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Start Your Book the Easy Way

A great proposal is crucial, and easy!

book proposal

I like to tip-toe around big writing projects. That way, a fair-sized chunk of the book gets done before I realize I'm actually writing it. As a book author for many years, I've developed a few tips and techniques I'd like to share with you now.

You probably already know that unless you're a celebrity or at the top of your field, you'll need a proposal to sell your book idea to an agent or publisher. According to Michael Larsen, an agent and author of How to Write a Book Proposal (4th Edition), most proposals range from 35 to 50 pages and contain an overview, an outline, and at least one sample chapter (as well as the parts about you and your marketing plan).

As an easy way to get started, here's a basic list I used when I wrote my last two nonfiction book proposals. This was my way of skittering around the writing itself until I had enough to work with.

My Own To-Do List for Getting Started on a Book Proposal

  • Get a plastic file box to hold your file folders, one folder per chapter. Label the box, and choose a color for the folders.
  • Choose the topics you want to cover; these will be your chapters. List them with titles or simple phrases, for now.
  • Go through all the journals, magazines, articles, print-outs, and books you have on your topic. (You have been collecting stuff, right?)
  • If your book involves research, choose and learn a data base program for your notes.
  • If you're planning to do interviews, prepare your letter of introduction to the would-be interviewees, and/or post a call for subjects.
  • Begin with something easy, such as your own bio. For now, simply list everything you've done that in any remote way relates to your presumed expertise. Avoid using your resume. Publishers love you to have a huge platform from which you are able to reach a vast audience.
  • Consider querying some magazines to write related articles as you go along. These will indicate national or regional interest in your topic and will augment your platform and bio.
  • Get to know the competition. Read or skim everything that's been written about your topic, and take notes about each book. What does each one leave out that your book will do better?
  • Think in terms of benefits rather than features. A lot of newbies get excited over what their book will contain, but forget that readers are selfish. So get used to thinking in terms of benefits your book will offer your reader. For instance, when I wrote Loving in Flow, the benefit I was promising readers was to save them unnecessary grief by telling them how others had surmounted common relationship obstacles.
  • Write your own story, if it's integral to your book. Your story could start the book, end the book, or be integrated somehow.

Larsen offers a very useful pdf file with a detailed checklist and other information to help you get started on your proposal. I love his lengthy list of verbs to use in your proposal's outline of chapters (so you don't keep writing, "Next I will cover..."). The book itself is filled with Hot Tips, Golden Rules, and up-to-date resources for writers at any stage of the authoring journey.

How to write a book proposal

How long have you been procrastinating writing your book (or taking the next step in the process) and why?

Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry

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