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Writing Activity: Mock Book Proposal


“Everyone wants to publish a novel. Everybody wants to make it big, be a best seller.” This is something you might have heard a lot. One of my English professors said it to me and I often think about it. He was lamenting the fact that a perfectly good short-story writer had abandoned their natural artform to pursue a novel, something they were not good at. It made me wonder, why do people want to write novels? Is it because of the reputation? The opportunity for success? The bedazzlement of potential celebrity in the publishing world? Maybe it’s because all of the big writers we think of when we think “big writers” were novelists.

The reason that most people cite, both inside and outside of the industry, is that novels are marketable. Walk into a chain bookstore and this will become quite obvious. Publishers vie for front table exposure. Their free fliers are filled to the brim with cover copies and reviews from credible sources. Big book-selling websites are major ad space and there are hardly any places for the eye to rest. On every page is a list of suggestion links---“Buyers who purchased this also bought this…” “Further recommended reading on this subject…” “Other best selling titles from this author…” etc. etc.---and the networking is incredibly tight and interconnected between publishing houses, agencies, and corporate marketers, to the point that it seems like its own perfect microcosm.

However, not all novels are marketable the same way. Because there are just so many people writing right now and so many potential audiences, smaller publishing houses and agencies have narrowed their scope and have chosen to focus on specific forms and genres, while the bigger publishing companies and agencies have subdivided into departments to deal with the broad spectrum of written work. It is easier to market specific things to specific crowds that are open to them to begin with.

Sorry; let's take a backstep for a moment. Regardless of the reason, many people want to produce novels but struggle with the amount of writing required for a novel-length project. It’s hard to keep scenes and plotlines straight, hard to maintain characters and storylines, hard to fill gaps and make logical connections between events and dialogues. Then when they are considering publishing, they are uncertain as to how to go about it. Should they self-publish? Should they approach publishing houses themselves or should they find an agent? Many, many, many questions face a budding novelist and it can seem a quite intimidating process.

One of the most important things for a budding novelist to do, though, is find a category for their book. Categories might seem negative at first. Who wants to be cornered or confined in such a limited way? But this is what publishing houses want. They want you to have a clear appeal, a target audience. It makes marketability that much easier and your book that much more attractive to potential publishers.

I do not propose to help you write your novel or even to help you seek a venue for publishing or an agent to represent you or your work. There are many, many guides and books and lists of tips out there on the internet to help you with writing and publishing. It would be beneficial to check some of these resources out. What I’d like to do is give you some tips and offer some helpful links on how to put together a book proposal for an agency or publishing house query. A book proposal is like a summary or an outline of your project. You may have written or even published a book before, and this little thing can still help you.

The first tip for writing a book proposal or query (and for writing in general, actually) is to know your project. What literary form is it, what genre? How long do you want it to be? Where is it set, who are your characters? Who or what is the narrator? What tense is it written in? How does it begin? What is the plot, what are the subplots? It is important to have a clear idea about what you’re working on; no one should know it better than you yourself. You are the orchestrator. It may begin as a “I am going to write following this idea and see where it takes me…” But to really come together with any cohesion, you will have to have a clear idea about how you want it to progress. It will take refining and revising and editing. You will be manipulating your readers and you will want to be in control.

You can begin a book proposal like an abstract for an informative essay. “In this novel, I propose to…” or “This novel is…” and you can state the who, what, where, why, and when. It should contain the basic essential ideas you’re going for, but in an appealing way. You are trying to tell your target about your project, but you also want to convince them that it has potential. Yes, you are selling your book, even at this stage. Give it a slant; make them know that you have considered your audience and that you’ve developed this book with it in mind.

Next, you will want to describe the plot with limited detail. This is a basic overview, but you want it to be detailed enough that your prospective agent or editor will understand that you have thought the storyline out well and that it is a solid one.

Keep in mind that you do not want to reveal EVERYTHING. Make it short and concise, but include the necessary elements so as to give your editor or agent a good idea about what the project is like.

Theoretically, you would be sending your book proposal after you’ve already queried the editor or agent with a letter briefly describing the nature of your project, and after they’ve sent back a request for more details. Query letters are another thing, and we will save those for a different tutorial. It is often expected that you will include a sample chapter or some excerpted scenes from your project. Feel free to choose some highly polished and well-edited selections. Have a friend or two read through for errors and inconsistencies. Make sure there are no typos. Try to choose bits that are characteristic of the rest of the piece as a whole. Agents and editors will be paying critical attention here and they will not be interested in writing that feels unfinished or that is riddled with mistakes; it will feel like a waste of their time.

