How to Write a Book Proposal: Part 3 in our Series on Writing a Book

The book proposal is the part of writing and publishing a book that scares me the most. I can pen the most intriguing, well-written book in the world, but if the  proposal sucks, no one will ever see it. I can’t put it off any longer, either. I want to shop the book around as I write and I need a killer proposal in order to pique the interest of an agent.

I pitched the book to a publishing company rep a few weeks ago. However, I’m still looking for an agent because I want to be sure I get the best deal and no one takes advantage. Also, Wiley may have no interest in this book which means I have to keep looking.

I have the names of several agents to query and decided to get the ball rolling on the proposal.

For those of you who have never done this before – like me last week – a book proposal is more than a cover letter.


The parts of a book proposal

Book proposals require several components:

  • The Query Letter: Just like a query letter pitching an article to a magazine, the query letter for a book should start out with a hook and contain a brief description of the book and and quick author bio.
  • The Overview: My research indicates this is the part of the book proposal that will make or break you. Your overview describes the book in several paragraphs. You’ll need an introduction, a hook and a brief description. Writing a “brief” description of a book featuring 14 chapters is no easy feat, I can assure you. And the hook? I like my hook, but what if the agent or editor thinks it’s lame? There’s a lot riding on this overview thing. But no pressure.
  • Who Will Buy Your Book: Who is going to to buy your book and how many of them are out there? Publishers want to ensure you have an audience. Let me rephrase that: Publishers want to make sure you’ll have a big enough audience to warrant the cost of putting this book together. Authors are easy to find. Authors who can sell thousands of titles? No so much.
  • Promotion: Publishers will want to know how you’re going to market the book. They might do what they can to get in the bookstores, but unless you’re a megabestseller, you’ll have to arrange for your own book signings, reviews and more. Bullet out a list of how you’re going to market your book and show the publisher you’re a team player.
  • The Competition: Is there truly a market for your book? Bullet out a list of (top selling) competing titles to show the publisher there’s interest.
  • Author Bio: Agents and publisher want to know about you. They want to know about your following, your writing and why they should make an investment of you. Use a paragraph or two to outline your career and why you’re qualified to write (and sell) this book.
  • Chapters: A list and brief description of your chapters is required. You’ll also be required to offer up a couple of sample chapters.

Here are a few sample book proposals:

See what I mean about that book proposal?

So it doesn’t look as if if it’s all that difficult to write. However, I’m a little nervous. I’m also pressed for time. So I decided to enlist help in writing my proposal. At first, I requested help via the freelance writing jobs leads section here at FWJ but I was unprepared for some very snotty remarks both here and on Twitter. “Purists” informed me that true authors write their own proposals without help.

If that’s true, why are so many people requesting assistance with their book proposals on Craigslist?

In any event, I did get help. A public relations professional reached out and gave me much needed help and guidance.  I showed him what I started to write and his way was much, much better. He patiently answered all my questions, tweaked my query and created a beautiful proposal.

Could I have done it myself? Absolutely. It would have taken longer, however. I’m glad I hired it out to an awesome, experienced proposal writer.

Agent Interest?

Once again, my friends have been a wealth of information. Through them and my own research, I learned that it generally takes an agent a few days to a few weeks to respond to a query. This is one of the reasons I decided to get on the proposal now: First I have to find an agent, then we have to shop the book around. Maybe by the time it’s finished, I’ll have a deal in place.

I armed myself with a list of about 20 agents. Some were recommended by author friends and some came from my own research. The first agent queried was at the recommendation of a dear friend, Joel Durham, Jr. I trust Joel implicitly and this agent is also his friend. If Joel says she’s the best, I believe it.  That she specializes in the niche cemented it for me.

Joel told me to be patient as this agent is very busy and it might be a few weeks before she responds. So I sent the proposal yesterday and prepared myself for the waiting game.

Two hours later the agent wrote me back requesting a second copy of the proposal and saying she thinks we can work together.

It’s starting to get exciting

I’m not naive enough to take an agent “thinking” we could work together as a sure thing. However, this agent did indicate interest and I’m feeling very positive. If not, I have a long list of agents to go through and I won’t stop until I’m done.

In other book writing news:

This week hasn’t been as productive. I’ve been doing my best to keep to my one page a day rule but we’re dealing with spring break. It’s a challenge to write a book with kids running around. I did finish several pages and plan to be back on my old schedule next week. Just a temporary setback.

I’ll continue to keep you posted. I’m very upbeat after hearing from the first agent I queried. Will it lead to something? Tune in next week (or the week after, or that week after that) to find out.


3 responses
  1. laura Avatar

    Good for you, Deb! I think the agent writing you back so quickly is huge. And I agree that it doesn’t mean you two are a match made in heaven, but it DOES mean that you nailed your book proposal. I’m enjoying reading about your progress. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Amy Avatar

      Dear Deb:

      Congrats on getting a quick response back from an agent. I happened to luck out when it came to finding an agent. Tony had exactly the background I needed, and we work well together. Book proposals we haven’t gotten to yet, putting the finishing touches on the last draft. The Larsen book on book proposals is the standard rule from what I have been told. I believe it is now in its third or fourth printing. It might be a good tool to add to your others. I wish you the best of luck and continued success.

  2. JD Hoffman Avatar
    JD Hoffman


    Have I mentioned how proud I am of you!! Great job. Thank you for being a leader and taking us on your journey. When I finally live my dream to become an author, I will look back at these blog posts as the reference sources they are.


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