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Literary Agents Information

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Why do I need a book proposal?

A book proposal is your first contact with a literary agent. The book proposal will tell the agent who you are and what kind of book you’ve written.

Most literary agents won’t accept an entire book manuscript unless they’ve specifically asked for it. Literary agents spend their time pitching their clients’ books to publishers, negotiating publishing contracts. and schmoozing with senior editors at major publishing houses. For most of them, these activities take up their work day, and then some. In the meantime, they’ve been inundated with dozens of unsolicited manuscripts and inquiries from writers they’ve never heard of.

The manuscripts are typically returned unopened. Busy agents just don’t have time to read that many book manuscripts. They have to be very selective about manuscripts they read, and that’s why they want you to send them a book proposal before you send the manuscript. If they like what they see in the book proposal, then they’ll ask you to send sample chapters or the complete manuscript. When that happens, it means you’ve been one of the select few to have made it past the first hurdle.

A basic book proposal has four components:

  • A one-page query letter which serves as your introduction to the literary agent and a one- or two-paragraph overview of the kind of book you’ve written.
  • A two- to four-page synopsis of your book.
  • A chapter-by-chapter outline of your book. Each chapter should be summarized in one or two brief paragraphs.
  • A one-page author’s bio

It’s hard to overstate the importance of an effective book proposal. At the end of the day, when the literary agent, tired and ready to go home, finds your inquiry in the stack that have come in that day, the main thing on his or her mind is finding a reason to reject it. Sad but true. If a quick scan of the first paragraph of your query letter tells the agent that you don’t have a clue about what constitutes a publishable book, and that you can’t even take the time to prepare a professional-looking query letter, then the agent will toss your query onto the reject pile and move on to the next inquiry. If the agent is lucky, he or she can thus dispose of the “slush pile” of unsolicited query letters and manuscripts, and may even get home in time for dinner.

You have to avoid giving the agent a reason to toss your query onto the reject pile.

The goal of the query letter is to convince the literary agent to commit a few more minutes to reading the short synopsis you’ve enclosed. The goal of the synopsis is to persuade the literary agent to ask for sample chapters or the entire manuscript.

Want help preparing your book proposal? Click here to send me an email and request a fee quote.

Questions about how my professional manuscript evaluation can help you find the right literary agent for your book? Call me at (505) 796-6895 or click here to send me email.