Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Proposals that Shine

Book Proposals that Shine
by Natalie Hanemann

As a former in-house editor at a publishing house, I have logged many hours going through the slush piles of book proposals. The majority of the proposals came from unpublished authors and the quality of the proposal varied widely. It’s easy to dismiss a proposal that is sloppy or has insufficient data. Here are some tips for a book proposal that will make you stand apart from the crowd.

It’s important to remember than an editor only has a few minutes to review your proposal, so you want to hook them immediately and spend their time wisely. Here are the basics of what the editor needs to know:

· Is this your first book or have you published before?

· If you’ve had books published previously, provide the details (title, year, publishing house, and how many units you sold).

· A one-sentence description. It can take FOREVER to come up with the perfect one, but it is worth the time to be able to distill your story into a sentence that captures its essence. Here is an example: “A tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father-a crusading local lawyer-risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.” [To Kill a Mockingbird] Work hard to get your sentence just right.

· A short synopsis. Here you’ll share the protagonist, his/her goal, the obstacles, the outcome.

· A long synopsis. Here you’ll be more detailed about the primary characters and the different conflicts. Unless the publishing house requests it, do not send a chapter by chapter summary.

· Is your idea a standalone or a part of a series? If a series, share brief summaries of future books and how much time you need to write the subsequent books. Include if the first book in the series is complete or how many months until it will be complete.

· Books in the industry that are similar to the book you wrote. It’s best to compare your book with one that has the same audience (i.e. Christian fiction, secular). TIP: don’t compare yourself to Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Even if you write stories just like theirs, it just isn’t realistic or helpful.

· What kind of platform or outreach do you have? Include groups of people or memberships where you would be able to promote your book. If the numbers are good, include # of FB friends and Twitter followers. Also include a list of possible endorsers, authors you know or who you’ve networked with.

· A short biography about yourself. 4-6 paragraphs highlighting your writing life and a little bit about who you are. The tone of this bio should be professional but show a little bit of your personality. If your proposal is presented in a voice that is too familiar, it can count against you. Similarly, if the tone is too formal, it may come across as dry.

· Sample chapters. Three is normally sufficient. Make sure your sample chapters are polished and sparkling! No typos or amateur errors; don’t be sloppy. No matter how mediocre your proposal is, if the story is good, they’ll overlook the rest.

· Don’t email or call the in-house editor to ask for a status update on your proposal. Reviewing prospective projects isn’t a top priority so it can sometimes take a couple of months before your proposal is looked at. Try to be patient.

· In all things, be succinct. Trim your sentences so they are efficient. Say things in as few words as possible. This can become a game of sorts. Try to whittle down 500 words to 400. It can be done, I assure you, but it takes some practice.

· Don’t provide a cover. With software programs today, it’s easy to let your creativity creep into design and “I’m just gonna see what I come up with” can turn into hours of work on a cover that you feel will make you stand out. Well, it does make you stand out, but not in the best way. Book design is a fine art and should be undertaken by designers. If you have a niece or uncle who is in school for design, don’t be tempted when they ask if they can mock up a book cover for your WIP.

· Pray before you hit Send and then leave it in God’s hands.

· If you get rejected, whatever you do, don’t go on social media and start talking trash about the publisher. In fact, don’t ever use social media for an emotional outburst. It’s unprofessional and reflects poorly on you. In every case, be kind and respectful.

Natalie Hanemann is an award-winning editor who has worked in book publishing for more than thirteen years. In 2012, she left corporate publishing to stay home with her four children and began her freelance editing business.

Natalie has a passion for fiction. She enjoys working on both general fiction and genre fiction. She has mentored young writers, been interviewed on author blogs, and published articles on fiction writing. What she loves most about her profession is working closely with the authors to help them tell the story that God has put on their hearts.

If you’re interested in contacting Natalie for her services, visit her website at or email her at


Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

Great advice, Natalie, thanks!

Fliterary said...

Thank you for sharing, Natalie. Wonderful advice!