You need not feel like your book has to be absolutely finished before you start on your book proposal. In fact, many practiced authors send book proposals early in their project’s development. This serves a dual benefit; it helps organize your thoughts and it helps you to think of the work as a finished end-product, a goal. Enthusiastic editors or agents can lend momentum and well-needed encouragement to a project. It can also be a fun and helpful exercise for the author who has an idea for a project but doesn’t quite know where to go with it. As with anything written, you can hone and revise your book proposal(s) as you go.

I encourage you to try your hand at writing some proposals for your book projects. You may even have something all finished and waiting for the next step in the process; writing a book proposal for that project could still be helpful, even at that stage. Try to be short and concise, but intriguing as well. You don’t have to give ALL of your details away, but make sure your proposal shows that you’ve thought everything out thoroughly and that you know your project inside and out. Know your audience and write with it in mind. Add some well-edited and very polished writing samples to go with the proposal. Try to be organized about how you present your thoughts; after all, you are selling your idea to an editor or agent and you want them to be hooked on it. Make ‘em excited!

Below I am including some helpful resources. I will continue to add links as I find them or as they are recommended to me. Please feel free to recommend any you know to me!

Thank you for reading. I hope it proves helpful!
And, as ever, happy writing.



-----
Here are some helpful guides and overviews for writing book proposals:

The Knight Agency's proposal guide: [link]

"The Thomas Nelson Guide to Writing a Winning Proposal": [link]

~LateNightLady's guides to writing a query letter and getting published: [link]

~SadisticIceCream's publishing resources list: [link]


If you have a good guide to suggest, note me and I will add the link here!

Also, if you notice some misinformation or something omitted that should be included in this article, please let me know via note. Thank you so much!
Add a Comment:
 
:iconameel:
ameel Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2012
maybe some of us simply can't write short stories! there's just not enough of a space in'em to tell what happened, have u thought about that? :shrug:
Reply
:iconjamberry-song:
jamberry-song Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2012  Professional General Artist
Maybe; I don't think that's what he meant, though. I think he was specifically referring to people who are very good at writing short stories then wanting to write novels because there's not much of a market for short stories. I wonder why that is?

Anyway, I think anyone can write a short story. Challenge yourself. You can fit juts as much, if not more into a short story; it's not about how much you say, but how you say so much with so little.
Reply
:iconameel:
ameel Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2012
nah.. i tried that before but it didnt work :shrug:

for some reason it seems i just can't write a good story unless i put tons of character's emotions, cloth, places description..etc. among the lines :faint:
Reply
:iconjamberry-song:
jamberry-song Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2012  Professional General Artist
If you are implying that those things can't be done in a shorter piece, sorry but you're wrong. Maybe you're not reading the right things.
Reply
:icondavidrory:
davidrory Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2010
Oh how very prescient this is. My first novel got kicked about for years because I did not learn these skills. Which is why I am actively seeking help with my most recent. I wrote seven novels in two years with relative ease but this aspect, selling them, presenting the work is where I struggled because it's not fun, it's a drag to be frank but the lesson was hard learned and education is now in progress. Thank you for the timely reminder and guide.
I have found this Book very useful: How Not To Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
Thanks again J.A.
davidrory
Reply
:icondavidrory:
davidrory Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2010
Oh how very prescient this is. My fist novel got kicked about for years because I did not learn these skills. Which is why I am actively seeking help with my most recent. I wrote seven novels in two years with relative ease but this aspect, selling them, presenting the work is where I struggled because it's not fun, it's a drag to be frank but the lesson was hard learned and education is now in progress. Thank you for the timely reminder and guide.
I have found this Book very useful: How Not To Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
Thanks again J.A.
davidrory
Reply
:icondavidrory:
davidrory Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2010
Twit, didn't spell check this!!!
Reply
:iconnomanno:
NOmanNO Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2009   Filmographer
Here's my strategy so far:

1. Write the whatever.
2. Send a free copy to every leader (individual or organizational) in the community to whom you write, online (so it's cheap, rather than spending hordes of bills on 'hard' copies).
3. Find every Internet forum remotely relevant to your whatever; advertise there. Personally generate discussion when you can.
4. Publish it online, on a website you control.
5. Allow people to make free copies and distribute, as long as they agree not to alter it in a way that you wouldn't approve.
6a. Since what you've written actually affects society and you are not exactly out there to make a profit, ask for donations.
-OR-
6b. The buzz, if you diligently and patiently stir it, will make publishing houses curious. Ask your business lawyer friend to give you advice on signing a deal with a publisher.

I'm not done with 1, so I have time to revise the strategy.
Reply
:iconjamberry-song:
jamberry-song Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2009  Professional General Artist
Hahahahahahaa!
Reply
:iconnomanno:
NOmanNO Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2009   Filmographer
I'm guessing that media strategy step 6a got you.
Reply
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