Book Proposal Basics – First Things First

Each author is unique, so are proposals. This series doesn’t cover all possible categories but highlights many challenging components of book-proposal writing. My goal is to help authors know what editors and agents want to see and to offer tips on how to get out of the slush pile and into the “must publish” queue! Another benefit I hope this series will provide is the encouragement to move forward and not get frozen, unable to move forward out of anxiety that your proposal isn’t good enough. Don’t be fearful. Do your best and keep writing. Editors and agents will ask for more information as needed.

Title Page

If you like, you can make the title page stand on its own. Alternatively, you can begin your proposal on that page as well. It’s up to you. For this post, we’ll say you’re making the title page stand alone. It should include the following:

Book Title

Try to make this creative and unique but not too far out. Ultimately, the publisher will select the title, which may well be yours! That’s because the publisher must use every means possible to get the reader’s attention. Of course, that includes a snappy title. If you have a fantastic title that you can write in the subject line of your email submission, then the agent or editor may want to open yours first. Even better, a great title will make the reader jump right on your book!

  1. Fresh and new: When thinking about your title, search it on Amazon and other places on the internet to be sure it doesn’t conflict with a recent book.
  2. Special tip for romance writers: Please search for your proposed title, because even the most innocuous title may have decorated a beefcake cover. Also consider that since the romance genre is narrow, excellent titles tend to be recycled too often if one isn’t careful.

Genre

Define where your book fits into the market to help the agent or editor acclimate to your work and determine right away if this is a genre they are actively seeking.

Is your novel contemporary or historical? As a reader, I am annoyed if I think I’m in the present, only to find on page ten, the heroine boarding a carriage while ever-so-gently lifting her hoop skirt, making sure she doesn’t accidentally bare her slim and well-curved ankle for all to see.

Name

Tell us if you’re writing under a pen name.

Contact Information

On the front page, I find it helpful to have the author’s name (“real” name if using a pen name) physical address, email address, and telephone number. Yes, I do need to know in what time zone you reside. Since I’m on the East Coast, I’d hate to make a 6 AM telephone call to you in California, even with the best of news!

 

Your Turn:

What is the best book title you can remember?

What is the title of the book you are currently writing?

What other tips can you offer to get attention on your title page?

_____

Steve Laube has a course on book proposals at The Christian Writers Institute, which includes a one-hour lecture, a short ebook on the topic, and sample proposal templates. Click here for more information.

 

 

52 Responses to Book Proposal Basics – First Things First

  1. Avatar
    Seralynn Lewis March 21, 2019 at 6:14 am #

    Proposals are difficult when every agent or editor has a different idea of what they should be. If you have an agent, follow their lead. If not, check the publisher’s website to see what they want to see. Do your homework. This is your only chance to make it right.

    For the title page and even throughout the proposal, more than two font types per page will distract the editor or agent from the story.

  2. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray March 21, 2019 at 6:19 am #

    Tamela, this is great stuff, and I am anxiously awaiting future installments in this series.

    Best book title I’ve ever seen? TrueFaced – which is a play, I’m sure, on Two-Faced, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch. Not only is it a snappy title, it’s an excellent read.

    My current manuscript title? God-Faced Forgiveness
    Subtitle – The Christ-Follower’s Response to a History of Toxicity and Abuse

  3. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 21, 2019 at 6:26 am #

    Thanks for this. I hope to learn something.

    I bought & read Steve’s e-book, but it still didn’t tell me exactly how to structure a proposal. It just had tips and “what to avoid.”

    I’m glad you are going through a proposal piece by piece.

  4. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver March 21, 2019 at 6:30 am #

    Tamela, Thanks for this post. You all, at the agency, are so helpful.

    And Damon, when does your book get published? It looks like one I would like to read.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray March 21, 2019 at 6:38 am #

      Oh, goodness Roberta! I’m honored and flattered. Thank you!

