How To Write a Book Proposal

There are several books available on writing book proposals. My favorites are:

I recommend you get at least one good, in-depth resource on writing book proposals. Meanwhile, here are bare-bones outlines of non-fiction and fiction book proposals.

Non-Fiction Book Proposals

Title page: Title, authors’ names, phone numbers, email addresses.

One sentence summary: It captures your book. It should be more hook than description.

Brief overview: This should read similar to back-cover copy. It should be exciting, informative, and make someone want to read your book. It tells the publisher in a succinct form what the book is about and who the market is. Three to four paragraphs.

Felt need: What needs will your book fulfill that your audience is already aware of? What questions are they asking that your book will answer? What do they want that you can give them?

About the authors: Half page to a full page on each author. Why are you qualified to write this book? List any previously published books or articles along with sales figures. Make a good case for YOU as the best possible author for a book on this topic. Include a small photo  of yourself – it doesn’t have to be professional, but it should be friendly and you should be smiling (unless, perhaps, you’re a horror writer, in which case you can have a spooky look like Stephen King often does).

The market: Whom do you see as the audience for the book? Why would somebody buy this book? How is this audience reached? Do you have any special relationships to the market? What books and magazines does this audience already read? What radio and TV programs do they tune into? Demonstrate an understanding of exactly who will buy your book and why.

Author marketing: This is where you’ll talk about your platform. How are YOU able to reach your target audience to market your book? This is NOT the place for expressing your “willingness” to participate in marketing, or your “great ideas” for marketing. This is the place to tell what you’ve already done, what contacts you already have, and what plans you’ve already made to help market your book. A list of speaking engagements already booked is great; radio or television programs you’re scheduled to appear on or have in the past; a newsletter you’re already sending out regularly; a blog that gets an impressive number of daily hits. Include specific blog stats (monthly unique visitors, monthly pageviews), number of Twitter followers and number of Facebook fans/friends.

The competition: What other books are in print on the same subject? How is your book different and better? (There is always competition.) First, give a general discussion of the state of the marketplace as regards books of this topic. Then do a list of 4 to 8 books that could be considered most comparable to yours. List the title, author, year of publication. (Only books in the last five years are relevant, unless they’re still bestsellers.) Then write a couple of sentences explaining what that book is about, and how yours is different, better, and/or a good complement to it.

Details: How many words will your book be? (Words, not pages.) How long after the signing of a contract will it take you to complete the book? (This is usually 2 to 6 months.)

Chapter outline: This is where it becomes crucial that your book is well organized and completely thought-through. You will need chapter titles, and a couple of sentences capturing each chapter’s theme.

Sample chapters: This is usually the Introduction, plus one or two chapters. Make sure they’re polished and perfect!

What about fiction?

If you’ve written a novel, you still need a book proposal but it will look slightly different. The most important thing with fiction is the writing itself, so your sample chapters must truly shine to capture an agent or editor’s attention.

However, just like with non-fiction, the author’s involvement in marketing is of utmost importance. So, much of your proposal will look similar to a non-fiction proposal because it’s about YOU and how you can help market your own book.

In a fiction proposal, you’ll be most successful at capturing attention if your first page includes a killer “hook” and a concise synopsis that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, but intrigues the reader enough that they feel they MUST read your book.

A great fiction proposal:

Title page: Title, authors’ names, phone numbers, email addresses.

One sentence hook: This is more of a tagline, one sentence that creates interest in the book.

Brief overview: This should read similar to back-cover copy. It should be exciting and make someone want to read your book. It tells the publisher in a succinct form what the book is about. Two to four paragraphs.

The market: Whom do you see as the audience for the book? Why would somebody buy this book? How is this audience reached? Do you have any special relationships to the market? What books and magazines does this audience already read? What radio and TV programs do they tune into? Demonstrate an understanding of exactly who will buy your book and why.

