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Fiction Book Proposal Questions

Posted by Meredith in Writing Advice (September 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm)
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Awhile back, I received some questions on what should be included in a fiction book proposal. My responses are below, but it’s important to keep in mind that often a fiction proposal will include nothing more than a synopsis and 3 sample chapters. However, in the event that you are asked to provide a full proposal, here are a couple tips.

1. Marketing: Should you contact local bookstores and talk to people about possible speaking engagements even though you don’t have a book contract (and may not get one) or simply list what your strategy would be if the agent is able to get you a book contract?

No. It’s not necessary to contact bookstores or make any actual speaking arrangements at this point. In my opinion, it’s better not to, actually.

When it comes to the marketing section of a proposal, it is better to only put in specific, unique elements that YOU can bring to the marketing of this book. Everyone can say “I’ll sign books, and I’ll speak at events.” That’s almost as much of a given as saying “I’ll do whatever you want me to do to help promote the book.” It’s not enlightening to the editor or agent.

It’s better to come up with some unique, specific things that you can do that your potential publisher wouldn’t be able to do. For example, I had a novel come out in April 2010 about adopting from China. I was able to put in my proposal that I have access to two email discussion loops about Chinese adoption that total about 25,000 people who have ALL adopted from China or are in the process of. That’s a unique contribution I can make to marketing my book that my publisher has no access to.

See what unique ties and communities related to your book that you have access to, and put those in your marketing section. That will be the most effective use of that space in your proposal. If you don’t have any particular marketing contributions to make, it would be better to leave that section out entirely rather than broadcast the lack.

2. Comparable Books: How close or similar to yours does the book have to be? How do you look up sales figures for the novels? Do you have to read these books or can you go based on the descriptions from Amazon?

I base my comparisons on two main factors:  subject matter and writing style. Genre plays into both of those as well. I try to choose books that have been published in the last five years, and I aim for books that appear to be at least good sellers.

You don’t need sales numbers for the books, and actually that’s quite difficult for a writer to have access to.

It’s better if you’ve actually read the books, but a “cheat” that I sometimes do–especially if I’m looking for some titles that are stylistically similar to mine–is to read the excerpt from Amazon. That’s usually enough to let you compare writing styles. Otherwise, head to your bookstore and spend a few hours skimming through your target comparisons.

Don’t forget to also include information about how your book fills a current publishing gap. When I did the comparison for Lucky Baby (the adoption novel), I found that there had not been many novels at all–that I could find–that centered around Chinese adoption. The ones I did find approached the subject in a far different way than what I was intending to do. So I make a note of that in the proposal. You don’t want to trash other novels in the proposal, but if you are matter-of-fact and business-like in how you explain how your novel fills a current hole, that is useful information.

If your book is in a well-established genre (like romance for example) you could just as easily cover the comparison briefly in your cover letter by citing similar authors and identifying the sub-genre your book fits into.

But remember, the most important part of the proposal is having an excellent story. All the great marketing ideas in the world won’t help if your manuscript is not ready. (Fortunately, you are reading the blog of a top notch fiction editing service, and we’d love to help you polish your book proposal.) :-)