I spent close to a month last year trying to understand what on earth a proposal was. It started like this: I was looking for a literary agent, so I contacted a number of agents who worked with fantasy. Then I decided to try contacting some Christian literary agents, as I’m a serious Christian and it would be great to find someone who shares my vision. That was when I discovered that a large number of Christian literary agents and publishers like to see a proposal. In the secular world, many literary agents simply prefer to see a query letter and possibly a short sample of your work. But all of a sudden, I was coming across numerous people who wanted to see “proposals”. And I didn’t even know what that meant. I did research on the internet and even asked a literary agent, who gave me a very brief description of something that sounded like a query letter. All of this failed to enlighten me.
However, I’m pleased to say that I’ve now seen an example of what a proposal looks like and have even been able to edit it and put some of my own information into it. So I’ll share my findings.
What a proposal isn’t
-A query or submission letter
What a proposal is
-A very long document
If I leave things here, I risk being very unhelpful, so I’ll briefly describe what a proposal actually contains. If I wanted to give you a summary of what I think a proposal is, I would say it in one word: metadata. Data about data – the data you’re giving being various descriptions of your work in differing lengths, your platform as an author, any similarities your books have with big sellers in the same genre, character descriptions, concept art, your biography, and the all important sample of your work. The data you’re describing, of course, is your work.
What a proposal can contain
A. A front sheet (similar to a query letter). This sheet should be a short, catchy summary of your book complete with word count, genre, and target audience. You will also want to include a brief biography of yourself.
B. An overview. This may hold a tagline, a back cover description, and the setting of work.
C. A format and deliverables section. How long is your book? How many chapters? Does it contain any special features? Would the published version require any special features? Do you have any subtitles or alternative title ideas? And is your book ready to be delivered to the editor of a publishing company? These are all things this section should contain.
D. Author bio and discoverability. Once more, you have to include a biography of yourself including anything that makes you qualified to write what you write. Then you’ll need to write about your online presence (how many followers do you have that you could advertise your book to?), your speaking platform (if any), your author credentials (any awards?), and your publishing credits (do you have anything published yet?). I have to be honest: this section felt very daunting for me to fill out.
E. Marketing and promotion. How do you intend to market and sell the book? What do you as an author intend to do to get an audience for your writing?
F. Series information. If your book is part of a series, here is where you will include short teasers/summaries for all of the books the series contains. You’ll also include next to the title the information of whether or not the book is ready for an editor to look at. Is it complete or not?
G. Competitive works. What books out there are similar to yours and proven successes? Pick books in the same genre, preferably with a similar target audience.
H. Target market. What age group is your book aimed at? What is its primary audience? Secondary audience? Tertiary audience?
I. Endorsements. Do you know anyone who would be able to endorse your book? It’s important to provide something of a list here to win the agent’s or publisher’s confidence.
J. Synopsis. At last, you get to write a full summary of your book. Include everything. No cliff hangers here. The agent or publisher wants information.
K. Character descriptions. Include descriptions of any characters or creatures that are likely to appear in your writing sample. Explain them well, in a way that is relevant to the story and interesting to the reader.
L. Writing sample. Finally, you come to a section of the proposal where all you do is copy and paste – because God willing, you’ve already written your book. Provide a sample between ten and thirty pages long, depending on the agent’s or publisher’s stipulations. Some even ask for fifty. Some only want five.
So there you have it. A full proposal is a mammoth effort, but all the information you include in it will be essential for selling your book. While the query letter is small (although occasionally daunting), the proposal is the query letter’s great big granddaddy. Yet thinking through all the information you need will help you understand your own work better and ultimately hone your skills as an author further.