topic to tackle.

    Whoa, that alliterative sentence up there was entirely spur-of-the-moment. Now why couldn't I be eloquent like that on my mid-term this morning? Gah! Ah, well...*redirects away from exhausting exam*

    I sort of stumbled onto my brand thingy. My mom and I brainstormed and she came up with Inspiring Others to a Life of Daring, which became Inspiring Daring, and now I'm known as the Daring Girl to some, so. :) I like it. And I think it goes well with both the nonfiction I write for blogs and sites and ministries...AND the novels I write. :)

  5. Thanks for explaining the *brands*. I FINALLY got it! Whahoo! :] Now to tag down what my brand could be...

  6. Wow, a quarter? It seems so soon!

    Hmm, platform is one thing I'll need to work on (not that my book's anywhere near done yet). Only social media presence I have, apart from Facebook, is my Tumblr. Which, um, is full of fangirling.
    Need to work on that ;)

  7. If you were invited to a writer's intensive and have a blog (mine is mainly through YouTube) is it a good thing to mention in the query letter or something you should save for the proposal?

    1. A blog or vlog deserves a mention, yes. I'm not 100% sure on what a writer's intensive is...

  8. Thanks for the post