About the author: Half page to a full page on yourself. Why are you qualified to write this book? List any previously published books or articles along with sales figures. Any awards or special degrees or certificates in creative writing? Anything that helps establish you as a novelist goes in this section.

Author marketing: This is where you’ll talk about your platform. How are YOU able to reach your target audience to market your book? This is NOT the place for expressing your “willingness” to participate in marketing, or your “great ideas” for marketing. This is the place to tell what you’ve already done, what contacts you already have, and what plans you’ve already made to help market your book. A list of speaking engagements already booked is great; radio or television programs you’re scheduled to appear on or have in the past; a newsletter you’re already sending out regularly; a blog that gets an impressive number of daily hits. This is NOT the place to say that your book would be terrific on Oprah, unless you have documented proof that Oprah’s people have already contacted you.

Comparable books: Instead of a “competition” section, you’ll want to include four to five novels that you see as similar to yours in some way. It helps the editor develop a big-picture understanding of your book. It’s best not to include blockbuster bestsellers (The DaVinci Code, Left Behind) but do include well-known books with solid sales. Include title, author, release year, and a couple of sentences about the book and how yours is similar and would appeal to the same audience.

Details: How many words will your book be? (Words, not pages.) How many chapters? Have you included book club discussion questions? Is your manuscript complete? (Note: Unless you’re a multi-published novelist, you must have a completed novel before approaching agents and editors.)

Longer synopsis: In several pages (2 to 6 is a good guideline) describe the story. In this part, don’t worry about preserving the “surprise” factor. This is where you have to explain the story, start to finish.

Sample chapters: Include the first 40 to 50 pages of your manuscript (ending at a natural chapter break). Don’t include random chapters – you need the FIRST few chapters. Make sure they’re polished and perfect! THIS is what will determine whether you get a request for a full manuscript or not.

*Please note that you normally only send a full proposal if requested by an agent or editor based on your written query or a face-to-face meeting at a conference.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] and faster…and I KNOW there are countless articles and blog posts from successful authors and agents (like this one from Jane Friedman who says what I’m trying to write is a novel proposal) out […]

  2. Holli on August 20, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    Would all these same guidelines apply to a children’s story?

  3. Sarah Broady on May 26, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    If I am only a few chapters into my book and writing a book proposal, how can I know an approximation of how many words I can anticipate for the length of the book? Is there a general guide to determine that, or does the entire manuscript need to be written prior to writing a proposal?

  4. […] See for more information about submitting a stellar book proposal. […]

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  7. skye on January 31, 2013 at 7:04 AM

    Hi, i am totally new to writing and publishing a book. I am looking to write a craft /baking ect book. I am going to sit and read all of your blog for advice (thank you in advance). Before i contact anyone, should i draft the whole book and include photographs which i think are a large part of my book.

    Do publishers work with you to take images for your book ar is it your responsibility.

    Thank you for your time.

  8. Brian on January 17, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    I’m thinking of writing a coffe table book of poems. Would it still be the same process for a book of poetry?

  9. Chad Collier on January 1, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    Here’s a question relating to this topic that i haven’t seen an answer for, so here we go. I recently finished writing a how-to book for people who want to learn how to play guitar titled “Thaa Book For Beginners”, and the teaching method is drastically diferent from every other method of learning guitar. My teaching method is also alot easier to learn from, yet I’m really hesitant to get into writing a proposal, because the only credentials I really have are sixteen years of playing experience. I’ve never been published before, and I don’t have an establised platform. What is my best option for this book?

  10. […] How to Write a Non Fiction Book Proposal Thanks for sharing!EmailPrintTwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  11. Patricia Florio on November 15, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    I just bought the book you suggested. Thank you. I will start a book proposal and then tighten it up when I receive your book. Some things just don’t come as easy as writing. I can write a book, and now I hope I can write a book proposal.

    See my Facebook: My Two Mothers, my first published memoir.

    thank you.

