It’s the #1 question aspiring authors ask me: How do I get your attention?
Here’s how: Send me a compelling, convincing book proposal that knocks my socks off!
For those who’ve heard that a query letter should always precede a proposal, my view is that you may want to skip the query entirely and instead send in the complete package. More on that here.
So let’s move on to the five elements I want to see in a book proposal.
The five essential elements of a book proposal
1. A great hook
The hook grabs the reader. In no more than a few opening sentences, this overview of the book must command our attention and convince us that your work is so good we don’t want to put it down.
A good hook is like a one-two punch, stunning us with both your concept and your platform.
The concept should tell us what’s original and “must read” about your main idea. If you’re an expert in your field and have a new twist or discovery on the topic, that’s terrific. If you’re writing fiction, your story has to zing in two sentences of plot summary.
The platform should indicate how much success you’ve had in marketing yourself in person or in the media. Candor and honesty will be greatly appreciated. If you have no real platform yet, which is often the case, indicate that you understand its importance and are building one through speaking events, cultivating media, writing for web sites, and social networking. You’ll have a chance to provide more detail in #4, below.
2. A polished chapter outline
Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, all agents and editors will appreciate a comprehensive two or three page chapter outline consisting of one or two succinct paragraphs on what is in each chapter, with no more than 10-12 chapters.
Remember this outline is a tool to show the focus and structure or the work in progress and isn’t carved in stone. No hype please, just tell us what’s in the book.
3. The first 20 pages of the book
It’s crucial that the opening of a book impress the reader, reviewer, sales rep, book buyer, agent, editor, and publicist. Everyone wants to see if you can write and if you can draw your readers into the story.
We can also tell what level of editorial development might be necessary. So please don’t send us a chunk that starts with page 21.
4. Your author platform
The platform is so important these days, you should include it both in the hook and again, in an expanded vitae.
Tell us who you are. Be sure to include your education, relevant jobs, publications small or large, any broadcast or print media appearances whatsoever, potential endorsements from credible authorities or celebrities in the field, and professional affiliations, speaking events or workshops or trainings you might lead.
For fiction, including conferences and workshops you’ve attended wouldn’t hurt, but only if they required competitive application.
One of the best things you can tell me about your platform is that you’re hiring a publicist. Editors and publishers love to hear that an author is committed to supporting a book’s publication by signing on with a professional publicist. This can be expensive, but it’s well worth it. Virtually all of my successful authors have their own publicists, and many are starting to retain web marketing specialists as well.
5. Your DVD performance reel
It’s great if you can offer a video of yourself on Oprah or the Today show, but few of us have those, so send a video from a local interview or speaking at a meeting or conference.
If you have nothing at all in hand, make one of your own. Sit down in your living room, have someone turn on a spotlight, and speak into the camera full face.
What we want to see is an author who can articulate a message, while remaining relaxed, personable, and authentic. I’ve seen an unknown author’s homemade video persuade a team of editors, publishers, sales directors, and publicists at a proposal meeting to take on a book, simply because everyone realized that this author would be a real asset in our marketing efforts.
That’s my two cents. Hope it helps.