      I am about 85-90% draft-complete and will be slapping the proposal together win the next couple of weeks. As you know, from there an agent needs to pick it up, present it, a publisher has to be wow’d to the point of nearly fainting, and IF they opt to publish it, we’re looking at about a two-year process. The world of publishing is infamous for moving at a snail’s pace.

      Perhaps you could be a beta reader?

  5. Avatar
    Janine Rosche March 21, 2019 at 6:34 am #

    My tip: make sure your romance title doesn’t sound like a horror story. True story.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray March 21, 2019 at 6:39 am #

      LOL!! Okay, Janine, you can’t just leave that out there flapping in the wind. We need examples. 😉

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2019 at 7:15 am #

      This is getting more and more fun!

  6. Avatar
    Terry Whalin March 21, 2019 at 7:09 am #

    Tamela,

    Great work on this article. Your various pieces are critical and those of us who have reviewed thousands of proposals (no exaggeration) understand that we have seconds to review the proposal–and authors need to understand that they only have one chance to make a good first impression–one–so polish it to excellence then get it out into the market.

    Also we are looking for quality submissions every day–but it has to be the right submission for that agent or editor. Thanks again for this series and I look forward to the next installment.

    Terry
    Author of Book Proposals That Sell

  7. Avatar
    W Terry Whalin March 21, 2019 at 7:15 am #

    Tamela

    Can’t type today. Third time charm

    Terry
    Author of Book Proposals That Sell

  8. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver March 21, 2019 at 7:29 am #

    Damon,

    Of course I would enjoy being a beta reader for your manuscript. That is, if it doesn’t have to be done within the next few months. I have a lot on my plate right now.

  9. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell March 21, 2019 at 7:56 am #

    Thank you so much for this information!

  10. Avatar
    Maco Stewart March 21, 2019 at 8:09 am #

    Very timely, thanks so much, Tamela. I see that Bob and Steve (but not you) are slated to attend the BRMCWC at the end of May, so that gives me a deadline for assembling a compelling proposal. Keep ’em comin’!

  11. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 21, 2019 at 8:30 am #

    I almost made a major genre mistake on the title of my book coming out in May. I almost called it Invisible Man. Thanks to my betas, including Andrew, I changed it to True Freedom with a tagline “The chains we cannot see can be the hardest ones to break.” It’s the story of a Roman-era Christian slave, his pagan mistress, and her brother and how the man they never bothered to notice ends up changing the lives of them all. He was “invisible” as a mere slave, hence the title. But when my two betas and Andrew all told me it sounded scifi instead of Roman-era Biblical, I knew I had to change it. They helped me pick one that works for my genre.

    Proposal cover question for fiction: Is coming up with a great tagline for your novel and including it on the cover page under the title a useful idea for catching an agent’s interest?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2019 at 10:43 am #

      You got great advice on the title, even though the original title you had works when you consider the context of the story.

      I will address taglines and such later, but I have no objection to that appearing on the title page.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray March 21, 2019 at 1:37 pm #

      I really like the new title and subtitle.

  12. Avatar
    Lillian March 21, 2019 at 9:47 am #

    Tamela, Once again, your post is SO timely for the proposal I’ve been working on. I wasn’t quite “frozen” but definitely experiencing cold feet. 🙂 I appreciate Seralynn’s comment about the variables in what publishers want. My proposal includes a cover letter, an overview of what the book is about (guess you could call it the proposal), an outline, and sample chapters.
    After reading the guidelines for submissions, I think I have it right.

    One of my favorite titles represents a book written by a missionary to India, Amy Carmichael — Rose from Brier. It’s an extraordinary devotional of personal letters written during twenty years of illness while on the mission field. Each letter truly represents a “rose for others” from her brier of pain and suffering.

    The Other Doctor is You is the working title for my current book. I prefer not to add the sub-title.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2019 at 10:44 am #

      That’s a great start, although you might want to add a few more elements, such as author bio and social media. Stay tuned for more advice!

      I like your title.

