I had all the questions when I started, too. Now, well into my publishing career, I hope I have some answers that will help you along.
Do I really need a book proposal?
The simple answer is: yes, with the exception of if you plan to self-publish. Agents use book proposals to pitch your project to publishers. Many agents require you come to them with a proposal, but some will allow you to work on the proposal once they’ve signed you as a client.
Even though book proposals are a lot of work, they make writing the actual book so much smoother. Once you have a finished proposal, you essentially have the framework for your entire book. As a bonus, you also have a clear vision of what market you’re writing for, who your competition is, and how to write it in the most engaging way. In my opinion, having a great proposal helps you write a better book than you’d ever write without it.
How long should the proposal be?
There is no magic number for how long a proposal should be. But if you have all of the right elements in it, it will be lengthy. Here are the six standard sections you should include: Overview, About the Author, Market (audiences), Marketing, and Outline (with chapter summaries) and Sample Chapters.
As a reference, all of my book proposals tend to be around 100 pages, which include the sample chapters.
How large of a platform do I need to get a book deal?
Platform, platform, platform. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of talk about this requirement for a book deal. A platform is essentially the people you can sell your book to when published. Simply put, it’s your audience. Your platform comes from essays you’ve written for large publications, your social media following, any professional or social groups you belong to, and more. Publisher requirements vary greatly for required platform. The smaller presses may require only a small platform; with some of the larger publishers requiring a social media following of thousands to hundred of thousands, and wanting you to have bylines in major publications. During the proposal writing process, I’ll help you describe your current platform in the most complete, robust (but honest) way possible. This will give you more opportunity when going out to sell your book.
Should I consider self-publishing?
I’ve had experience with both: self-publishing and traditional publishing. My first book was self-published and later picked up by Simon & Schuster for traditional publication. I always recommend authors try the traditional route first. Even though I was self-published myself and give much credit to those who go it on their own, the industry does not view self-published authors with the same status as they do traditionally published. As a self-published author, I found it difficult to get bookstores to carry my book, secure speaking engagements, and more. In addition, publisher support in terms of cover design, editing, etc. can be priceless. On the flip side, and to be fair, getting your book out into the world is a great thing no matter how it’s done. So if you don’t have or want to build the platform you may need to get a traditional publishing deal, there is no shame in exploring self-publishing. But I still always recommend aiming for the stars and then adjusting your plan if necessary. Even if you decide you want to pursue self-publishing, having a proposal to use as the framework for your book will help you in ways you can’t imagine. I recommend every author put one together regardless of their publishing preference.
How do you charge?
Flat fee – I charge a flat fee for working from start to finish on the entire proposal.
Hourly – if you only need me to look at parts of your proposal, I charge an hourly fee.
Please contact me so we can chat about your project.
I’m lucky to know some of the best people in the industry. If you need support, here’s my team.
Consult with an agent
If you have questions about writing query letters, contracts, publishers, getting an agent, and more, there is no better human I can recommend than my own literary agent, who now offers author consults. And if he loves your project and ends up representing you, he’ll refund your consult fee. Contact Steve Harris for more.
Author website creation
My own guru for all-thing-digital has been with me from my very first book deal. If you don’t have an author website or it’s not one you’d be proud for editors to see, you need Kate (aka, Kate the Great). Go to www.kc-creative.com for more.
Essay writing and editing
Writing essays for major publications is one of the best ways to enhance your author profile, get attention, and build your platform, making it easier to get a book deal. I learned an indescribable amount of crafting the perfect essay from Susan Shapiro, bestselling author of The Byline Bible and professor at The New School. In addition to her classes in New York City, she works one-on-one with writers. Go to www.susanshapiro.net for more.
Developmental book editing
I’ve worked with a lot of editors over the years but there’s no one as thoughtful, kind, and smart as Jane Ratcliffe. She works with both fiction and non-fiction projects to help you shape your project is the very best it can be. Everyone I know who’s used her can’t stop raving. Go to www.janeratcliffe.com for more.
If you want an exquisitely detailed reader who will see every teeny tiny mistake (before you send it to someone who you don’t want to find those), I highly recommend my own proofreader – who just happens to be my mother! Please let me know if you’d like her contact info.
Please note: I receive no referral fee or benefit from sharing these names (good karma, excluded).