How to Write a Book Proposal is THE resource for getting your work published. This newly revised edition of the Writer's Digest Books classic outlines how to create an effective, nonfiction book proposal in a clear, step-by-step manner. You'll learn the keys to a successful book proposal and how to:
- Test-market the potential of a book idea and effectively communicate that potential in a proposal - Choose the best agents and editors for a particular proposal - Create a professional-looking proposal package - Predispose publishers to make their best offer
Notes agent and author Michael Larsen also provides insider insights into the publishing industry as well as a plethora of newly updated information including:
- Recent changes in the publishing industry - Updated trend information - New sample proposals - Expanded instructions for creating outlines
You'll also find complete guidelines to becoming an effective self-promoter. How to Write a Book Proposal is a must-have for every writer!
This is the book I recommend to clients who are writing book proposals. Agents love Mike Larsen's format and it's helped my clients get 5-and 6-figure book deals, even for first time authors in this competitive market.
Spoiler alert! After trudging through the amazing amount of work it takes to write a proposal (quite frankly I think it's more work then writing an actual book), there is a chapter on a mini-proposal and on the query letter. Thank Goodness! Otherwise, no proposal for me. This book is an excellent resource, but it did make me consider how short my attention span actually is and that perhaps I should stick to short stories and poetry.
Either this book was written by someone who knows nothing about writing a book proposal or he is writing about completely different proposals than what I am looking for and therefore should make it more clear what types he's writing about. I say this because pretty much EVERYTHING that I read in this book was COMPLETELY different and in some ways opposite than EVERY thing that I have read in any other place. It was very strange to me. Needless to say, the rating for this book was simply for not finding the answers to the questions I was asking that caused me to pick the book up in the first place.
A very useful book, if somewhat on the terse side. I really appreciate the ground the book attempts to cover, and it's definitely a snappy, fast-paced read.
It might be too snappy, as a matter of fact. Some of the topics Mr. Larsen breezes through would probably make a book in their own right. To give you an example, he might discuss social networking on the web, and mention something along the lines of "You need to leverage your social networks to promote your book." That's absolutely true, but how to actually do this would take up an entire book of its own.
Still, the advice on how to structure your proposal is no-frills and perfectly on topic. I also appreciated the tone of the book: Mr. Larsen discusses books as business proposals, and I think that's a much-needed dose of pragmatism when approaching publication.
On the downside, I found the way he introduced subjects by quoting New Yorker cartoons to be trite and old-fashioned, and I wish there was more examples of books that made it to publication. But these are minor quibbles.
Note on the Kindle version: I read this book on Kindle Reader for Android, and the formatting is missed up. Some paragraphs are outdented straight out of the page, and formatting overall is poor. It was almost unreadable because of this, and I wish I had bought the paper version now.
This is a really solid how-to book, and does exactly what it says on the tin. It pretty much takes you through planning your book too. I remember feeling really fired up... right until the reality of the new publishing paradigm* hit me.
I now believe most writers would be better off building a platform and publishing their work themselves. Quite honestly, most publishers would be better off too, given than 90% of books lose money! What many writers forget is that you're trying to persuade a publishing house to invest money in a project that will either lose money, or take a long time to recoup their investment.
However, this book will still help you through fundamental issues like target readerships, etc.
Warning - really only useful for non-fiction, IMHO.
I'm an author who works with other writers to help them develop and sell their books to mainstream publishers. Larsen's book has been invaluable for more than 20 years. He seems to keep it updated to answer questions about what's happening in publishing. It's an excellent book if you are serious about working with mainstream publishers. It not only tells you about the book business per se but gives detailed instructions on writing proposals that SELL. It's the first book I recommend to any new author I'm working with. Not for anyone who isn't very serious about publishing.
The book is written in a fairly engaging way. While occasionally it becomes a bit too superfluous in the topics it covers and general encouragement it is a much more entertaining book for it. It covers all of the topics vital to writing a proposal and formatting it, as well as providing sample proposals and resources for learning more at the back of the book. How to write a sample chapter is also covered, as is how to talk to publishers and get an agent.
It's a thorough book, and a better introduction than many how-to guides that I've seen on the internet have been.
