Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Write a Book Proposal

by Sandy Tritt

So you have to write a book proposal. Okay, the first thing you should do is panic. That’s right. Panic. After all, writing a book proposal is akin to stepping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and praying you’ll have enough wits to pull your parachute release at the right moment. Or standing in front of 15,000 professionals to give a sixty-minute presentation—without knowing the subject you’re to have prepared. Or taking your fifteen-year-old out to drive for the first time—in rush hour traffic. In downtown Rome. Fear Factor has nothing on book professionals. Eating bugs is easy. Writing a proposal? Yikes! If that doesn’t get your heart pumping hard enough and long enough to count as your daily aerobic exercise, you just might be dead.

Assuming you’ve survived the panic step, it’s time to move to the next stage: Avoidance. This usually starts by playing computer solitaire or scrubbing the garbage disposal. It can last for weeks or even months. Once your garage is alphabetized, your basement sanitized, and every item in your closet starched, pressed, and color-coordinated, it’s time to move on to the third step: Actually Doing Something.

Now what? Sit down at your computer, sign onto your word processing program, open a new document, and save it as “manuscript name Book Proposal,” replacing manuscript name with the name of your manuscript. If you’ve already chosen the agent or publisher to whom you’ll be submitting your proposal, review the suggested proposal contents. Most will provide a list of what to include, which may or may not include a cover page, table of contents, sell sheet, biographical sketch, book description, chapter outline, sample chapters, market analysis, competitive analysis, marketing plan, and manuscript history. If you haven’t selected the recipients or if you want to create an all-purpose proposal, that’s fine; just include all the items in the above list. You’ve already panicked and you’ve already avoided, so breathe slowly into a paper bag and stay with me. In your open document, put the first requirement at the top of the page. Insert a page break and type the second requirement. Insert a page break and type the third. And so on, until you have one page for each part of the book proposal. Now, you are ready to move on to the next stage: Writing Your Proposal.

Start with the Cover Page. Type the name of your book, your name, your mailing address, your email address, and the genre and word count of your manuscript. Center it on the page and make it look nice. Insert a page break and go to the next page, Table of Contents. This means the table of contents of your book proposal, not your manuscript. List each of the remaining items in your book proposal and leave a space to fill in the page number later. Wow. You’ve already knocked off two of those empty pages. Now, take a look at the pages that are left. Which one is the easiest for you? Perhaps you know exactly which chapter or chapters you want to include for the Sample Chapters. Copy and paste them into your book proposal. Another page done. Perhaps you’ve already written a synopsis of your work. Copy and paste it into your Sell Sheet. Now, again, look at what pages you have left and pick the easiest one. If you need to write a bio, remember the agent or editor is looking for why you are the best person to write this specific book, so unless having spent six months in the hospital when you were eight directly affects your ability to write this book, don’t mention it. Likewise, don’t mention your parents or your siblings or your first grade teacher unless they directly affect your book. Instead, choose your education, professional experience, and writing history—awards, publications, and completions. Type this on the Biographical Sketch page.

Look again at your remaining pages. The Competitive Analysis. This is the part that scared me the most, but turned out to be the easiest. I’d suggest making a trip to a large bookstore or your local library. Find the place on the bookshelf where your book should appear, and look at the books that surround this space. Select the best known ones and write their title, author, publisher, and a sentence or two to describe the book. Then write another sentence or two on what your book offers that this one doesn’t. You only need four or five books. And you’re done with another blank page.

Okay, what’s left? The Book Description. Describe your book, including its purpose, its intended audience, and what the reader will take away when he or she reads the book. Include what makes your book unique or compelling. The Market Analysis. Identify your book or novel's audience—the specific type of person who will read your book, such as parents of newborns or young people who are preparing to join the military, and then describe your ability, if any, to sell books at speaking engagements, conferences, book signings, and other events. The Marketing Plan is simply reassuring the agent or editor there is a market for your book and you are able and willing to help market it. List ways in which you will assist in the marketing of your book: perhaps you will set up a website, create promotional giveaways such as bookmarks or postcards, arrange your own book signing, or attend conferences where people will be interested in this subject. If a Manuscript History is requested, list any editors or publishers who’ve reviewed your manuscript and the ensuing result.

