Note: My work with new clients often begins with a conversation on the options they have for publishing, the timetables associated with those choices, and the costs. The majority of my clients choose to self-publish for various reasons, among them that they are unknown, their work is simply for their family and friends, or they don’t want to wait to get their work out into the world. I’m following up a two-part series on traditional publishing versus self-publishing with a series on the topics I counsel authors on as they consider which road to choose. This blog looks at how to write a query letter and a book proposal in hopes of finding an agent.
After you have written your book and perfected it to the best of your ability, what I consider to be the real work of publishing begins—if traditional publishing is the route you are set on. You must write a query and a book proposal, and then find an agent and a publisher!
I tell clients this process is a full-time job in itself, and the first to-dos are writing a query letter and book proposal. You will use these materials to pitch to an agent, and the agent will then help you refine them for use in pitching to publishers.
Start by writing a query letter
Your query is the first thing an agent or publisher will see from you, and it must grab their attention. Your query must represent who you are and demonstrate the creativity and quality of your writing.
In the opening line, try to create a connection with the agent—point toward a colleague or writer you both know or demonstrate that you are familiar with some facet of the agent’s work or sensibilities. Then, offer a one-liner that succinctly captures the essence of your book.
Also include in the query a synopsis of your book, its genre, and your bio.
Think of your query as the cover letter of the email you will send to an agent with your proposal attached.
Elements of the book proposal itself
Your book proposal will be dense and rich in detail. Creating it will require you to do a great deal of research and leg work.
You can search the internet for templates. These are some of the essential sections you will need to include.
- About the book. In this meaty section, you will tell the story of what inspired you to write your book and also explain what your work is about, what makes it stand out from others in its genre. If your book is connected to some trend in mainstream culture—such as a book about people living with COVID-19—make that connection and talk about how that will drive interest and sales. Write in a way that is personal and real, as opposed to stiff and standoff-ish.
- About the author. Tell your story. Who are you? What is your background? What in your life compelled you to write your book? What other books have you published, and how did they sell?
- Comparative titles. This is a critical part of your proposal. Beyond the genre, your prospective agent wants to know what books already on the market are similar to yours. Try to choose titles that sold well in the past few years, but don’t reach too high and choose New York Times bestsellers. Explain what is similar and also, what is different. How does your book stand out from the competition?
- Your audience. Who are you writing the book for? Try to be specific. Rather than saying your book is for children, offer the nuances. Instead of all children, perhaps your book is for children under the age of four who have a new baby in the house. Instead of all adults, perhaps your book is for those who have experienced a loss and are struggling to cope with grief.
- Your marketing ability. As I mentioned in last week’s blog about the importance of an online presence, you will need to demonstrate what you bring to the table that will allow you to sell books in volume. This is a critical element of your proposal. Agents and publishers alike want to see what the ROI will be if they invest in you and your work. In addition to information about your online platforms, which could range from social media to a website to reviews, you will need to provide information on newsletter databases you may have; how many are on your list? What associations, organizations, and networks can you tap into to publicize your book? Detail the events/readings you have scheduled and the size of the audiences you are apt to draw.
- Chapter descriptions. Provide a table of contents with a brief description of the action that takes place in each.
- Sample Chapter. Your proposal will end with an excerpt from the book that could range from one to three chapters.
If you can’t find a template online to help you flesh out your proposal, or if you have questions, I am here to help.