Book proposal basics

Like most agents (like most anyone), I spend my days juggling a lot of competing priorities.  I always have more opportunities — in terms of clients I could take on, editors I could schmooze with, colleagues I could connect with, projects I could work on — than I have actual time and energy. 

So here’s the thing: if I like your book idea, but your book proposal needs work, I have to think really hard and really long about whether I want to do the work that’s going be required of me to get your proposal ready for the world, even if you’re going to be doing the heavy lifting of editing, revising and polishing.  And trust me when I say: if I have to think really hard and really long about anything, the answer usually ends up being “no.”

Some questions to ask when you’re getting ready to send your proposal out:

Is this really different from other books like it?

Why would anyone want to read this book?

Is my writing appropriate to my audience?  If you’re envisioning your book on the shelves at Borders, then your proposal should be written in a trade voice, which is not the voice you used when you wrote your dissertation.

Is my argument or theme logically and consistently presented?  Do I even have an argument or theme?  (In other words, what is the point of my book, and is that point clear from the very first page of the proposal?)

Why would an editor (or agent) look at this proposal and think, “Wow, this is a book I have to buy (represent)”?

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, or your answer is “no,” then spend a little more quality time with your proposal.  You’ll be glad you did.

For more information on book proposals, visit my website.


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