Now, we have only one area left: Chapter Summary. Although this may take a bit more time, it shouldn’t be a difficult task. First, list your chapters by number and/or by name. Then, look over the chapter and write a paragraph that summarizes that chapter. Many times, the chapter’s opening and closing paragraphs will give you this information. If not, list the most important topics or ideas covered in this chapter. Now, go back and enter the page numbers on your table of contents. And guess what? You’re finished. Yep. Done. DO NOT bind it unless the editor or agent has requested you do so. All you have to do is proof it, send it out, and pray.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Oh, and if you can’t get past steps one and two (Panic and Avoidance), shoot off an email to us at We offer a variety services to edit or write your submission package (which may include a query letter, synopsis, cover letter and/or book proposal). Do note that as a general rule, most agents or publishers will first request a query letter. For fiction, they will then often request a synopsis and the first three chapters. For nonfiction, they will often request a book proposal. Some will also request a book proposal for fiction. We do not usually recommend writing a book proposal for fiction queries unless requested by a specific agent or publisher. Regardless of what you need, we can take out the fear and add in some professionalism. Just give us a call!

For more great tips and expert advice, visit our website at

(c)Copyright 2010 by Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Misplaced Modifiers

by Sherry Wilson

Many a joke has been made about misplaced modifiers. Here’s one of my favorites: Rugby is a game played by men with peculiarly shaped balls. I’m sure it’s the rugby balls that are being referred to but it certainly isn’t clear, is it? We must go back and put the modifier (a word or group of words which clarifies the meaning of another word or phrase) closer to the noun it modifies. Rugby is a game with peculiarly shaped balls played by men. Or: Rugby is a man’s game played with peculiarly shaped balls.

If the modifier is not near the noun or verb it modifies, the meaning of the sentence will be unclear or incorrect. Read the following sentences and rewrite them placing the modifier closer to the noun or verb it is intended to modify.
a) The teacher will explain why it was wrong to cheat on the test on Wednesday.
b) I took a bag on the train stuffed with my favorite books.
c) The teacher told her class to read the story in a strict tone of voice.
d) Mary threatened to leave him often.

Look for the modifiers in your own work and make sure they are placed properly. It will put you on the path to clearer prose.

(c) Copyright 2010 by Sherry Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Keep Writing

By Rhonda Browning White

The most ardent, self-disciplined taskmasters occasionally have weak moments when we find it hard to write, but it’s important to work through those feeble hours. How do we do it? How do we make writing a priority and encourage ourselves to put words on the page? These easy steps will keep you going through the driest days of writing drought (and doubt).

1. Give yourself permission to write. To whom does this dream, this life-goal, this road to success belong? It belongs to you! So why do you need anyone else’s permission to pursue it? Simply put, you don’t. You only need your permission. So what are you waiting for? Go write!

2. Beat your doubt into submission. Face it; you’re not going to wake up each morning eager to jump headlong into writing. In fact, most days you won’t even want to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button at least once. Don’t wait for the Muse to sit on your shoulder. She’s a fickle little witch, anyway. You don’t need her. Write without her, just to spite her!

3. Write down your dreams. Start big! New York Times Bestseller list? Fine. Now break it down. Might need to write a book first, right? That’ll mean finding an agent, as well. How will she know you’re any good? Ahhh, yes, she’ll see your list of bylines. Don’t have any? Time to write some short stories, articles or poems. Have you already written some good ones? Then send them out! Breaking your dreams into manageable pieces is the first thing to do. Then take one step toward completing those steps each week (or each day)! And keep writing.

