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A Surprising Plan for Drafting Your Book Proposal

Industry veterans Jody Rein and Michael Larsen share an excerpt from their new book, How to Write a Book Proposal 5th Edition, about the preferred order for drafting a book proposal.

It may surprise you to learn that the optimal order in which you write your proposal does not match the order of the final proposal; in fact, the writing order has little to do with the proposal’s final structure. We created this writing system to increase your efficiency. We pair sections that build on research from previous sections, and intersperse more difficult sections with those that are less intense. Drafting your proposal in the order we suggest can dramatically increase your productivity and prevent frustration and fear from standing between you and your book. Find inspiration through organization!

This guest post is by Jody Rein and Michael Larsen.

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Jody Rein, former executive editor with divisions of HarperCollins Publishers and Penguin Random House, is the founder of boutique literary agency Jody Rein Books, Inc., and respected publishing consulting and coaching firm Author Planet Consulting. Jody has represented, published and coached hundreds of authors through successful publication in every form, from e-books to international bestsellers to major motion pictures.

Michael Larsen, co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference, is the author or co-author of eleven books. He is an author coach and a former agent, having co-founded the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency, which sold books to more than 100 publishers and imprints.

The following is the order we recommend you write your proposal, and why. As you’re working, don’t forget to write down ideas for other sections and marketing as you draft each of these sections.

  1. Consider pizzazz. Get into the right mind-set by learning about the elements that inspire editorial enthusiasm.
  2. Write the comps section rough draft. Gaining an understanding of comparable and competing titles will inform every other part of your proposal.
  3. Create a draft of your book’s table of contents. Structure your book while the organization of comparable titles is fresh in your mind and the books you’ve just analyzed are still on your desk or in your Kindle.
  4. Draft the book specs. Immediately after drafting the book’s table of contents, jot down objective features like the estimated length, your writing style, and the content structure.
  5. Draft the author bio and platform sections. Why now? For most writers, creating an author bio is relatively easy. You could work on it at any time throughout this process, but tackling it after the book specs provides a break after the more intense organizational thinking required for the previous steps. Also, platform ideas will flow naturally from the research you’ve done to write your bio.
  6. Write about the audience. You’ve just documented your platform, which is the means you have in place to reach your audience. Describing that audience will now be a straightforward task.
  7. Write the detailed outline, and add descriptions to your table of contents draft. Here’s a welcome change: Leave marketing behind, and reenter the world of your book. You’ve flash-written some manuscript pages and determined your book’s structure by this point in the proposal-writing process. Using this material to flesh out your outline is less daunting—and speedier—than coming to it cold.
  8. Write the overview. You now know your book, your audience, your platform, and yourself. Finally you’ve collected the information needed to craft a strong introduction that summarizes your proposal.
  9. Revise your flash writing. Because you have planned your book’s structure and style, you can now productively revise your flash writing into sample chapters.
  10. Add pizzazz. With most section drafts completed, you’re equipped to make an informed judgment about whether to add an attention-getting opener.
  11. Craft additional sections and supplemental material. Your proposal may include extra sections and closing supplemental material. The order in which you write remaining sections won’t affect your efficiency.

How to Write a Book Proposal, 5th Edition: Order now!

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If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.

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