For the Writers out there--How to Write a Book Proposal Query

So say you have a book idea but don't know if it is publish-able.  Should you write the book anyway and then send it out, or send out the idea first?  Well, as they answer in Indonesia to almost every questions, "It depends."

For fiction novels, agents and publishers don't want to hear about your book until it is written.  So if you want to write a novel, go ahead and write it. Once it is done, then you are ready to start the daunting task of trying to get it published.

For non-fiction books, agents and publishers want to hear from you long before the book is a complete work.  Why? Because with non-fiction it is more about the content than about your writing, and sometimes publishers might want something from a different angle, or more focus on one area over another, etc.  So with non-fiction, you'll want to create a book proposal once you have a solid idea of what the book is about, and three sample chapters.

The first thing you'll want to send to agents or publishers is a great query. (Now, different agents and publishers have different requirements-some want just a query, some want a query and one chapter, some want a query and the full book proposal--it's very important to do your homework and check what each individual one wants, for one so you look professional and they know you are taking this seriously, for another, because if what you sent doesn't meet their guidelines, they'll likely just trash it before even looking through it.)

I know the idea of writing a synopsis and query is sometimes harder than writing the actual book! How are you supposed to put 100 pages worth of ideas into one sentence or one paragraph?  However, putting time and effort into creating a great query is essential. This is your one chance to "reel them in." If you don't catch their attention in the first 20 seconds, you likely won't be getting a follow-up e-mail requesting more.

It's a lot like browsing through books at a bookstore. You pick one up and read the back.  Within 20 seconds, you know whether this is a book you might be interested in or not. Based on those first seconds, you either look more at and into the book, or you shelve it.

Some of you heard about the new book I'm working on titled: SICK AND TIRED: HOW TO LIVE GRACIOUSLY WITH CHRONIC HEALTH PROBLEMS WHEN YOU'D RATHER JUST KICK SOMETHING!  Hey, if I can't get rid of the health issues, at least I can use them for good, right?  I recently finished creating my book proposal, then did a query. After that I found 7 agents I wanted to send the query to first (yes, 7, I learned the hard way not to send it to 1 and wait anxiously to get a rejection letter before I sent it to another--just so you know, in this business it's pretty common to get rejected 9 out of 10 times, so don't take it personally. In fact you'll be better off planning for it and expecting it!)

So thanks to Sally Stuart's Market Guide (which I use a LOT and highly recommend to anyone who wants to get published), I got the websites for those 7 and looked up each one. Naturally, they all had different requirements. Four of them, however, wanted a query letter with either no sample chapters, or just one sample chapter. So I worked on those 4 first, adapting my letter and information to what they wanted. Then I sent those four out.

It can take 6-8 weeks to hear back on a query (this is the most frustrating part of writing in my opinion--I hate waiting!).  Usually if you hear back right away, it's a no (but sometimes you won't hear anything if it's a no, which is frustrating too).

I was shocked when I heard back from an agent about SICK AND TIRED the next day. She, too, has chronic health problems and liked the book idea and wants to see the whole proposal.  Yippee!!!!

Now, I have to admit that the query letter I sent to her felt overwhelmingly long to me, but it contained the information she was looking for.  Now, just so you don't think this letter is magic, I also got 2 no's already out of those 4 agents as well.  A whole lot of publishing is just whether or not what you sent happens to be what that publisher is looking for right at that time (which is impossible to guess, so another reason not to take rejection personally).

As this is already getting too long, I'll wait to send the actual query letter sample till next time. Until then, if you are learning from these posts, your homework would be to look up "How to write a book proposal" and make a list of the ingredients you'll need to make a good one. Writing a book proposal is a great experience because it helps you think through a lot of the aspects of your future book that might not have even come to mind yet. It helps you narrow your focus, which is important.

And like query letters, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It's very intimidating at first, but so was learning to ride a bike, then learning to drive a car--and those got easier the more you did them, too.  So don't give up. Start small, with just or two of the aspects of the proposal at a time, and don't be afraid to ask for help or opinions from others.

See you next time with a sample book proposal query to help you get started on your way to getting published!

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