Helpful, eye-opening, fairly clear. First-time writers of non-fiction books may be turned off by the sheer amount of work involved in writing a solid book proposal, but remember how much competition is out there and how much work agents and publishers have before them. If you're serious about your career, anything you can do to push through to the top of the pile is worth it. But yes: writing, and selling writing, and making a career out of writing, is hard work. Very hard work. Surprise!
How to Write a Book Proposal, 4th edition (2011) by Michael Larsen is a total of 316 pages and 2/3 of the book should be called 'How to Build Your Author Platform' and then the last 1/3 is actually more details on how to write a proposal for a nonfiction book with much of that being four lengthy proposal samples, which are helpful but reflect more the success of the platform rather than any actual design in the proposal itself--but we can get into that in a minute.
Just a quick overview before we get started to give you some idea on the layout of this particular book that has seen four editions over as many decades.
Part I: Why the Book? Why You? (pages 1-15)
This is an excellent section for having a novice writer gain a better understanding on which book she should write and to gain some motivation, but has little to do with proposal writing and reads fairly quickly in a matter of ten minutes or so.
Part II: Starting Off the Right: Hooks, Benefits, and Titles (pages 16-54)
This section does have a brief overview of what goes in an actual proposal for nonfiction books and they are (a) the hook; (b) a foreword by a well-known authority, optional; (c) markets; (d) a mission statement, optional; (e) author's platform; (f) promotional plan; (g) competing books; (h) complementary books; (i) about the author.
What I did like about Larsen's take on a process book is how he did include several quotes from writers and editors and inserted them along the way as you gained better insight into crafting a professional proposal.
Jane von Mehren in Editors and Editing she writes: ''The best proposals are those that elicit the fewest questions. Why? Because you've anticipated and answered them all'' (p 19).
That is some great advice and as seen in the above overview by Larsen, and later given in detail and expanded later on in the book, one can see the amount of time it takes to write a well-designed proposal.
Part III: Following the Money: Your Book's Markets and Competition (pages 55-73)
In addition to the inserted quotes, Larsen also includes ''Hot Tips'' in each chapter, and these included some of the most helpful pieces of advice and worth purchasing the book for.
''Bringing publishers written commitments for enough book orders or one big one,'' writes Larsen, ''will guarantee the sale of your book. How far into four figures orders need to be will depend on the book and the size of the publisher you want. Mention any commitments you have in your promotion plan, and if they're big enough, in your cover letter'' (p 61).
Actually, this advice makes sense, but is not for the majority of writers out there who cannot afford to purchase additional books themselves (as many experts did who would then sell them at their own conferences and public speaking engagements) nor for those writers who have little to no time to engage in such activities to build such a platform of confidence that bookstores and other organizations related to the subject of the book would be willing to pre-purchase or commit to buying large quantities of books from an unknown writer. In essence, Larsen often provides excellent advice, but the advice is for the much wealthier class of writers who are blessed with time and money.
Part IV: Reaching Readers: Your Platform and Promotion Plan (pages 74-135)
One of the most helpful chapters in this section is Chapter 16: The Web as Synergy Machine and Larsen includes brief bullet points to help express some key targets to help build a platform on the web:
Email Signature Link Building Maintaining Author Websites Participating in Social Communities Participation in Discussion Groups and Forums Community of Bloggers Write Articles Blog Consistently Teleseminars and Webinars Posting Videos Podcasts E-zines Partnerships Radio and Television Shows Book Reviews Contribute to Wikis Update Profiles Apps for Smartphones (not sure about this one myself)
In the next chapter about building your Author's Bio, Larsen includes some tips on what to avoid:
avoid false humility Don't be cute or overly creative Don't offer sympathy for agents and editors Avoid the words ''currently'' or ''presently''
Part V: Adding Ammunition: Optional Parts of Your Overview (pages 136-147)
I think the best advice comes from one of Larsen's Hot Tips in this section:
''Agents and editors don't want literary one-night stands. They want to discover writers, not just books. Writers who turn out a book a year, each book better and more profitable [the key is money with these guys] than the last, are the foundation of successful agents and publishers. If your books ascend to publishing nirvana and become bestsellers, you will be one of your publisher's most prized authors, a repeater who produces at least one bestseller a year'' (p 136).
