Keys to a Great Book Proposal ~ by Tamela Hancock Murray

“I think book proposals are one of the most
difficult things to write, second only to obituaries.”
When I received this email from one of my authors, Sherry Gore, (and yes, I have permission to quote her),
I could relate. I’ve never written obituaries, even though writing one’s own is
a popular goal-setting exercise. But I have written and read many book
proposals so I know they aren’t easy to write. Sometimes they aren’t easy
to read. So how can you make your book proposals easy to read? When my
assistant and I are scanning proposals, here are the key points we first
1) Format: Is the overall look of the proposal easy on the
eye? A poorly-formatted proposal won’t be rejected if we are wowed by the
content, but proposals with a pleasing appearance make a great impression.
2) Title: Tell us immediately what we are viewing: Fiction/nonfiction?
Series/standalone? Genre? Historical/contemporary?
3) Hook: What is the spirit of your book?  Fried Green
meets Star Trek? Or A Systematic
Approach to Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

4) Back Cover Blurb: In two
or three short paragraphs, make me want to buy your book. Take the time to make
this sparkle, because great back cover copy will help sell me on your book,
then the editor, then the pub board, then marketing, then your readers.
5) Info: Can critical facts be found with little effort, including:
published/unpublished status

sales figures for published authors

manuscript status, including when it can be completed

manuscript history
6) Summary: I find that one-page summaries usually work
best. If you have already invested in a lengthy summary, you can include a
short summary and a long summary.
7) Market Comparisons: Showing us books that are similar to yours will
help us know where your book will fit in today’s market. Be respectful rather
than critical of other authors’ work when comparing. Show how your book fits
into the market, but is still unique enough to attract readers.
8 ) Endorsers: This area causes many authors anxiety because
they may not be acquainted with big name authors, or they are afraid that
listing a friend may be promising too much. Rest assured that no agent or
editor thinks a big name author is a guaranteed endorser. We all know that
popular authors’ schedules are packed and that the timing to read your book may
or may not work. I recommending listing three names of authors you know well
enough that you can approach them for an endorsement. If you honestly have no
idea, it’s better not to list anyone than to list impossible names. Don’t distress
— your agent can work with you here.
These key points are by no means inclusive. I have only hit the high
points on some of the areas that tend to make authors jittery. Don’t worry. Do
your best with the proposal, and write the best book you can. That’s all we
For complete guidelines, visit our site here. These may be our guidelines, but
they are universally accepted as an excellent and proper way to write a
We look forward to seeing your work!
Your turn:
What do you think is the hardest part of a proposal to write?
What is the easiest part of a proposal to write?