  12. Anita Strawn de Ojeda on November 12, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    I’m trying to do my homework on creating a ‘platform’ and have a question that I haven’t seen addressed yet. Is it ok to use some of the content from the manuscript on a blog that I create?

  13. […] → If you’re a non-fiction writer, you’ll need a full professional book proposal, with three sample chapters (this must include the FIRST chapter). (See How To Write a Book Proposal) […]

  14. Doron on October 12, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    I write a blog about my adventures in the Middle East and beyond and wanted to write a book that is somewhat related, but more fictional than biographical. I wrote a book once before, but before it was finished, lost the momentum to start searching for publishers. How do I avoid this trap and how do I find potential publishers?

  15. […] Gardner has a blog post about […]

  16. […] Plan a Proper Proposal. If agents become interested in your idea, they will ask for your manuscript. Be ready to send them a polished draft. No excuses. Many will then request a proposal (some have specific templates they will provide). Be sure to take your time with the proposal and make it SHINE. Insider’s Tip: Don’t overlook the marketing segment…many agents say this is the most important part of the proposal. Here’s what Rachelle Gardner has to say about writing the perfect proposal. […]

  17. Heather on July 15, 2012 at 4:58 PM

    Also, what if it’s a series we’re writting?

  18. Heather on July 15, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    When you say ‘Manuscript ‘ you mean the book, right?

  19. Hannah Bithiah on June 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    I really find this helpful. I’ve haven’t been published as of yet. Hoping to knock out a stellar proposal. Thanks a bunches.

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  21. Amber on June 2, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    I am currently fleshing out a book about an incident in my life. So, the question I have is: which protocol would you follow for creative non-fiction?

    Thank you for your help. This is my first book.

    • Melissa G on June 11, 2012 at 4:57 AM

      My question is similar, as I am writing a biography. It seems like it needs to be a hybrid of the nonfiction and fiction

  22. […] See for more information about submitting a stellar book proposal. […]

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  25. Paul Cool on April 9, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    Jeff Herman is good for prescriptive nonfiction proposals (The 10 Habits of Slim People, etc.), written by authors interested in turning books into advertising for more lucrative seminars. It’s not so good for serious nonfiction. For that, writers should turn to the books of Susan Rabiner and Peter Rubie. Unfortunately, not much out there for serious nonfiction proposals, other than memoirs.

  26. […] To get the ball rolling, Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner breaks down the process of writing a successful book proposal. […]

  27. Madeline on April 1, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Quick Question, if you are writing your very first book do you send in a manuscript? Because I have written 75 pages of book I am hoping to publish in the future.

    Thanks, Rachelle!

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  30. Joni Hudock on March 21, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    I am a first time writer. I am not sure how to classify the book I am writing. The scenerio in which the main character is telling the story is completely made up but the stories I am telling as the main character are true stories based on my life experiences. So is my book fiction or non-fiction? Please advise so I can make sure I follow the proper instructions for Query Letters as I am almost finished and will be looking for an agent and editing.

  31. Joe Smo on March 20, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    The more I learn about publishing the more I realize why there are so many books full of garbage being published by regular publishers and why there are so many self published books. Some of the greatest books in history were either not published in the author’s lifetime (Moby Dick) or were self published. With modern technology, publishers need to change or they will become as useful as a magazine about building and operating a horse and buggy.

    If I have any of the info you suggest in author marketing, then what do I need a publisher for?

    I always thought it was the publisher’s job to book the interviews, etc. If I have to do that myself then I will just use and keep all the profit for myself.

    Look what has happened to the music industry. Publishers should be doing more, not less and expecting the author to do so much, especially first timers.

    Publishers should be looking for great books, not great marketers or speakers. It is great books that will have a lasting impact on the world, not great marketing for a limp-noodle book.