Sounds like hype and false encouragement and less like a plan to actually writing a proposal, but the advice is solid. Agents and editors want real writers who can think of amazing stories and write them in amazing ways year after year after year. Most writers today want to write one book and get rich and pay their debts and live the dream and be adored. But that is not what writing is and that certainly is not what being an author is all about.
John Gardner explains in his fine novel On Becoming a Novelist:
''If one is unwilling to write like a true artist, mainly because one needs to, one might do well to put one's energies somewhere else'' (118)
''If you have taken the time to learn to write beautiful, rock-firm sentences, if you have mastered evocation of the vivid and continuous dream, if you are generous enough in your personal character to treat imaginary characters fairly, if you have held on to your childhood virtues and have not settled for literary standards much lower than those of the fiction you admire, then the novel you write will eventually be, after the necessary labor of repeated revision, a novel to be proud of, one that almost certainly someone, sooner or later, will be glad to publish'' (p 145).
Part VI: Putting Meat on the Bones: Your Outline and Sample Chapter (pages 148-183)
Larsen includes the ''Golden Rules for Writing your Outline'' and they are: Write to editors about the chapter; write in the present tense; use outline verbs such as discuss, describe, explain, and examine, varying them and how you use them; and, balance keeping your outline short and proving there's a book in your idea (p 153-154).
Part VII: Ensuring Your Proposal is Ready to Submit (pages 184-196)
The only real advice I can offer out of this section is also the most basic common sense in any proposal writing and that is to remain professional. Larsen is more prolix when he explains:
''The appearance of your proposal will reflect the professionalism with which you are approaching editors, the subject, and your career. It reflects the effort you will devote to writing and promoting your book'' (p 186).
Part VIII: Finding a Happy Home for Your Book (pages 197-230)
Larsen has a great indicator of a true author. He explains that ''you really know you're an author when you've transformed yourself from a writer with something to say into an author with something to sell'' (p 197). Most writers don't actually understand this principle of professionalism that must go into the demand of being a full-time author, and the other writers simply desire to refuse the necessary aspect of a writer having to sell themselves and their work to the corporate machine. I feel for these writers, I really do, but in the end writing is not writing, writing is publishing and publishers need business-minded professionals who can produce money making books in fiction or nonfiction year after year. That is the truth and writers might as well get used to it.
Part IX: Plotting Your Future (pages 231-241)
Larsen ends with some encouraging words, just the same way he began the book. He writes that ''writers who can't write as well as you and aren't as articulate or as good-looking as you are successful authors'' (p 233). Certainly, but these authors are either (a) extremely wealthy; (b) in positions of power; (c) already famous; or, (d) have connections which is called networking, basically one gives another a helping hand. But let's continue with Larsen's words of wisdom: ''If they can do it, so can you! Life is indeed a journey, and you are both the traveler and the destination. As you approach the horizon of your possibilities, you will grow into them and become a more capable you...Believe the words of Samuel Johnson: 'Your aspirations are your possibilities' (p 233).
Appendices (pages 242-317) Resource Directory - highly helpful and informative Bringing in a Media Whiz: Why Hire a Publicist? Marketing Your Book with Other People's Money Four Sample Proposals
And now just to mention the authors whose samples are highlighted in this book for such great proposals.
Allan J. Hamilton and two of his proposals (out of the four) are used in this book. Why? Probably because of his platform and not because of the design of his proposal. Among his credentials Allan has given more than three hundred presentations, sponsored by Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies [I'm not sure if I'd admit this], appeared on National Public Radio, The Discovery Channel, written more than forty scientific peer-reviewed articles, and his family hosts three conferences a year in relation to cancer patients and survivors, and there is lots more (p 272-273). As you can see, Allan is not the run of your mill writer writing some book proposal out of a Larsen's guide book. Allan went to the best schools, got the best university education money can buy, worked in his field for decades before putting a book proposal together as an older man. The point is clear, Larsen's proposal samples are not successful for anything in the structure and design of the proposal. The success of the proposal lies in the author's platform, and this is why Larsen felt it necessary to use two of Allan's proposals.
