Sending off a book proposal to a literary agent or publishing house editor? Take the time to create the perfect pitch. It’s not always easy, but through careful review, ensure that your query is tight, focused, and serves to put your writing chops on display.
One of the best ways to hone your book proposal or query chops is to read and review sources such as Writer’s Market or Literary Market Place. Such website sources offer invaluable advice for proposal submissions that can save you time – and heartache.
Competition is fierce out there, not only for novice writers attempting to sell their first book, but for experienced writers as well. Your overall goal: to get the editor or agent interested enough in your book to ask for more. That’s it.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Your novel query or your non-fiction book proposal is your chance to stick your foot in the door. However, if you don’t want it slammed in your face, you do need to follow a few tips. Crafting a book query or proposal is one of the most challenging aspects of writing, but it can be done if you are willing to devote the time.
Resist the urge to draft a query and immediately send it off. You didn’t write your book in a day, did you? Your query or proposal requires the same attention to detail and focus.
Starting Off Your Book Proposal on the Right Foot
For starters, is your pitch focused? One of the best resources for creating cover letters, fiction queries and nonfiction book proposals is the Writer’s Market. Key factors for a well-written query for your fiction manuscript:
- Limit the query to one page, including salutations and signature lines
- Mention title, estimated word count, and genre
- Provide a brief synopsis of the manuscript (one paragraph)
- Cater the query to the type of fiction/genre that the agency/publishing house represents
- Address the query to the current editor or literary agent by name
When it comes to your book proposal or query submissions, access the literary agent or publishing house website and carefully read their submission guidelines to determine exactly how they want to receive queries or full proposals, including suggestions for sample pages or chapters.
What not to do:
- Don’t mention advance payments or contracts, especially if the book hasn’t been completed!
- Don’t make the editor/literary agent guess what happens at the end of the book. The use of hooks is for your readers, not for literary agents or editors.
- Don’t send a “blanket” query. Cater your query to the specific literary agent or publishing house to which you are submitting your manuscript.
- Don’t send portions of your manuscript via attachment (or worse, in the body of the email) without prior request or permission to do so. Agents and editors will not open attachments from unknown senders.
Take the time to develop your pitch. Double-check grammar, sentence structure, and spelling. Then do it again.
Avoid Common Book Query and Proposal Mistakes
Mistake #1: Telling an agent or publication editor that your book is going to be a best-seller.
No one can promise that your book is going to be a best seller. Not even your literary agent or the editor who loves your book. Your readers are the only ones that can determine best-seller status. That’s determined by the number of books sold. Period.
Mistake #2: Teasing the agent or editor about a ‘secret’ ending of the book.
An absolute no-no when it comes to queries or proposals is to suggest that the ending of a book will be kept secret until the contract is offered and signed. The agent or editor needs to know how your book progresses and ends before they decide to take on and represent the manuscript.
Mistake #3: Failure to carefully research agent or editor niches.
Sending out dozens of queries or proposals to literary agents or publishing house editors without researching their preferences is a common and unfortunate mistake made by many first-time authors. So, don’t send your sci-fi/fantasy novel query to an agent who prefers to handle mainstream or historical fiction. The same applies to sending fiction queries to an agent or editor who only handles non-fiction or vice versa.
Patience is Key
Allow the query or proposals sit for a day or two or even longer and then go back and read it again. Is the writing as tight and focused as it could be? Does it provide the information requested in submission guidelines to the letter?
A non-fiction book proposal takes longer to develop. It has a lot more components as well. Nevertheless, gone are the days when book proposals often reached 30 pages or more. Today, brief and concise is the way to go. Be prepared to:
- Provide the agent or editor with an overview of your topic but with enough detail so the agent or editor can share your book’s focus with his or her colleagues
- Establish your expertise on your topic
- Have a platform – is there an audience for your topic? How do you know? Have you established an audience for your book? Who will support your book (this doesn’t mean family members). Do you have a following as a public speaker or expert on the topic? This implies more than how many ‘likes’ you have on your social media accounts.
- Explain what your going to do and how you’re going to aid in the promotion of your book – speaking engagements, branding, social media campaign, etc.
Bottom line – creating the perfect pitch for your book proposal takes time. Be patient. Put your best foot forward. Doing so will increase the chances of an agent or editor getting to the end of your query before it’s deleted or ends up in the trash can.