How not to be the spoonrest - Book proposals

One of my co-agent buddies, YA novelist Megan Curd, asked me what goes into a proposal as she's used to a synopsis so I thought I'd elucidate in case anyone else was curious. I am by no means an expert on proposals so I'm dragging y'all along on this as my learning curve morphs into a workable proposal. Each agent has her preference as to how they are formatted but it's good to have the basics down before diving into the query process unprepared to send a proposal after they respond with a request.

Think of the proposal as a business plan. It consists of manageable chunks of information that break down for the agent and the future editor what the book is about and how you as the author plan to help with marketing and promotion.

- Introduction - where you present the premise of the book and how it will better the lives of millllllions.

- Author Bio - by far the worst part of writing this thing. The thesaurus ran out of words for "awesome."

- Marketing - Who are these fabulous people that will buy your book? What market are you targeting so they get a glimmer that you're out there rubbing elbows with the big boys? Don't forget your tiny markets, in my case, zombie enthusiasts are a prime target for the book but so are humor/dating/college-age/alternative markets. It also makes a dandy anti-Valentine gift for the person who has just given up on finding a mate with a pulse.

- Completion date/estimated word count - What reasonable amount of time you expect the book to be finished after signing the book contract. Don't go crazy and say two or more years. You'll get the eye-roll and they'll go back to digging out the grounds floating on top of their coffee with their spoon. Guess whose project gets to be the spoonrest?

- Competitive titles - Similar titles and themes (zombies) so editors know if your subject has legs. If you find no one has been published on your subject, is it viable for editors to take a chance on? Okay, granted horny zombies aren't thick on the ground (thank god) but the wealth of zombie titles out there give this little pop culture goodie a chance.

- Promotion - Often a scary word to writers because who wants to leave the comfort of their pajamas to sit at a table and smile for hours. Okay, I have no problem with that but I suspect others may -- and I'll be too hopped up on sugar and gin to care. How else can you promote the book? Lectures, Skype interviews for book clubs, in my case - zombie walks and wars, conferences for your target audience, tv/radio/podcast interviews, book trailers, blog tours. Get creative and zombies will beat a path to your door. Wait. Scratch that.

- Chapter summaries/table of contents - Now to the guts of the project. Nonfiction writers spell out how the book will be broken down for the reader. I chose to write mine in voice of THE ZOMBIE DATING GUIDE'S host, Undead Fred, since it's a humor book and it presents the kind of feel I am going for. Don't try this at home if you're writing a book on infectious diseases. Nothing but the Clap is regarded as funny in that realm.

- Sample chapters - Most books recommend to send two. I'm sending five. Wha? I'm a prolific little bugger.

Do your homework, research your prospective agents for their preferences and don't be afraid of making a few mistakes. It happens, they understand and only giggle a little.

Books to check out that I found helpful:

Have any tips you'd like to pass along?

One from my agent, Dawn Frederick: Always double-space and paginate your proposals. She says, "Trust me, many folks forget those 2 minor details. But if the idea is good, any agent knows it can be fixed later :)"


  1. Great advice, and info I'll definitely take to heart! Thanks for being the zombie guinea pig and letting us all tag along in your adventures!

  2. Great info Stacey. It reads almost exactly like a business plan. Spooky.

  3. If the thesaurus ran out of words for awesome, I'm assuming you went straight to talented for the next round, right? ;) This is great, Stacey! I know someone will love your proposal as much as a zombie loves a fresh leg. ;)

  4. Thanks everyone! It's really not as overwhelming as it looks once you get into it and by the third or fourth time you've re-written it, it's a breeze (pass the gin). ;)

  5. Wow! Lots of great information here. Thanks a bunch!

  6. GREAT post Stacey! I'm so unbelievably excited for you and cannot wait to watch this take off.

  7. This is verrrrry niiice. I like you. Good luck.

  8. Well done! Come October I think I'll just hire you to do mine! -Susan