All in all, I recommend this book not for those who are wanting to learn how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I am sure there are better books out there in the market today. I do recommend this book, however, if you are a fiction or nonfiction writer/author who is seeking new ways to build, develop and expand your platform and reach in hopes of landing a book deal.
Review of How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen 4th Edition (2011)
How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen is a great book if you want to write a book and are looking for some insights. The insights will not only help you sell it to a publisher, if you go that route, but also to the public – or more specifically your audience.
Keep in mind that I read and am specifically commenting on the 4th edition (2011) – and that one is already 10 years old. A lot has happened on the self publishing front since then. But you know what, if you follow some of the guidance in Larsen’s book, if will help you write, and publish a better book for your audience. Period. There is key insight in the book. Great suggestions. And an understanding of the publishing industry that is clearly evident – and lacking from many of us that have been around the industry but not in the industry. Test marketing the production of a book – or any other product, might not be necessary, but is advantageous. It is important to know what the market thinks – if you want to sell copies of your book. The author does not deal at length at writings that are not commercially driven, but then you would, or should not care about attracting a publisher if you are writing for yourself, or your cause. Right? But in the words of Toni Morrison: If there is a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
How to Write a Book Proposal is a complete and comprehensive guide to the proposal writing process. Michael Larson and Jody Rein are clearly well versed in the publishing field and the writing, which is accessible, entertaining, and informative, reflects their combined expertise. The proposal writing process is outlined in thorough detail using examples that are clear and extremely helpful. In addition to providing a detailed outline of how to write a book proposal, the book also discusses topics related to self-publishing and author marketability (such as how to build an author platform). The format of the book itself is engaging and effective, interspersed with humorous anecdotes and helpful tips as well as suggestions on how to structure and customize your proposal. The appendices and supplemental material at the back of the book provide real-world examples of successful book proposals.
Overall, this book is a helpful resource for understanding the process of writing a book proposal, as well as for taking the critical first step in getting published. It is a great guide for first-time authors, literary agents, or authors in need of polishing up their proposals. This book is a go-to guide that every writer should have on his or her shelf!
This is a fabulous guide to proposal writing, covering every step from plotting your outline to coming up with a marketing plan. The only way I think it could be improved would be if there was a full sample with everything properly formatted - sometimes I found myself going back and forth trying to piece it together.
Equal parts practical info and you-can-do-it-ness. With short clear chapters and several lengthy examples, it actually helps the book idea and writing process by starting with the end in mind: what do you have to offer that people want to buy? The proposal is the focusing point for the entire experience. Great as a quick read and also as a detailed reference.
I've been putting off reading this because I thought it would be as exciting as watching paint dry. But I was pleasantly surprised at how the author gets right to the point, gives you meat with fluff and lists followed by more in depth sections. For the nonfiction writer, it is an essential resource for you tools section of your bookshelf.
Good detailed overview of what's involved in a book proposal. Runs through a lot of the basic "special cases" while also giving a sense of more contemporary variations. Very much a list of things to consider with additional examples. It's pitched towards the business side, so there is a lot of ideology to wade through, but it's good to know what the prevailing expectations are.
A well-informed, well-organized, engaging, step-by-step guide to writing a proposal for your nonfiction book: the document that agents use to decide whether to represent you and editors use to decide whether to offer you a publication deal.
Stellar advice on all aspects of the nonfiction book proposal. I found the sections on marketing, resources needed to complete the book, chapter structure, and the style guide most useful. Excellent examples peppered throughout. Indispensable book for the serious nonfiction writer.
I didn't read it cover to cover, but more like a reference guide. I did write a fittest draft of a book proposal modeled off one of the examples (the how-to draw example). I would have been completely clueless without it. We'll see how that goes!