    • Brenda on October 23, 2012 at 3:47 PM

      Great Joe Smo, Im with you. I had it backwards too. Seem to be a lot of work besides writing the book. I did not realize that you promote the book before it is written until I ran across several blogs explaining it. Im not shy but on a tight budget, it would take traveling to places with hopes of getting into the right venue. I’ve spoken at churches on Godly matters not promoting my book. Guess I have to change my thought patterns now.

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  50. Joanne Wiklund on August 4, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    Rachelle: I so appreciate your continuing effort to help all of us understand, or attempt to, the changing face of publishing. I also agree with avoiding TV news. Most TV news programs have been “changed to educate the dummies.” I don’t always want education, I only want to know the news, so I can decide for myself what I care about.

    As a former print journalist for both weekly and daily newspapers, however, I am saddened at the lack of balance in stories “reporting” the news. There was a time when journalists believed that in writing a news story the journalist should be invisible, even in the writing, so the story could stand on its merits alone. No editorializing, no preaching, no support for one side or the other.

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  51. Nichole on August 2, 2011 at 9:59 PM


    I was wondering: for a fiction proposal should the brief summary should be a mini version of the synopsis or just what would be on a back cover blurb?

    Thank you for taking the time to answer questions. I’m learning a lot from your blog.

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  54. Marla Markman on August 1, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    Thank you for the terrific post. It’s not often that I find a how-to geared to non-fiction proposals, so thank you. My question is, is it ever OK for an author not to have social media as part of their platform. For instance, if the author is highly regarded in his field, has a prolific public speaking background, a huge number of contacts to promote the book to, and many places where he could sell and promote his book, but he does have a Twitter account, FB page, a blog, etc. Thank you for your help.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 10:40 PM

      This would need to be assessed on a case by case basis. But honestly, even the biggest companies and the world’s most famous “brands” are realizing that if they’re not social networking, they may lose their edge and not be able to compete.

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  57. Jean Jenkins on July 30, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    Very useful summary. Thanks for taking the time to outline how to structure a book proposal, and recommend two books for more details.

  58. Linda K. Wertheimer on July 30, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    Hi, Rachelle,
    Useful post. I’m curious about nonfiction proposals about books that will require extensive reporting – and hence, some advance money to make them happen.

    I hear that advances in general are pretty small these days. Even so, how much reporting should a writer do on his or her own nickel first before testing the waters with a publisher? I’m referring to an experienced journalist with plenty of clips to offer.


  59. Rebecca Tolley-Stokes on July 29, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    I’ve read conflicting information about memoir. Should one work from the query/proposal stage before spending time writing a memoir, or do agents want to see the finished manuscript? Does it vary between agents?

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 11:59 PM

      Answers vary, but you can’t go wrong with this advice: If you’re an unpublished author, treat memoir like fiction. Don’t query until you have a completed manuscript.

      Here’s why: It’s really hard to write a good memoir. And until you write the whole thing all the way to “The End,” nobody knows if you can actually do it. Including you.

      Plus, most memoirs go through massive revisions, start to finish, before they’re ready to be seen. They get chopped up and restructured, and rewritten many times over. You can’t do that if you’ve only written three chapters.

      Finish your memoir! Then revise, restructure, chop it up and rewrite as necessary. THEN query.

  60. How to Get Published | Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 9:56 PM

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  61. Kristin Laughtin on July 29, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    Comp titles are the hardest thing for me to come up with, because I overanalyze the stories and convince myself that the dissimilarities are too great and would cause fans of the comp book to feel cheated by my own. (This is because it’s often the case that I think “This part of my book is similar to TITLE X, but the rest of it…”) I’m so glad to see that in a fiction proposal, I’d have some room to flesh out why I think the titles are similar.

  62. Lelia Chealey on July 29, 2011 at 6:47 PM

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  63. David Todd on July 29, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Rachelle: I still don’t get this platform thing. How am I ever going to get speaking engagements if I don’t have a book published? Who would want to listen to me? I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to a wannabe author speak.

