Cherrilynn Bisbano is an award-winning writer. She founded The Write Proposal after reading hundreds of book proposals with avoidable errors. These errors cost the author a contract or representation. As a submission reader and junior literary agent, Cherrilynn wants you to succeed. Her desire is to help you present a professional and memorable proposal. She has written proposals for Paws for Effect, a Hollywood movie company, and helped edit many proposals. As the managing editor of Almost an Author, she helped the website earn the #6 spot on the Top 100 best writing websites for 2018 by The Write Life and Top 101 Websites for writers with Writers Digest.
Cherrilynn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about the Write Proposal visit www.thewriteproposal.com
Cherrilynn Bisbano is the founder of The Write Proposal, a company that specializes in coaching writers from around the world to creating professional book proposals for every genre of writing. Cherrilynn’s team includes freelance copyrighter and marketing strategist Holland Webb, and award winning editor Crystal Phelps. She was generous enough to share the basic structure of a book proposal and how the different elements change across genres. The book proposal is the first impression that publishers get about you, your writing, and your professionalism. Publishers don’t have the time or resources to get to know every submitting author individually, so the proposal works as a type of resume that gives insight into your book and skills as a writer.
When to start the process:
In nonfiction writing, some people recommend writing the book proposal ahead of time, because it can be an outline for the writing process. In fiction writing, parts of the proposal can be compiled as the book is being written, such as the biography and marketing research. However, the synopsis should be written after the first draft is finished, because the story often changes as the writing process progresses. The proposal for a children’s book should also be written after the book is completed, but the proposal for children’s books are much different than those for different genres. The first step is to go to the website of the agent or publisher to which the proposal is being submitted. If submitting directly to a publisher, make sure that they are accepting books proposals, and that they are interested in proposals for your particular genre. Always check the submission guidelines for that particular agent or publisher.
The following is a generalized format based on what the majority of agents and publishers expect in a book proposal.
The Title Page includes the author’s name, address, email, and the title and subtitle of the book. If working with an agent, their name should also be listed. Be sure to include the genre and word count of the book.
The Table of Contents is for the proposal itself, not for the book that is being submitted.
The One Page Sell Sheet should include the title, genre and word count. It should include a tagline to hook the agent or publisher’s attention. (This section is different from a One Sheet that is often presented at writer’s conferences.) This section should also include the back cover copy for the book. This is the opening summary of the story that is often found on the back cover or inside flap of published books, but should not give away the story’s ending. Include an abbreviated bio, which can detail facts about your writing experience and achievements. Lastly, the One Page Sell Sheet should explain why you are the person to write this book. The only graphic on this page should be a current headshot of the author.
The Biographical Sketch (a.k.a. the Author Page) functions as a resume for the author. This includes your writing experience, education and prior publishing history. You can also list the number of people you reach through social media platforms. Provide a current headshot. This is different from the One Page Sell Sheet, which provides one or two lines about the author. The Biographical Sketch gives much more detail.
The Story Synopsis or Chapter Review is different with fiction and non-fiction. For a fiction book, the synopsis is typically one to three pages summarizing the story from beginning to end. For non-fiction book proposals, this section should include a summary of each chapter in the book. For children’s books, each page of the book should be shown in spreads that include both the writing and illustrations.
The Market Analysis identifies the audience for the proposed book. It should include the identity of the audience, the age, gender, location and income level of the average reader in that audience. This is where a lot of research must be done in the genre. Statistics on sales of similar books should be included, as well as statistics on blogs and magazines with similar content. You must demonstrate that there is an audience for your book, and who that audience will be. Consider special interest groups that would be interested in reading the book. It’s also important to explain how your book meets a need for readers.
The Competitive Analysis deals heavily with current trends in the industry. This section compares your book with other successful books in the same genre. Make a list of seven to ten books that tell the same type of story or give the same type of information as your book. They should each have been written within the last five years. Make sure to compare your book to best sellers. Do not list any self-published books, unless that book has been wildly successful, selling eight thousand or more copies in its first year of publication.