Writing a book proposal for the first time can make a writer's head explode. It's that serious. Larsen does a great job of explaining the process. Although there are a lot of pages, the book is a quick read. Writer's can use this book to make an irresistible proposal. Larsen shows you how to use models to make your book successful and helps you set literary and financial goals that will help you build a platform just to name a few. Larsen points out how to hook a reader, how to search the market and look at your competition, how to build a platform and promotional plan and how to outline your book and so much more. Each chapter is filled with Hot Tips and quotes from professional writers. Readers won't feel alone while going through this process. Larsen covers things to avoid and information for writing any type of book. Learn how to outline a memoir, children's book, murder mystery and anything else your heart desires. Each chapter of the book gives step-by-step explanations as well as examples. Readers will learn how to lay out their idea. Larsen helps the writer in you ask the right questions about your book, how you want the information in the chapters to flow and how to keep the content fluid as you write. Readers will learn how to deal with agents and what to look for in a contract. Larsen has left no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with the media and selling your book yourself. There are sections in this book that cover whether or not a writer should self publish. This is a very popular topic among writers and these sections answer questions that you may not have thought of as an author. The back of the book has a Resource Directory which gives readers a list of agents, marketing sites, podcast directories, media lists and so much more. All of the links found here are a great resource to get a writer down the road to publication. Other resources include publicist and partnering your book. Readers will find sample proposals so that you can make sure you are on the right track. Larsen worked for Bantam and he started Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco in 1972 with his wife. Other books he has written are How to Get a Literary Agent, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 No-Cost, Low-Cost Weapons for Selling Your Work and How to Write With a Collaborator. Larsen also started Larsen Literary Consulting for nonfiction writers. He consults with writers about their books, proposals, and careers. Larsen has done an outstanding job of giving writer's the help they will need with the long journey to publication. Contact him at www.larsenpomada.com.
THE WRITER IS A CRAFTSMAN: AN ESSENTIAL BOOK FOR THE SERIOUS WRITER!
HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen, is one of those books that are necessary to have at the reach of your hand if you are serious about writing. Michael Larsen's is a textbook, and a reference manual for those who've embarked in the journey of writing and wish to make a career out of it.
The table of contents as well as the reference index, make it easier to find specific topics, carefully developed in the chapters that break down to the maximum level of detail in a very eloquent style, deprived of unnecessary academic jargon, not only the steps to follow to produce a marketable book proposal, but also the philosophy that any aspiring or established writer needs to embrace should he/she decides to make it in the business as a writer.
Mr. Larsen does away with false modesty by encouraging the writer to pour out from his bones his/hers skills as well as his/hers particular style, starting with the author's biography. I enjoyed to the fullest how Michael Larsen gives a little bit of history in order to contextualize the Praxis of Writing.
As working artists/writers, we need to embrace the fact that "Like other arts, writing is also a craft that also requires an apprenticeship (...) If you have a lifetime's worth of ideas for books you want to write, then you have to learn your craft. And you don't have to create a masterpiece to prove you're ready. Having a job that requires you to write may suffice."
Another feature that I appreciate in reading and studying HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen, is the abundance of "Hot tips". They often act as a cut-to-the-chase summary of the particular subject matter, or specific aspects of writing and/or the business of writing, developed through the chapters in this excellent book.
Michael Larsen demystifies the craft of writing, and how and author can become successful in the business of writing, by providing us with practical information and easy-to-follow steps in order to get the work done, and sent out to all the constituencies set in place by the business of writing.
However, Mr. Larsen does not hesitate to explore new venues, and keep authors up-to-date on the fact that the business of writing is not just changing, it has already changed. There has been a need for subsequent editions of HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. The author continues to add to them the insights of his clients while using this book as a tool, in order for them, and for all of us, to succeed in the process of paving careers as writers.
You have to jump through many hoops in order to get a book published. Although book sales are high, they are not high enough to keep publishers from taking on new authors – unless you happen to be a celebrity. You may be able to get a publisher’s attention if you first self-publish a book. But if you’ve never published a book before, forget it.
Depressing thought, isn’t it? But this is the central message of literary agent and author Michael Larson’s How to Write a Book Proposal, 3rd Edition; (Writer’s Digest Books; 2003.) Despite the title, this book is not for the unpublished writer. This book is aimed primarily for already published authors, as well as celebrities and individuals who are considered stand outs in their fields.
Get Self-Published … Or Else
Throughout the book, Larson gives many examples of clients that were able to submit their already self-published books to traditional “we’ll-pay-you” publishers. For first time writers, getting self-published is critical. But you still can’t write that book proposal. You have to wait at least a year to see how it sells. Then you can think about maybe perhaps writing the very first draft of your book proposal.