  13. Avatar
    Laura March 21, 2019 at 10:44 am #

    Hopefully not too much of a tangent, but what are your thoughts on indicating *CLEAN* when submitting a fiction book proposal? I’ve seen it in descriptions when shopping for books to read (and I appreciate it), but I wonder how agents view this type of declaration.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2019 at 10:47 am #

      Great question, Laura! I may be unique in this, but I assume all submissions to me are clean because of who I am, the type of books I am known to represent, and that I state I represent on The Steve Laube Agency site and elsewhere.

      If someone were to submit an erotic novel to me, I’d know that author hadn’t investigated me even in the most cursory way, and my assistant would reject the novel on content alone, anyway.

  14. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield March 21, 2019 at 12:16 pm #

    Excellent advice, as usual, Tamela. Memorable book title: For Whom the Bell Tolls. I’m working on the history of a town with a mineral springs resort hotel that thrived in the 1880s-90s and no longer exists–Siloam Springs, IL. The railroad bypassed it. Aspirin was patented by Bayer in 1897, and people turned to it for pain relief instead of mineral spring water. After WW1, the hotel languished, and so did the town. The state bought every property in the valley for a state park, and on one day in 1943, every building from the hotel to outhouses was sold at auction and torn down. My husband’s great grandfather owned the hotel. His grandmother was the postmistress, and his dad was the swimming-pool lifeguard and became the first park ranger. I host a locally popular web site named Seeking Siloam Springs in which I share history of the town and numerous descendents of the residents share info and photos. I think Seeking Siloam Springs will be the name of the book. Is it a good idea to duplicate the web site name or not?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2019 at 1:35 pm #

      Wow, that’s a great history! Readers will be interested to read a novel based on real events. I wouldn’t infringe on their name without their permission, though.

      • Avatar
        Linda Riggs Mayfield March 21, 2019 at 3:04 pm #

        Tamela,
        You don’t miss a single detail, do you? ;-D I’m actually planning on the book being a lively history, not fiction. My father-in-law began collecting and recording anecdotes, stories, photos, records, and memorabilia for the book, but died before he could write it. He feared that when his generation passed, there would be no more record or recollection of the village of Siloam Springs. Most people who visit the state park now have no idea a town once thrived there. I have most of his collection and plan to complete the book. I explained that background when I launched the FB web site last year and stated that posting on it is giving me permission to use the content. People responded that they couldn’t wait to read the book! I do plan to contact each one by PM for a formal release when the time comes time to publish the book. I write for the local newspaper’s history column, and whenever I write about Siloam, the response is amazing–I’ve received phone calls and emails from strangers from FL as far as FL whose relatives here forwarded the articles to them.

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

          Very cool! Reading a lively history book is so much fun! Sounds like you’ve got all your bases covered! Let me know when your book is released.

  15. Avatar
    Len March 21, 2019 at 1:34 pm #

    I was going to title my book, “There and Back Again,” but my friends said it was too bland, so I thought up “The Lord of the Rings,” but, alas! that was taken already, so maybe I’ll call it . . . hmmm . . . “To Melt a Wicked RIng,” . . . (?!?).

  16. Avatar
    Joey Rudder March 21, 2019 at 2:21 pm #

    A book title I remember very well: “Hey, Al.” It was one of my daughter’s favorites for years. 🙂

    For me: “Who Moved My Cheese?” The title just stands out in my mind.

    The book I’m working on now: “The Shadow Box.” (The second in a series of three.)

    Thank you for this post, Tamela! I love learning everything I can to keep from being lost in the slush pile, and I’m looking forward to your next post in the series. Blessings to you!

  17. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson March 21, 2019 at 3:13 pm #

    Tamela, thank you so much for this information. I appreciate your wisdom.

  18. Avatar
    Cindy K. Stewart March 21, 2019 at 3:51 pm #

    Thank you for the post, Tamela. One of my favorite titles is “For Such A Time,” and this is the title of two different novels I own. They were written by two different authors fourteen years apart, and they’re both in the WWII genre. I would have used the title for my own WWII novel if it hadn’t already been used twice. My novels all demonstrate hope in the midst of uncertainty and danger, so I’ve named the first book in my series Abounding Hope.

