How to Write a Killer Book Proposal

Lesson 10/11 - Query Letter Basics & Submission Guidelines


How to Write a Killer Book Proposal


Lesson Info

Query Letter Basics & Submission Guidelines

Let's talk query letter basics. So, you can write a book proposal but you can't send it unless you have a query letter. The query letter is, literally, the text that you paste into the email to the person that you're addressing that sort of sets up the case and introduces yourself and it's your cold-call basically. Again, there can be an entire course on query letters, they're very tricky little beasts, but I wanna give you a couple of tips before we wrap up. The first one, research and customize. At the beginning and end, you wanna emphasize why you're sending this proposal to this person, to this agent, to this acquiring editor. Do your research and make sure that the people that you're querying are the right people to be sending your proposal to. And, it's similar to a resume, again, boilerplate is not gonna get you as far as custom, so definitely customize. And, again, make sure that the person that you're addressing is actually accepting queries. There are agents who just don't ta...

ke unsolicited submissions at all, ever. There are some who take them sometimes and who don't at other times; and there are some who the door is always open. You want to make very sure that the person that you're addressing actually has a snowball's chance in hell of looking at what you're sending them. So, make sure they're queries at the time that you're sending yours. You don't wanna repeat your overview here because they're gonna look at that section of your proposal, but you're gonna use that same sort of sell-copy approach. One of the things that I've heard from literary agents that I know is, and this may hurt a little bit to hear, the very first introductory paragraph should not necessarily be "Hello, I'm Sally McGraw and I've written a book." And, it also should definitely not be that unless I'm a pretty impressive person. You can hit them with your name and your accomplishments if you already have bestselling titles, if you have an incredibly successful Ted Talk, if there's something in your resume that is gonna really catch their attention right off the bat, then you can open with that. Otherwise, I recommend diving into the book. Start talking about the book right up front, first paragraph. And, it can be an anecdote from the book. It can be what the book is going to do and how it's gonna help the audience that it's gonna reach. Whatever it is, focus on the book instead of you, unless you are a pretty impressive human already. What the book is, who you are, and why this person should help you publish it. This is your cold-call so you wanna tell this person about the book and also a little bit about yourself and then... That you wanna tell them why you think they're the ideal partner to help you polish the book, get it out to publishers, and then get it out to readers. Again, this requires some research. Most literary agents have... They get so many queries, they wanna make sure that the people who are sending the queries know what they're looking for; so they will list out... They'll say I do these types of books. I'm most interested in these topics. I do not want you to send me, typically it's things like poetry and screenplays because literary agents aren't... Those are tough sells for them. One of the ways that you can deal with this in the query letter is to say because you represented this title, I knew you'd be interested in my book; which shows you did your research and also is a great way to say this is a topic area that you are clearly already involved in, let's work together and make my book the next bestseller. You're query letter needs to be short. I would say 350 words. You really want this to be hard-hitting copy and every work has got to count, so keep it short and sweet, and then you're gonna dig into the proposal itself. The reason for that, which we've said a couple times, is agents get so many queries, you guys. They get hundreds every single week. So, hone, edit, cut, and then, cut some more. Make it really, really short and tight. Now, let's talk about why you need to check submission guidelines. I hinted about this a little bit earlier. You need to do your research on what agencies want from you and what they don't want from you. And, what we'll see here is that some give you lots of information, some give you almost no information. And, those six sections that we've talked about today, again, they're a safe bet. If, what you see from an agency that you wanna query is pretty vague and you send them all of these things, that's probably gonna be fine. However, if there are things that are clearly missing or there are certain sections that we didn't cover today, you need to include those too because, again, hundreds of submissions and they're looking for any excuse not to look at yours. So, if they want it double-spaced and yours is single-spaced, that's a great reason to just delete your email. And, you don't wanna give them that reason, so look carefully. These are from four different literary agencies. Agency one says, "make your submission letter "to the point and as brief as possible. "We recommend including a short synopsis of your work, "an author bio, and the first five pages "of your manuscript, pasted into the body of your email, "no attachments please." That's another thing that you're gonna see quite a bit. Many agencies do not want attachments because of various spam filter problems. It can feel kind of weird to paste 30 pages of text into an email but that's what a lot of them want and need and if you send them an attachment, again, they're just gonna filter you right out and not look at what you've sent them, so pay attention to that. Agency two digs a lot deeper. "Please send a query letter and your book proposal. "A non-fiction book proposal should include; "an overview, author bio, length and delivery date, "five to ten takeaways," and even tell you what that is. "The key selling points of your book, "comparative titles; "analyzing five to eight comparable books "that have been published in the past 10 years, "with one to three sentences on why that book "was successful and what that book did not cover, "which yours will. "Target market audience, marketing plan, "chapter outline with a few sentences "describing each chapter, "and one to two sample chapters. "Please send all items in the body of an email, "not as an attachment." As you can imagine, that's gonna be a lot. It's gonna be a lot but you gotta follow their rules. Agency three just says, "For non-fiction submissions, "please sent a query letter, proposal, "and sample chapters." So, in this case, you would be totally safe doing the six sections we've covered today. Last one says, "Please send a query letter "and the first few, up to 10, "pages of your manuscript or proposal "in the body of an email, not an attachment." See the theme? "To one of the addresses below." So, this is why you need to look specifically at the submission guidelines before you put your submission together. I've done so many submissions for authors and they... If you don't follow their instructions to the letter, it's just an excuse to weed you out. So, once you've identified an agent and an agency that you're interested in working with, look very closely at their submission guidelines before you send them anything.

Class Description

You might have an amazing book or idea to sell, but the only way you’ll be able to seal the deal is with a strong, persuasive book proposal. Much more than just an introduction to your book, a proposal gives literary agents and acquiring editors the information they need to make the tough decision to take on your work.

Writer, editor and consultant Sally McGraw will teach you the six essential elements of a solid book proposal and how you can make your case in the most creative and convincing way possible.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Persuade rather than summarize.
  • Figure out your target audience.
  • Create a market analysis and choose comparison titles strategically.
  • Write a bio or have someone else write it for you.
  • Define your author platform and explain what you’ll do to make your book a success.
  • Create a chapter-by-chapter outline.
  • Write a short, sweet and attention-grabbing query letter.


Beth Howard

Sally's presentation was excellent. She is articulate, professional and informative. I learned some great tips about adding statistics (and how/where to find them.) I especially appreciated her guest speakers, two seasoned literary agents who added helpful perspective. More classes from her, please!

Lee-Sean Huang

I am currently in the process of preparing my own book proposal. Sally's class is concise and super helpful in breaking down the elements and considerations needed to be awesome. I feel like I will be coming back to re-watch this while I prepare my proposal.