Ouch. This is not the message that an unpublished writer wants to hear. Oddly enough, these same people probably make up the main core of buyers for “How to Write a Book Proposal.” Perhaps the title was accurate during the book’s first edition, but it’s completely misleading now. A better title would be, “Getting Your Manuscript Accepted: Don’t Even Think About It!”
Prepare to Lose Lots of Money
Although this edition came out in 2003, the state of traditional publishing has gotten worse. Traditional publishers will not bother sending authors out on book tours, making up print ads or doing any of the usual promotional activities that they used to. Publishing houses now expect all authors (unpublished or not) to do their own promotion. According to Larson, the most important part of a book proposal is a plan of how you are going to promote it.
Let’s back up to getting a manuscript self-published. Even by using print on demand (POD) services instead of a one-time fixed number run, the first-time author can still expect to fork out at least $10,000. This not only includes the self-publishing service, but your promotion of the book.
Ultimately, How to Write a Book Proposal will make an unpublished author want to slit his or her wrists. But if you already have a book published or are a celebrity or bonked a celebrity, then this book may of some help.
*Note: I actually had a much older version of this book--copyright, 1985; so I imagine some of my concerns with this version are addressed in the more up-to-date ones. I don't have any money for books right now, so I'm wholly dependent upon what my library has to offer!
When I began How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen, I wasn't sure I even needed to be reading this book at this time in my book-publishing research. However, I realized by the second page of that first chapter I have a lot to learn! In those few pages I learned the average length of a completed manuscript as well as the average length of a book proposal. My knowledge continued to increase with each page.
However, one of my biggest gripes with the book is I felt as though Mr. Larsen began by addressing writers of all book types since he mentioned fiction, non-fiction and even children's picture books at a few points. Then, when he was unfolding how to write an outline, he made it seem as though his only focus was a few particular types of books. I think he was simply addressing particular issues typical of those genres, but it still left me feeling a little dazed.
I still have a number of unanswered questions; but, as I mentioned in the earlier note, they are most likely the result of the 25-year-old edition I read.
It was still quite helpful and gave me more knowledge and more to think about as I continue my journey!
What I Liked: This book is handy for any nonfiction writer who is seriously considering trying to get published. The advice is frank and realistic, and Larsen doesn't bother to sugarcoat the fact that it's much easier to get a nonfiction book published if you already have a national platform and damned hard to get published if you don't.
The book itself is written decently well, with its greatest strength being that it's pretty much as straight-forward as you can get. It comes with example book proposals and lists several other resources in the categories it covers. The author also continually updates the book, now in a fourth edition, meaning that it's still timely and decently up-to-date on the latest trends in publishing.
What I Didn't Like: The advice the book has is good, but it's really a skimpy book. I'll be perfectly honest and say that I picked up my copy at a used bookstore here in NYC and frankly, I'm not sure it's worth the 8 bucks I paid for it. You can find most of this advice on several agent blogs if you look for it, including examples of book proposals. Unless you're someone who needs a physical handbook instead of an online one, I'd stick to the internet for this one. Cause it's free.
Last Thought: Good advice, but not worth the money, cause the internet is free.
The one thing a book on this subject must have, above all else, is brevity. Michael Larsen's suitably thin volume has this and many other qualities, making it a very useful tool for the writer who seriously wishes to publish. I can't say whether it actually works or not, as I have not yet sent off a proposal based on this work. However, I have laboriously put together one proposal (for a book which missed its deadline and has become, at least for the moment, rather defunct) using this work as a guide. I can affirm that its wisdom is distilled in sufficiently short order so that it is possible to find your way about in it all, as you are trying to come to grips with the finer details (and not forget anything). A larger book would, in contrast, have you wallowing. In any case, Larsen has built this text from his own experience: he knows it works and he manages to convey that sort of confidence to the reader of "How to Write a Book Proposal." Anyone thinking of writing something publishable would do well to get this beforehand - much of the roadwork can be done on the way and it helps enormously to know what your chances are, before coughing up 200,000 words or more on a subject that no-one will publish anyway.
To anyone trying to publish a book in the future, I therefore say: good luck, and you can increase your chances by reading and understanding this book first.