    Perhaps that works in the Christian market, where there are umpteen churches who need speakers for special events, and who don’t have the budget to schedule in a published author. But what about the general market? What do I say to the person who books speakers for the Kiwanis club? “I’ve written a great book, and if I can get enough speaking engagements an editor might consider publishing it, and 24 months later it will be in bookstores as a paperback.” Who in their right mind would schedule such a “speaker”? Who would want to listen to him.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative. I just don’t see how it works in the general market.

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 11:55 PM

      David, nobody is saying you should be a speaker. For some non-fiction topics, it’s a no-brainer to be a speaker. For others, and for fiction, it often doesn’t make sense. You have to decide if you’re a speaker or not.

      That said, plenty of people have speaking careers before they’re published authors. They’re on the “motivational speaking” circuit or on the “inspirational speaking” circuit or perhaps, like you said, they speak at churches and retreats. Lots of people have expertise on a topic prior to writing books.

  64. Kelly Bartlett on July 29, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Just to help me put things in perspective…how many hits would you consider an “impressive” number of daily blog hits? Thanks for this helpful post!

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 11:52 PM

      Ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 different answers.

      I say 1000.

  65. Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Folks, I said this post is a BARE BONES outline of a book proposal, and I meant it. You will be highly unlikely to have a winning book proposal if you try to write one based on a few blog posts you find online. That’s why I listed the Jeff Herman and Mary DeMuth resources. They’re detailed and in-depth, and they show full spectrum of what a proposal can and should be.

    Don’t try to write a book proposal based on just blogs! Jeff Herman’s book is only ten bucks on Amazon – figure out a way.

  66. Gene on July 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    I understand that with fiction you should always have the work completed before querying, and in non-fiction you should submit book proposals before writing so you don’t waste time on something market doesn’t want to buy.

    But what about a non-fiction book written about a fictitious subject? Or a work of fiction set up like a non-fiction book of field notes, like a compendium or “monster manual” or something like that? Write and query? Or book proposal, find a buyer, then write?

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      What if? What if? What if?

      Your book is either fiction or non-fiction, period, end of story. Which section of the bookstore (online or IRL) does it go in?

      From there, you should be able to figure it out.

  67. Monica Lee on July 29, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    Terrific post, Rachelle!

  68. Sharon A Lavy on July 29, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    Thanks for the helpful info, Rachelle.

  69. Jaime Wright on July 29, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    Is it a good idea to insert an author pic with the bio? I haven’t been able to in the past because I didn’t have one – now I do, but wasn’t sure if that was too … lofty? 😛

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:15 PM

      Definitely – always include an author photo. Will update my post with this.

  70. Richard on July 29, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    Very interesting information if one is writing a book, and i think the same things could be applied when writing a bog as well………….Just to share with you folks, i have a new post today on Amish Stories from the Terre Hill days even that was just held in Lancaster Pennsylvania. It was a very hot day but i was able to get i think a few good images from this event. The town is populated with a mix of Amish and old order Mennonites which only adds to its charm. They even have what has become famous in Terre Hill their “outhouse race”. The town sits on a hill so it overlooks Lancaster farmland in almost all directions. This is one of my favorite towns to visit because its free from commercialism, so if you are looking for a really all American kind of town with the added bonus of seeing its Amish and Mennonite residents at work and play, then this town is for you. Thanks folks. Richard from Amish Stories.

  71. Wendy on July 29, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    It’s so refreshing to come here and get good solid advice in this industry!

    Bookmarking this.

    (And great RT today of Michael Hyatt’s post. Light bulbs were going off like crazy in my head.)

    Have a great weekend!
    ~ Wendy

  72. Christi McGuire on July 29, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    Thanks for this great info! I am just about ready for this step in my non-fiction adventure. This was very helpful, as are all your posts! Thanks!

  73. Rachel on July 29, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    When you say to list the one sentence hook and brief summary, does that mean we should label them as such?

    Thanks so much for doing these guides, Rachelle!

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      Yes, you should.

