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I had all the questions when I started my career in publishing, too. Now, well into it, I hope I have some answers that will help you along.

I want to write a book. How do I start?

So many people dream of writing a book, but the follow-through is what counts. If you have an idea for a book and there are people who would want to read it, you are already on your way. I have been both self-published and traditionally published, each of them offering a different path to getting my work out there. But the bottom line is that you need more than an idea, you need a plan. You need a structure. You need to know what you’re writing and who is going to read it. You need a framework for your project. And arguably, the best way to create that framework and be ready to write the book, is to write a book proposal outlining every bitty detail of what you’re going to do. And what most potential authors don’t know: you don’t need the written book to sell a non-fiction book. You need a book proposal to sell a non-fiction book. Whaaa? (see below)

Do I really need a book proposal to publish my book?

The simple answer is: almost always, yes. The exception is maybe if you’re famous of if you plan to self-publish (although as a previously self-published author myself, I will insist every book that starts off with a proposal has a better chance of success). Proposals are a document that allows you to outline your entire project — from concept to marketing to potential audience — and everything in between. 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 book 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.

Ok then … how long should a 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, Manuscript (how long it will be and how long it will take to write), Market (audiences), Marketing (how you’ll market the book), Outline (outline of chapters 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. But I’ve seen many that are between 50 and 80 as well.

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.

When (if at all) 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.

What other writing will help me build my profile?

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.

How can Amy help?

If you’re ready to get your story or other writing out there, I’ll help you take your idea and plan out a solid and salable book. We’ll do it all together, section by section (and it’ll be super fun, I promise)

Click below to learn more about working with me.