The following information should be included about each book: – Title/subtitle – Author – Publisher – Copyright year – Number of pages – Format (paperback, hardback or ebook) – Retail price – ISBN
When comparing and contrasting each of these books to your own, ask the following questions: – How is my book similar? – How is my book different? – What promise does the author make to the reader? – What promise do I make to the reader that is different or similar? – How are my credentials similar to the author’s?
Make sure to never criticize the authors of these books, but simply compare and contrast their work to yours. It is not necessary to read each of the seven to ten books listed. Read as many as possible and make sure you are very familiar with each of them.
The Marketing Plan is the first place to which some agents and publishers look. This is where an in depth analysis of the author’s platform is given. First, give a general statement about the number of people in the author’s platform. Then, break down each element of the author platform to show how the large number was calculated. This section must prove that the author has a large enough following to sell eight to ten thousand books within the first year of publication. When calculating the platform reach, the author should include every avenue he or she has to publicize the book. This includes religious affiliation, Facebook groups, and social media followers. Ask Facebook and Twitter connections to help spread the word about your book when it is released. If these social media friends have large numbers of followers, that number can be included when calculating the platform reach. Local newspapers, alumni magazines and business newsletters can also provide additional marketing avenues.
Next, list any Endorsements for the book, and the History of the Manuscript.
Finally, provide three sample chapters of the book.
Sometimes, the proposal seems to require more work than the book itself, but a well crafted proposal is vital to the publication process. Without it, there is no way for the agent or publisher to learn about you or your book.
Michelle Medlock Adams is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, earning top honors from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Hoosier State Press Association.
Author of over 80 books with close to 4 million books sold, Michelle’s works have been the recipients of a Maxwell Medal, 2 Illumination Awards and multiple Selah Awards.
Since graduating with a journalism degree from Indiana University, Michelle has written more than 1,000 articles for newspapers, magazines and websites; acted as a stringer for the Associated Press; written for a worldwide ministry; helped pen a New York Times Bestseller; served as a TV host for TBN’s “Joy in Our Town” show; judged writing contests for Writer’s Digest; and served as a blogger for Guideposts. Today, she is President of Platinum Literary Services—a premier full-service literary firm—and co-owner of PlatLit Books. She also serves as chairman of the board for Serious Writer Inc., and teaches courses for Serious Writer Academy (online education).
When not working on her own assignments, Michelle ghostwrites books for celebrities, politicians, and some of today’s most effective and popular ministers. Michelle is also a much sought after teacher at writers conferences and universities around the nation. In fact, she has taught at more than 100 writers conferences, including keynoting at Liberty University and the Todd Starnes Inaugural Fall Retreat at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. She has also served as an adjunct professor at Taylor University twice, teaching “Writing for Children” and is currently teaching again this Spring Semester. Michelle also loves speaking to women’s groups, youth groups, and congregations, encouraging others to discover their destinies in God.
Michelle is married to her high school sweetheart, Jeff, and they have two grown daughters, Abby and Allyson, two son-in-laws, and one grandson, as well as a miniature dachshund, a rescue Shepherd/Collie mix, and two cats. When not writing or teaching writing, Michelle enjoys bass fishing and cheering on the Indiana University Basketball team, the Chicago Cubbies, and the LA Kings.
Caleb: Why did you choose to write in this genre?
Michelle: I’m a non-fiction girl by trade. I went to journalism school at Indiana University. I grew up in this non-fiction world because I truly like to interview people and tell their stories, and get the bottom line. It only made since that when I became a children’s writer I would still love to tell the truth in such a way that kids are enjoying it. It was really a natural fit for me to transition from writing non-fiction for adults to writing nonfiction for kids.
Caleb: How did those experiences help you in your research and in honing your craft?
Michelle: I always say the best training you could have as a writer is to work for a daily newspaper. You learn how to write accurately, and you learn how to write tight and very quickly. I think that really did set me up to be able to write for children, because I learned how to write tight and say a lot in a few words. And with kids, when their attention span is that of a fruit fly, you have to learn how to make it interesting.
