Nine things every book proposal needs

Finding Literary AgentsYou’ve written a book you think could be a best-seller. Now there’s only one thing standing between you and a big publishing deal: a literary agent.

On the Ploughshares Blog, Steph Auteri offers some great advice on how to make your book proposal stand out from the dozens or hundreds of other pitches the agent of your dreams received that week.

Take a look at her Checklist of Book Proposal Essentials to Go Through Before You Start Schmoozing Agents for the full details, or read my quick summary below.

A compelling book proposal should have:

1. A catchy title and subtitle. Though the publisher could always change the name of the book later on, you want to give them the sense right from the start that this book is a finished product.

2. An irresistible book description. You’re a writer — so take time writing your book description too. Make it shine from the very first sentence. Convey what is both unique and universal about your book. If you don’t, the agent will most certainly move on to the next proposal in the pile.

3. Pertinent info about YOU. What’s your background and field of expertise? What are your notable accomplishments, literary or otherwise? You want to use this info to convey to the agent that you were made to write this book.

4. Details about your manuscript. Paint a mental picture for your agent of the finished book. What’s the word count? What are the genre categories that this book might be filed under? Where are you in the writing process?

5. A clear acknowledgment of your target audience. Will your book be easy to sell, and to whom? That’s what publishers want to know right from the get-go. If an agent can convince a publisher that your book meets an existing need of a particular demographic, you’ve greatly increased your chances of landing a deal.

6. A competitive analysis. What sets your book apart from similar books that are already available? By providing specifics you’ll demonstrate that there is a ready-made market for your book, and that it’s different enough from other titles to capture that audience.

7. Your marketing and PR plan.

Many traditionally published authors have to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the word out about their books. So how are you going to turn your book into a hit? The agent will want to know about your existing readership, how you plan to use your platform to promote the book, which online outlets you’ve used to build your audience, where you might have existing media connections, where you’ll do readings, book tours, etc.

8. A table of contents. Provide an outline with one paragraph descriptions for each chapter so the agent can conceptualize the book.

9. An excerpt from the book. As some folks say, the proof is in the pudding — so give them a little taste of your ACTUAL book, whether it be a sample chapter or something longer.

Now that you’ve compiled all your book proposal essentials, here’s one last VERY IMPORTANT bit of advice from Steph Auteri:

After you’ve pulled all of this information together, resist swamping agents’ inboxes with the whole damn thing. Most agents prefer to receive a brief query letter first, inviting them to check out / request your proposal. Agent preferences vary, so be sure to do due diligence before sending things out, checking out the instructions on their agency websites.

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Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."


  1. I have five short stories to make up a book amounting to 40,153 words and would like to have the book published.

    I have not had anything published before but like I have been told, everyone has to start somewhere. I am looking for advice.

    Thank you.
    Jean Kehoe


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