How to Write a Book Proposal: The Conclusion

Let's say an editor likes your proposal. She's prepared to try to convince her boss that this is a project worth investing in to the tune of X dollars--your advance.

 (Your advance, by the way, is probably the only money you'll ever see so you'll want to maximize whatever you can get. Forget royalties. Royalties are paid only after the publisher recoups all its expenses--your advance, printing and distribution and promotional costs, etc.--and it's the publisher doing the accounting, not you. So unless you hit the best-seller list, or "Oprah," or your book becomes a text ordered by schools and universities, royalties are something people like Tom Clancy and Kitty Kelly get, not you. And as for selling movie and televison rights . . . well, you can dream, can't you?)

So what's left? Well, it would be nice if the editor had some idea of what the book will look and read like, and believed that you can actually write the thing.

How do you convince her of that?

After your introduction (which should be no more than 10 pages, double-spaced), you break your book into chapters, writing a summary for each chapter of no more than one or two pages. In each chapter summary, you say what that chapter will contain and provide at least one good example or anecdote. This will give the editor a preview of the book, and demonstrate that you've thought it through.

Yes, this is the hard part: thinking about the book as a whole, in detail. You've got to go beyond your brilliant notion and wrestle with the book's architecture and how you're going to write it. But the effort will be worth it. Not only will these chapter summaries help sell the proposal, they will help you write the book. In essence, this part of the proposal is a rich, comprehensive outline.

And that's it. You now have a proper book proposal of about 30 pages (depending upon how many chapters your book will have). You're on your way. All you have to do now is find an agent who can get your proposal to a publisher (or several publishers) and make sure that it gets read.

Make no mistake: You need an agent. Publishers use agents as screeners, people they trust to separate the wheat from the chaff. Unsolicited proposals almost never get read. Or, if they are read, they're read by some kid fresh out of college who doesn't have enough juice at the publishing house to light a 15 watt bulb. He'll be sitting at his kitchen table (or in a teeny cubicle) with a stack of unsolicited proposals and manuscripts, the vast majority of which are junk written by borderline personalities. If he absolutely adores your proposal, he'll write a note to an editor higher (but not much higher) up the food chain recommending that she look at it. And if she does (a big if), and if she agrees that it's the bee's knees, she'll eventually have to go to a meeting where she'll have to make a case for it to people with a lot more clout (and a lot more projects in the pipeline) than she has.

To say the least, that's a rocky row to hoe. An agent, a good agent, can get your proposal in front of someone who can actually make a call on it. That's what you want.

So how do you find this wunderkind? And how can you make sure that this agent will do a good job for you?

Chill, budding authors. That's the next Rosenblog.

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