Caleb: Is it easier to write for children or easier to write for adults?
Michelle: Having written for adults and children, I would say writing for kids is way harder. It’s also more rewarding. Now, it is more work because, especially with nonfiction you have to take facts, and figures and interesting things and make sure you write it in such a way that it doesn’t read like a report.
Michelle has written many types of Children’s Nonfiction, including celebrity biographies, activity books, coloring books and devotions for women and children.
Caleb: What inspired you to write devotions for children?
Michelle: I learned how to write tight early in my career. If you’ve written devotions, those are usually around 225 words, maybe 50 for the prayer and the scripture. You don’t have a lot of words there. I love to write for kids, and I love to write devotions. Let’s do devotions for kids! That was a no-brainer! Anytime you can take something that kids are fascinated with and make it into a scriptural lesson for them, that is a great way to make nonfiction fun.
Caleb: What are the Hallmarks of Children’s Nonfiction? What are things that editors, agents and publishers will be looking for? Also, what are some landmines that you’re going to want to avoid?
Michelle: You can use all of your fiction skills as a writer – the storytelling skills. It can be nonfiction and still be super interesting. Put me right there in the scene, and let me smell what you smell. Let me hear what you heard. Sometimes in nonfiction, people will take liberty that they shouldn’t. If it says “nonfiction” you have to just stick with the facts. That’s one of those red flags you’ve got to watch out for. If you can’t find it and back it up, don’t put it in there. You’ve got to have your source!
Caleb: Do you have any tips on how to properly conduct research for nonfiction?
Michelle: You want to have 2 to 3 sources for everything, so make sure you keep track of your sources in a separate file so that when you turn it in, you’ll be able to prove where everything came from. That’s one of the other things you’ve got to be careful of with nonfiction – you need to know where you got the information and make sure it’s a credible source. If Wikipedia is your main source, then you are never going to get another assigned work from that publisher.
Michelle suggests finding credible sources such as museum websites, other books that have been written about your topic, scholarly journals, university presses and the Library of Congress website.
Caleb: Most books for kids are significantly shorter than books written for adults. What are some other ways to compensate for a child’s short attention span?
Michelle: Always have a story. Draw them in with something they can relate to. Keep it funny.
Michelle uses the Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra and Tayopa Mogilner, which can be used to help children’s writers find words that are appropriate for their audience’s reading level.
Michelle: Keeping your sentences shorter will obviously make it for a lower grade level. But even when you’re doing that, I don’t like it to read choppy.
Caleb: Great advice! Just because something needs to be digestible, doesn’t mean it can’t be eloquent.
Michelle: I think some people think, “I can write nonfiction, and it doesn’t have to be as good.” No, it has to be better. It’s like digging for those pearls – those stories that maybe nobody else knows, or at least hasn’t been told in the way you’re telling it.
Sometimes in nonfiction books, they want you to provide activities so that you drive home the message in that chapter. I think that’s a great idea, because sometimes we don’t remember things until we apply them. There are also some topics that we call “evergreen.” Forever and ever people are going to need them (books about bullying, fear and concept books such as ABC and counting). Write about some of those hard issue needs, like what happens when somebody dies. That’s a nonfiction book that has to be written, because kids need to know what happens.
Caleb: Do you spend a lot of time around kids?
Michelle: I always say my best friends are 3 feet and under. Every summer I go to Camp Challenge, and I hang out with them for an entire week. I’m just listening to the kids and hearing how they phrase things, how they talk and things that are important to them. If you don’t love kids, this is not for you. You have to really love your audience. You should be reading what they’re reading.
Michelle can be found on social media and on her website, MichelleMedlockAdams.com.
Michelle’s newest book, “Dinosaur Devotions: 75 Dino Discoveries, Bible Truths, Fun Facts, and More!” is available for purchase on Amazon.