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Literary agents hate manuscripts.

As a rule, if there’s one thing most publishers and literary agents really hate to see, it’s a manuscript.

You’re probably surprised by that. Most new authors are. The fact is that literary agents never read most of the manuscripts that authors submit to them. They just don’t have the time or staff to wade through the enormous number of full manuscripts they receive from hopeful authors. For the big agencies, it can number in the thousands each year.


In the publishing world, the proposal is key. (Here I’m talking about nonfiction. Fiction is its own beast, and you really do need to write the whole manuscript before sending a query letter to agents and editors.) With a great proposal, a successful author can land an agent who will go in to bat for them when it comes to signing contracts, and win over a major trade publishing house that can bring their expertise to bear in the editorial, marketing, production, publicity, sales, and distribution of that book. All of it starts with the initial proposal. That’s the way to get your foot in the door.

The proposal is designed to hook an agent or an editor so that they really want to read your book. Think of it as CliffsNotes for your book, making it easy for agents and editors to grasp the essence of your book and why it’s an appealing proposition, both creatively and commercially.

Your proposal is like the DNA of your book. If you are successful and land a deal with a publisher, your proposal will be the basis of the company’s understanding of your book. It will help the editor, the publicist, the sales force, and the cover designer to know what your book is, even before they read it (and some of those people will never read the full text of your book). Your book will go through various incarnations and stages of production on the way to reaching the bookstore, but the DNA remains constant.

Your book proposal comprises the following elements:

  • an overview

  • author biography

  • competing & complementary titles

  • target audience/demographic

  • marketing & publicity opportunities

  • chapter summaries, and

  • sample chapters.

All up, it may run to 60 pages or more.

There are many elements and intricacies involved in writing a successful book proposal, and I plan on sharing those components with you at the micro-retreat I’m co-hosting with Joanne Spataro on October 27.

How to Write a Book Proposal for Your Memoir

A Micro-Retreat with Joanne Spataro and Sally Collings

When: October 27, 2021 at 1pm PST / 3pm CT / 4pm ET

Where: Zoom (on signup we will send you an invitation to join the meeting)

Pricing: $399


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