  74. Marketing Letters on July 29, 2011 at 9:04 AM

    You are Revolutionizing Education!superb!@bose

  75. Kate on July 29, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    Thank you so much for this wealth of information! As a fiction writer, all of this made sense to me, though I was concerned regarding the author marketing. I’m not sure I understand how a never-before published author is supposed to do most of these things. I don’t know what newspaper or radio person is going to want to interview someone with no agent and no publishing history. The only way I can see it happening is with a blog. So I’d love a post on a never-before published perspective.

    Ultimately, how does a new author get off the ground? A lot of the things mentioned in the author marketing seems to be impossible for that kind of person. Maybe you could shed some light for the newbies?

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      This is not to suggest that a debut novelist SHOULD have any or all of those things. The point is, if you’ve got it, you put it in the proposal. If you don’t, then don’t try to make something up.

      Non-fiction authors DO need to have some of those marketing elements in place.

    • Nan Jones on July 30, 2011 at 6:59 PM

      Kate & Rachelle, My first manuscript (non-fiction) is with a publishing board right now. I used Mary DeMuth’s tutorial as my guide. In my proposal I listed many regional radio stations, newspapers, a couple of local magazines and one TV program as possibilities for interviews. In my proposal I stated that I would contact each of these with press releases and follow-up phone calls. You have to start somewhere. If you believe God has given you a message, then believe that He will open doors to have it heard. I may only get one or two offers, but it is a beginning and I believe it tells the publisher something about my initiative and work ethic. Hope this helps. I would have been lost without Mary’s tutorial.

  76. Jonathan on July 29, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    Is this format a one size fits all, an agent specific, or a framework to work off of?

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:12 PM

      As I said, this is a BARE BONES outline of a proposal. The Jeff Herman book and the Mary DeMuth tutorials go into detail about exactly what can and should go into a book proposal.

  77. otin on July 29, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    I love the way that you detail everything. This is like a computer class. 🙂

  78. Sra on July 29, 2011 at 4:15 AM

    People talk a lot about queries and summaries. What about a cover letter for a requested summary. Is there a certain way it should be done?

  79. Stephanie McGee on July 29, 2011 at 1:19 AM

    This is for selling a work of fiction on spec, right? So you write a couple of chapters, tease the audience with a query-esque pitch, and such? I’m confused here on how this is different than your query package you send out to agents.

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 1:11 PM

      Queries and proposals are two totally different things. See my comments above.

  80. joan Cimyotte on July 29, 2011 at 12:36 AM

    How is a book proposal different from a query? In a query, I’m trying to get the interest of an agent. Who does the book proposal go to?

    • Melissa K. Norris on July 29, 2011 at 1:26 AM

      A book proposal goes to the editor at the publishing house. It shows the big picture of you as an author, beyond just your book. Mostly, it shows how the marketing will be done. It helps the editor sell your book at pub committee.

      • Lisa Marie on July 29, 2011 at 4:52 AM

        This was my question.

        So if a book proposal is requested? Or is this something that writers should have prepared in advance?

        • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 11:26 AM

          If you write fiction, don’t worry about preparing a proposal prior to querying. Just make sure your manuscript is complete and ready for prime time.

          If you write non-fiction, don’t send your proposal with the query, but make sure your proposal is complete and polished BEFORE you query, so you can immediately send it if requested.

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 29, 2011 at 11:29 AM

      A QUERY is a brief letter, no longer than one page, designed to get the agent to ask to see more.

      A PROPOSAL is an in-depth professional document, many pages long, explaining all those things I outlined in this post.

      All this information I described above that is required for a book proposal? You would NEVER include that in a query. The query is brief. The proposal is detailed.

  81. Dean K Miller on July 29, 2011 at 12:12 AM

    Way to early for me to ask ?’s or think too much about this. But I’ll refer back to it when it’s time.

    Thanks for the info.

I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

I sell. I negotiate. I coach. I brainstorm.

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