The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway 2009, Day Eighteen

10902-BOOK-PROPOSALIt’s day eighteen of The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway! That means today’s book is How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen.

This newly revised edition of the Writer’s Digest classic is the definitive resource for crafting effective book proposals. Michael Larsen details every step clearly and concisely.

Readers will learn how to:

  • Test market the potential of a book idea and effectively communicate that potential in a proposal
  • Choose the best editors and publishers for a particular proposal
  • Create a professional-looking proposal package
  • Predispose a publisher to make their best offer

Larsen also provides insights into recent changes in the publishing industry, updated trend information, new sample proposals, expanded instructions for creating outlines, plus guidelines for becoming an effective self promoter.

Author Bio:

Michael larsenBorn and educated in New York City, Michael Larsen worked in promotion for three major publishers: William Morrow, Bantam, and Pyramid (now Jove). He and his wife, Elizabeth Pomada, moved to San Francisco in 1970. They started Michael Larsen – Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents, Northern California’s oldest literary agency, in 1972. Since then, the agency has sold books, mostly by new writers, to more than 100 publishers. He is a member of AAR and represents non-fiction.

Michael also wrote How to Get a Literary Agent and Literary Agents: What They Do, How They Do It, and How to Find and Work With the Right One for You and The Worry Bead Book: The World’s Oldest Way to Beat Stress. With Hal Zina Bennett, he wrote How to Work with a Collaborator. With Jay Conrad Levinson and Rick Frishman, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers. With his wife Elizabeth, Michael wrote the Painted Ladies series of books on Victorian architecture.

If you are new to the giveaway, please read “Da Rules.”

Today’s question is…

If you’ve written and sold a book based on a proposal already, please share with us what you did to give your proposal a competitive edge. If you haven’t sold a book on a proposal, would you like to try? Why or why not? What’s stopping you?

Give me the goods in 50-200 words, please. 🙂

Before you go! WE HAVE A CAUSE TO RAISE MONEY FOR THIS YEAR! Please read the story about the Applin family here and consider making a small contribution at some point during the giveaway. We’re aiming for $100/day collectively. Please help us help the Applin family adopt two beautiful children from Russia. 🙂

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34 Responses to “The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway 2009, Day Eighteen”


  1. 1 Jaymie September 18, 2009 at 5:13 am

    I have never done this, but would love to. I guess I always wonder if I have anything interesting to offer anyone that hasn’t already been done. What do I bring to the topic that is fresh, different, helpful? What questions are crying out for answers and ideas? Who am I to try and offer them? This stumps me every time, but I remain hopeful that *someday* I will pull something together with some promise.

  2. 2 K9friend1 September 18, 2009 at 5:18 am

    I have not yet sold a book on a proposal. I think what is stopping me is the perfect idea of what to propose. Of course, it would also help to have an actual completed manuscript!

    Seriously, though, I do believe it’s necessary to follow the appropriate guidelines and format. Like everything, there are undoubtedly requirements for a book proposal that I need to discover in order to effectively communicate my work.

  3. 3 Kathryn Lang September 18, 2009 at 5:31 am

    If you haven’t sold a book on a proposal, would you like to try?
    I have two non-fiction ideas and a fiction book that I want to try and sell (and my hubby really WANTS me to sell 😉 ).

    The only thing stopping me is me. I know that and just haven’t stepped out of the way. There may be a little fear involved – no one wants to be rejected so I try to find the perfect fit, create the perfect manuscript or craft the perfect proposal. Perfection is not possible because everyone sees with different eyes. All I can do is what I can do and I can not do anymore than that. I live my life through this motto – now it is time for me to APPLY it to my writing.

    This is me stepping out of my way so that I can pursue the dream that has followed me through my life.

  4. 4 Carol J. Alexander September 18, 2009 at 5:41 am

    I have a book idea. I have a theme. I have a few sample chapters. But I don’t feel ready to approach anyone with a proposal yet as I just learned about the concept of platform. So, I am taking the time now to build my platform, developing a following that hopefully will become my readership, and continuing to hone the idea and outline. So, I guess I would like to sell a book on proposal and am willing to try.

