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Q&A: How to write a stellar book proposal and get published

Q: “A publisher has expressed interest in my ideas for a book, and has asked for a proposal. What goes into a good proposal?”

A: Michael Lennie, Authoring Attorney and Literary Agent, Lennie Literary and Authors’ Attorneys:

“A proposal should be as good as or better than the book itself because publishers sign non-fiction books based on the proposal and one or two sample chapters, not based on the completed book itself. Do not short change yourself by slapping together a generalized proposal. Read the book(s) and relevant articles, and do your best work!”

A: Kären Hess, the author or co-author of more than 30 trade books and college-level textbooks on a variety of topics including financial planning, dental marketing, art, literature, engineering, hospice care, reading, management and report writing:

“A cover page; an overview including what the book is about, the need, that is why the book is useful or necessary; the audience, that is who the book is for and who will buy it; the competition, that is, what makes the book different from or better than other books on the subject and a list of competing titles if any; author qualification; an outline with detailed subheads (can be narrative paragraphs, bulleted list of key points or a formal outline); and a sample chapter (not necessarily the first chapter, but what is considered the strongest chapter). Conclude with an offer to provide any additional information desired and contact information.

It should be obvious, but the proposal must be well written (clear, concise, forceful, error-free and nicely formatted). If it is an unsolicited proposal, a strong cover letter is a must.

Some proposals include an appendix with letters of endorsement, copies of articles about the author or the author’s work and the like.

Presentation is critical – the axiom you never get a second chance to make a first impression applies. Use a good printer and quality paper with a professionally appearing binder. Never submit a handwritten proposal.”