4. Accept that you’ll never see the bottom of the laundry basket. There will always be clothes to wash, pots to scour, floors to mop and bathtubs to scrub. And they’ll be there after you’ve finished writing today. (Trust me; the housecleaning fairy doesn’t exist—I’ve set many traps for her, to no avail). If dinner isn’t started on time, order pizza, and keep writing. Ask your family to pitch in and help with chores. If they ignore your pleas, they’ll figure out that someone needs to go to the grocery store when the cupboards are bare. In the meantime, keep writing.

5. Learn to accept rejection. Realize that a rejection of your manuscript isn’t a rejection of you, as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer. It may simply mean that your work was too long, too short, too funny, too sad, or didn’t fit the space or theme of a particular magazine’s forthcoming subscription. Or it could be that the agent or editor simply doesn’t like the genre or style in which you write. The next agent might think it’s the best thing she’s ever read! Rejection happens. Get over it, and keep writing.

6. Submit your work. The best thing I know of to inspire more writing is publication. Of course, you have to take a moment to dance your way back from the mailbox, and you may have to crack open a bottle of champagne, or go out to dinner tonight to celebrate. But as soon as you return home, start writing. It’s important to feed the excitement of inspiration with words and more words. And more words. Your words. Build off your own momentum. Keep writing!

(c) 2010 Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 9, 2010


"A Few Classic Books For A Writer's Bookshelf"

"Writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they're quite different from people who must write."
~Harper Lee, author
from a 1964 interview

Writers must read. The mass of titles about writing available year after year make choosing suitable books daunting. The "good ones" never go out of style and the information is timeless, because there are writers who write and writers who MUST WRITE or life is unbearable. Either way, a writer will appreciate the kernels of knowledge found in the following classic books about writing.

BECOMING A WRITER, Dorothea Brande (J.P. Tarcher, Inc.)

Brande taught creative writing in the 1920's, but her guidance is still very aplicable to the writing life and process. She admits that writing "genius" cannot be taught but because it is a writer's magic that creates the good writing and not something more cerebral. Granted, the intellect must achieve a level of functional correctness such as grammar and punctuation, but the process of accessing the story is very teachable to anyone. Brande encourages reading "all the technical books on the writing of fiction that you can find," as well as tapping into honesty for the true source of a writer's originality. This book is considered a classic among writing texts and is available in reprinted versions regularly. I like that Brande recommends meditation as part of a writer's process but she calls it "Artistic Coma."

IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit, Brenda Ueland
(Graywolf Press)

Ueland refers to genius in her book as well, but, as the title infers, she challenges the foundations of people who think they want to write. Her goal is for the reader to understand conceptually that writing is art and real art, quoting Leo Tolstoi, " infection." It is something a writer notices about themselves and simply must infect others with and so he writes! I love the symbolism of art/writing as an infection and the only cure is to write the art down and share it with others. That is a great metaphor for the compulsion necessary to continue writing. Granted, some writing days are better than others, but the persistence never burns out for some writers, and Ueland provides a handy book of reinforcements or "medicine" for those infected by the writing bug. The best part is that Ueland believes that EVERYONE is a valuable writer on some level. Good book, also readily available as a classic reprint.

BIRD BY BIRD, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott
(Anchor Books)

If you are a 21st century writer and haven't read this wonderful book, you are missing an important piece of the writer's tool kit: acceptance. "The only constant is change" says the Greek proverb and that is sometimes harder to cope with than others. Lamott has come through the fires as a person and a writer and even though this too is an older book, its messages are timeless. Once you read this one, you will understand that writing is a process that requires certain steps performed in a particular order over and over and one at a time. Still in print and should never go out in my opinion.

Right now I'm reading THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ROMANTIC LOVE, ROMANTIC LOVE IN AN ANTI-ROMANTIC AGE, by Nathaniel Branden, Tarcher/Penguin.

Check out my recent book reviews online:
THE DAUGHTERS, Joanna Philbin


Be well, write well,

Copyright Joy Held 2010