  5. 5 Donna September 18, 2009 at 5:42 am

    I haven’t sold a book on a proposal yet, but one of my goals is to do exactly that, and do it before I qualify for Social Security.
    At a critique group I belong to and at a writers’ group I’m a member of we’ve discussed and debated the proper way to write a book proposal. Everyone seems to have ideas, opinions, and suggestions, but all the talk doesn’t really help. I guess I’m looking for a definitive answer or at least some proven guidelines on how to get it done.
    My writer-ological clock is ticking–not quite as loudly althought almost as frightening as the clock in the alligator’s stomach on Peter Pan–but still . . . I’m close to the top end of the baby boomer generation and I’m not getting any younger, so I need all the help I can get–and quickly!

  6. 6 Michelle Mach September 18, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Several years ago I wrote a book proposal. In the process of writing it, I discovered that I didn’t have the level of passion about the topic that I’d need to finish the book. I didn’t feel my time was wasted. Instead, I was happy to have discovered what I did before I got too far. Now I have a new idea and am eager to write another proposal and see if this one has staying power.

  7. 7 lringler September 18, 2009 at 6:02 am

    I have the idea and I want to do it! So what’s stopping me? A busy life and thinking too far ahead, I notice.

    Figuring out how to commit the time is difficult with a family and a full-time job. But hey, probably every writer starts out in that situation, so I’ve just got to do it. I once went to an author reading where the writer stated she might spend 150 hours on a book proposal – and that’s because she has already written several. I need to think about when can I write for an hour today, rather where could I possibly find that much time.

    Thinking too far ahead also gets me on the proposal process. The I-don’t-know-how-to-do-it stopping me from trying. A chatty form of writer’s block. Time to carve a hole through that obstacle.

  8. 8 Meryl Evans September 18, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Although I’ve published a book, I didn’t have to do a proposal since I landed the assignment through contacts. I might try to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, but need build up my platform more. I have not found a unique perspective on the topics that already have successful books published.

  9. 9 Cara Holman September 18, 2009 at 6:48 am

    Who wouldn’t want to write and sell a book! I’m just not at the point in my life where it makes sense for me right now. But a girl can dream! I’ve been toying with some possible ideas for what I hope to write some day.

    In the meantime, I keep my writing skills active by reading, writing and networking all I can. And when I finally feel the time is right for me, only then I will craft my book proposal and make my move!

  10. 10 Dawn Herring September 18, 2009 at 6:50 am

    I understand you must have a novel completed before creating a proposal/synopsis to a literary agent; thus, my delay.
    I also have a non-fiction project I’m working on but I don’t have enough to work with just yet to put a proposal together for it.
    I’m working on a memoir, and I know its theme, but I understand memoir is handled the same way as fiction, so I’m not ready to write a proposal for that project either.
    I must give myself time to complete projects or have enough content to prepare and submit a proper proposal for submission.

  11. 11 Andy Harris September 18, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I’ve sold twelve books so far.

    I haven’t discovered any secrets to proposal-writing. I honestly think I’ve done this well only because there are far too few authors in my particular discipline (I write books for beginning computer programmers.)

    I know this:

    1) Publishers don’t care about what I care about. They have to sell the book, and while they probably appreciate my passion, they don’t share it.

    2) This is a business. A book is a risk, and it needs a reasonable chance of return.

    3) Represent your audience. Identify an itch in your audience and prove that your book will scratch that itch.

    5) Take risks. I’ve guessed right about the market several times, so my wild ideas carry some weight.

    6) Deliver. I wish I could say I get book deals because I’m a great writer. I get books done on time, and my work is reliable. These traits matter.

    Honestly, most of my proposals are accepted because I’ve worked very hard to establish a professional and friendly relationship with AEs (I don’t have an agent.) Usually we’ve already discussed the idea before I send the proposal in.

  12. 12 Maribeth September 18, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I would love to try and sell a book based on a proposal. I have my second book in the works right now that I feel in my gut would grab the attention of publishers if I had the chance to propose it to them. I have never attempted to sell a book on a proposal alone but would definitely give it a shot if I was educated enough on how to do it professionally. I am the type of writer that likes to learn as much as possible about the craft before I start submitting. I don’t want to come out of the gates screaming “I am an amateur.” I want my work or idea’s to be constructed in a way that says -this girl did her homework.

  13. 13 Joanna September 18, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I have never written a book proposal because I don’t have a topic and this genre doesn’t feel quite right for me right now. The whole book thing feels big, and you have to have a solid idea first. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to write a book proposal in the future. Publishing a book feels like the ultimate goal as a writer, but all in good time. Baby steps.

