At the end of September I volunteered at and attended the Kingston Writer’s Festival, which was fabulous and I highly recommend volunteering and attending writer’s fests if you love reading, writing or are interested in the publishing industry. Great connections can be built and conversations with peers is always enlightening. One event that I was particularly keen to attend was How to Write a Killer Book Proposal by the brilliant Book Coach Merilyn Simonds. Merilyn, who has had a hand in the actual planning of the Kingston Writer’ fest in the past, has published 6 books and teaches writing and publishing, sat down with a group of 40 or so struggling or aspiring writer’s and talked about what a book proposal is and how to nail it.
Here is what she had to say.
Basically – there are 6 parts to a killer book proposal but the first thing to know is that there really isn’t such a thing as a “query” letter any more. Editors need more than a letter to go on, they want to have a sample of the work and they want to know about the author and the author’s experience right away (if they are interested). Sending a proposal in place of a query saves time for you and the editor, and it might just make the sale where a query would not.
1. Covering Letter
I suppose this is the closest to the a query that Marilyn got, except that this letter is meant to accompany a whole package.
– Address your letter to a specific editor. This means you’ll have to do research, you’ll have to look at the acknowledgements of books that you think are similar to yours, or books that you admire, you can check the publication information in a book (sometimes a specific editor is mentioned). Google works, but make sure your info isn’t outdated, so keep an eye on Publisher’s Weekly etc…
The 4 Paragraph Covering Letter (1 Page!)
- A simple introductory sentence is sufficient. Basically you are saying “Hi. Thank you for the opportunity…”
- Identify yourself, who you are as a writer – try and keep the focus to the book at hand, why are you writing this book and how does your experience apply?
- Talk book. Use a “sound bite” statement. A “sound bite” statement is the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea in 40 words or less. Marilyn went over some examples, but basically, this is really hard to do but also essential. You need to get to the CORE of your book in one sentence and it has to be catchy and somehow unique. The non-fiction sound bite should include the main focus or topic. Basically, if someone were to ask about your book you would answer, “My book is about (write in your sound bite.)” Should be short, pithy and marketable.
- Business. Tell why your book is distinctive-who will read it. (Targeted age group….adult, teen, youth) – point out what’s fresh, new, different. Read recent releases in the genre to find out what’s out there and how you can make your proposal unique. Give pertinent manuscript details: a) mention whether or not book is completed (if it is not, then give an estimate as to when it will be finished) b) word length of the complete manuscript, even if it is an estimate (approximate – round off the number) c) pertinent biographical info d) tell the agent/editor if it is a simultaneous submission (these are expected today, think of it like this. If you submit to only one house and wait 6 months to hear back, and then submit to another, you’ll be dead before you send your work to 15 houses, just send it to a list of your top publishers to start) e) let the agent know they can discard the proposal if rejected. Tell them you’ll follow up – because after following up you can then send your proposal out to other houses.
– The Synopsis is also only 1 page (300 words).
– It is not the plot condensed. It is like the jacket copy of a book. You need to boil your book down and hint at all the interesting things to come (plot, characterization etc…) – just like back cover copy would do, or the dust jacket copy. It’s a teaser.
The 3 Paragraph Synopsis (1 Page)
- Compelling statement or your hook. Can be one sentence or two. Get close to the heart of your book, but of course you are saying it differently than what you said in your covering letter. Here the statement can flow into the rest of the synopsis.
- Go over the plot, the scope, specifics like time period, narrative POV, genre etc…
- Themes. We’re funneling from the core of the book outward, so we end on themes – what does it all add up to?
DO NOT: overuse adjectives and adverbs, try and keep things active and do not repeat words or synonyms over and over again.
3. Author Bio
– Should be written in the 3rd person, maximum 1 page.
– What is your platform, what are you bringing to your audience?
– Focus on what about you is promotable – what is your literary past? What have you published? Won any awards? Personal backstory?
– Do you already have an audience? Do you have a blog, an online presence in any way? Do you teach?
4. Market Strategy Sheet
– 1 page again, first person this time.
– Who is going to read my book and what can I do to help sell it. Mention that audience again and your ideas for using it to your advantage.
– Mention readalikes here and why your book stands out but still appeals to that audience.
5. Cover Page
This just has your name, your address, email address, website etc…
The title of the book.
– Fiction – send in the first 20 pages of your manuscript.
– Non-fiction – send in 20 pages of your BEST argument/best part of the piece.
– Name and Title go together in a heading on top left, page numbers go on the top right.
– No spaces between paragraphs, indent all paragraphs except for the first one in a chapter. Do leave a page break between chapters. Double spaced, times new Roman, 1″ margins and one sided print.
Use a paper clip.
All told you should be sending in a package with 25 pages. Don’t fold it, send it in a nice big envelope directly to the editor of your choice. Do your research, change your letters to cater to each editor and publishing house. And good luck!
Well! That’s what Marilyn Simonds had to say – please note that all of this came from my notes and I do not in any way represent Marilyn at all, I’m just sharing what I gleaned from her.
I’d love to hear your comments, particularly if you have experience bypassing what the standard submission guidelines say.