    I found the proposal templates included in Steve’s course on how to write a proposal (The Christian Writers Institute) to be very helpful in writing my proposal.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Mugrage March 21, 2019 at 7:57 pm #

      Cindy, I find phrases drawn from Scripture to be very powerful titles. Maybe because Scripture itself is so powerful & poetic. “For Such A Time” is a great example,

      • Avatar
        Cindy Stewart March 21, 2019 at 8:04 pm #

        Jennifer, you hit the nail on the head (cliche alert) 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2019 at 5:27 am #

      So glad you like the course, Jennifer!

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield March 22, 2019 at 9:19 am #

      Oh, Cindy! I wrote a suspense mystery and entitled it “For Such a Time as This”! The MC is the wife of the US President, but she’s Chilean, and much of the action takes place in Chile and in Rome. I served as a missionary in Chile, so the locations and cultural contexts there are authentic based on actual experience. Her role in the plot resembles Esther’s in the OT, so it seemed like the perfect title. Obviously, when I finally submit it to an agent or publisher, I guess I’ll have to rethink that!

  19. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 21, 2019 at 7:47 pm #

    Questions:
    Should all this information be centered on the title page?
    Halfway down the title page?

    I usually insert a footer with something like [Title] [My Last Name] [page number] in the proposal. Is it a problem if this starts on the title page?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2019 at 5:23 am #

      The information can be centered. Go with appeals to the eye.

      A footer on the title page tends to clutter it.

      I have never rejected a book based on the title page, so no worries!

  20. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 21, 2019 at 7:56 pm #

    About great titles, here are a few that have caught my eye …

    Go To Hell
    Take Off Your Pants
    Say To This Mountain
    How Green Was My Valley
    Dies the Fire

    I notice these are all verb phrases or clauses.

    Other titles catch me because the book is clearly about something that interests me: The Genesis Secret, Ancient Evenings. (Haven’t read that latter one, but I thought the title was good.)

    Thinking up titles for our own WIPs is difficult, especially right after drafting. We are too close to it. It’s hard to know what is most salient about it, because all parts of it seem important.

    I am working on a fantasy series and so far, I’m trying to keep the titles consistent in form: The [Adjective] [Noun]. Not super creative, but it’s versatile, and I can plug in adjectives and nouns that give a feel for the book and differentiate it from the others in the series.

    The Long Guest
    The Strange Land
    The Great Snake

    Anyone guess what those are about? Or too generic?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2019 at 5:25 am #

      I think those are a bit generic. However, a reader will also have a cover to go by, as well as the back cover blurb. Those can grab attention.

      You can go with these titles since as I mentioned, the publisher will make the final title decision.

      You can always go with a wonderful series title and say “Fantasy” in the subject line. Those looking for the genre should open the email, no problem.

  21. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 22, 2019 at 6:32 am #

    Thanks!

  22. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 22, 2019 at 5:06 pm #

    Tamela, if you’re still listening outm this is for you.

    There is evil afoot that I intend to conquer, but if not…

    Your kindness and your wisdom here
    has given so much hope
    and if I may, I hold you dear
    holding to my final rope.
    You’ve been a warm and heartfelt balm
    to this writer’s heart,
    and have helped hold a calm
    praise: “Lord, How Great Thou Art!”
    I wish, perchance I might have met you,
    and, perhaps, a warm embrace;
    know that you have helped me through
    this hell, and that you have shown His Face.
    I pray this might be your leaven,
    that you’ve helped turn hell to Heaven.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2019 at 7:10 pm #

      I am so moved. I plan to print this out and keep it. Thank you!!

      I continue to pray for you.

  23. Avatar
    Kathy March 24, 2019 at 5:25 am #

    My favorite title, which would be right for my work in progress is Loving Frank, a recent historical fiction. The working title for me is The Photographer’s Women. It came to me ten years ago when I began writing and researching. But Loving Frank is what it’s about. It took me a few years to discover who would drive the story, the women who influenced my great grandfather, those who loved him and who did not.

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