  14. 14 Brandy September 18, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Well I haven’t sold a book yet, proposal or not. I think I would be a little hesitant to sell a book based on a proposal alone. What if I didn’t quite capture what I set forth in the proposal? Sometimes I think it would be “easier” (I am using that word on a scale of comparison) to sell a book that is already finished, so that you can show up front what you have to offer as a writer.

  15. 15 Diane J. September 18, 2009 at 10:09 am

    No, I have not sold a book. To sell a book is my ultimate goal (of course, I wouldn’t just stop at one, so long as I could keep getting them published).

    I have a book concept and have just recently started writing, but I’m nervous because I don’t know how to organize my thoughts. It is non-fiction and I try to write down any all elements that I want to touch on and then start writing bits, I have a general idea of how to lay out each chapter, but I could be so far off base that I’m playing in a my own field. I have a hard time not going in order, but when a thought for another chapter or segment that I want to touch on pops up I have to get it down or I’ll forget. This could take a few years, possibly even longer when I try to get my tidbits in order.

  16. 16 writerinspired September 18, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Having been schooled in marketing and copywriting, I absolutely believe a book proposal is key to getting a deal. How to write one? I have no clue – but that’s where the homework comes in. My question is: does/can the proposal come before the book is completed? Having friends in publishing is helpful for tips but I believe it is all in the presentation: of a book proposal. Hey Andy – loved your list, BTW

  17. 17 Daree Allen September 18, 2009 at 10:23 am

    I was in the middle of crafting my book proposal when I stopped short in the Promotion/Marketing section. I knew my credentials were honorable, but not strong enough to sell me as an expert or author. Then voila, I came across your book about building a platform. I still have my draft proposal, but I’m just building my name right now and following your steps.

  18. 18 Kathy Bitely September 18, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I have not written any books yet. I have ideas and a few meager start ups but am really new to this as yet. I continue to read all I can on the subject and LOVE reading all the input on this sight. You guys are giving some great advice. Even those of you in the same boat as I am are encouraging me to keep going. Thank you.

  19. 19 Beth Cato September 18, 2009 at 11:14 am

    I have not sold a book based on a proposal. My only published nonfiction has been in cat anthologies (so I guess I have a cat platform going). As far as fiction goes, I’ve written several query letters and synopses and gone through dozens of drafts. Selling my work doesn’t come naturally to me, but I am getting better. Practice, practice!

  20. 20 Carrie Ure September 18, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I have not yet written a book, on proposal or otherwise, but it is on my life accomplishments TO DO list. It’s also a dream I have had since the age of 16. I don’t believe anything can stop me except a negative attitude or a failure to follow the step-by-step procedures spelled out by Christina and the fine group of accomplished authors with whom she is associated. I have more of a taste or a feel or a dream vision for a potential project, than a rough outline, at this point. But I know that if I keep making daily progress, I will eventually produce an idea and a proposal that a publisher will seriously consider. In the mean time, I am really enjoying the process!

  21. 21 Cat September 18, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I have published a few books strictly through contacts, and have ideas for others, but I need to do proposals for them. I feel like I should know how to do this at this stage in the game, but I really haven’t a clue. Because I have experience, I know people who would consider my proposal, and I’m worried about doing a good one. So I put it off. I need to make this happen, and Michael Larsen’s book looks like a terrific resource. Thanks to Andy Harris for those invaluable tips!

  22. 22 Liz September 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I’d love to write a book and that requires writing a proposal. What has stopped me is not landing on the right topic. I haven’t landed on that because I haven’t spent good, quality time brainstorming the options and taking a peck at them. I think having someone alongside me, a mentor, who’s been there and done it to help advise, as well as a resource like Michael’s could set me up for success! (I also appreciated Andy’s tips – and they give me hope.)

  23. 23 Jessica Varin September 18, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I would love to try and sell a book based on a proposal.
    But first I want to make sure I can write a book. My first book will be a YA novel in line form. To project confidence in my proposal, I know I will need to write and prepare my first book for publication. Currently, I’m kicking around a few story ideas while trying to build a platform and publishing credits.

  24. 24 Emily September 18, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Book proposal…hmmm. I’m not sure yet what sort of book I’d like to write. Until then, I believe it worthwhile to study and learn the process. Oh and of course, continue writing.

  25. 25 Joyce Lansky September 18, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    I have never sold a book on a proposal. I wouldn’t like to sell that way because I am a certified pantser (one who writes by the seat of their pants); however, I think a book on how to write a book proposal would be helpful in organizing my nonfiction works. I’ve written a few nonfiction magazine articles and need guidance for these sorts of projects.

  26. 26 Mar Junge, c3PR September 18, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Publishers are in business to make money. The more concrete information you can provide them about how your book will deliver a good return on investment, the better your odds of getting published.

    Another way writermamas can make money while working on their own books is to help business people self-publish nonfiction books. These books are great promotional tools and can be produced much faster than through traditional publishing channels. The author (your client) pays for the publishing and for your time. Plus, ghostwriting the manuscript and helping the author market his or her book is lucrative and good practice for when you’re ready to publish your own.

    I’ve used both Mission Publishing (missionmarketingmentors.com) and Quick2Publish.com with great success. Mission has a free mini e-course about how to help a client (or yourself) use a book to create a revenue stream. Q2P’s white paper with similar info cost $99. But honestly, Christina’s “Get Known Before the Book Deal” gives you enough information to help you and your client get started. Then, when you’re ready to publish, contact Mission or Q2P or any other self-publisher for a quote and they’ll give you all the additional info you need.

  27. 27 Fawn September 18, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I have not written a proposal, or a book for that matter, but I certainly hope to some day. I have a way to go before I am ready to write a book, and before I have the time needed to commit to such a thing. It is definitely on my life-long to-do list though!

  28. 28 Pam Maynard September 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I have yet to sell a book on a proposal. I would love to and will be doing so soon. I have written a non-fiction chapter book about Greg and how he learns to raise Guinea hens that eat bugs in his garden. I am doing many revisions on the book and need to write my proposal. I need all the help I can get. I am taking the course through ICL and I’m sure there is lots of help there. But until I actually write one, I won’t be comfortable. So, fear of failure is stopping me. I keep putting it off thinking that I won’t do it right and have to keep re-doing it.
    Just need to do it!

  29. 29 Sarah Joyce Bryant September 18, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I have not sold a book on a proposal. The biggest reason I have not done so is because of the advice that the book should be written first. However, I did decide to branch out a little and complete a grant proposal for the book I intend to write over the next year. The decision on the grant funding will be made in December. I am hoping to get a little financial support as I write the collection of essays and then once completed send them out in hopes of getting them published. I already have a few of the essays completed and I posted them on my blog in order to start building a readership now.

  30. 30 Sarah Lindsey September 18, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    I would love to write and sell a book! As I am still in the beginning stages of my writing career, my book goal seems quite far away at the moment…but I know that each step I take in that direction is a step closer to achieving my goal. Before this could become a reality, I would have to research the ins and outs of writing a book proposal (and perhaps take a class on it). The main thing stopping me is that I am currently trying to focus on building up a portfolio and a platform before I take this next (amazing!) step.

  31. 31 Brianne A September 18, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I have not written a book or sold a book on a proposal. It is definitely something that I would love to do in the future, though. I don’t have any solid ideas yet, and I also feel like I need to get some smaller pieces of writing published first. I think that I will be more comfortable tackling a book or proposal after my writing career has blossomed.

  32. 32 Tonja September 18, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    I can’t imagine ever selling a book on a proposal alone. I wouldn’t mind trying sometime but I seriously don’t think I could ever bring myself to do it. The main reason is because I feel like the manuscript has to be complete in my mind and on paper. I think the only way I could effectively “sell” it to an agent or publisher is if I knew it inside and out. Once complete, it would become my baby. Then at that point I could work my hardest to make someone else love it like I do. The other reason I don’t think I could sell a book based on proposal is because I would be entirely too nervous to live up to the expectation. My head is constantly flowing with storylines and until I work through the written process, I would not know if it had any literary value. To have a proposal accepted and then not be able to produce a worthy product would be huge disappointment. It’s a risk that I am not willing to take.

  33. 33 writethejourney September 18, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    What’s stopping me is the right idea. And experience. And confidence.

    I’ve also heard (please correct me if I’m wrong!) that it’s difficult to make money on a book. I know you have to be tenacious to market a book and I’m just not ready to dive in until I have an idea I can stick with for the long haul. In other words, I don’t want to write a book just to say I’ve written a book.

    I guess what I can use now is direction for my niche and guidance to know how (and if) to craft it into an idea that is marketable.


  1. 1 The 2009 Giveaway List: The Writer Mama Back-To-School Giveaway Starts Tuesday, September 1st! « The Writer Mama Riffs Trackback on September 28, 2009 at 9:07 pm
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