Warning: Avoid These 5 Mistakes
Let's talk about the Top 5 Mistakes that writers make when writing a book proposal. These are mistakes that not only will slow down the acceptance of your work, but that will also confuse you. If you make these mistakes you'll lose track of your goal, your singular goal in writing that proposal, namely, to craft a book proposal that will sell your book. So let's begin:
- They don't include all the sections of the book proposal.
- They write the sections with the wrong word count.
- They fail to edit their sections for consistency.
- They use too many adverbs.
- They praise their work in an inappropriate manner.
All the sections must be included. I recently received a book proposal from a would-be author that only included the Introduction! How can you hope to impress an agent, let alone a publisher, like that? Of course they're going to want a description of the book that includes a Chapter-by-Chapter summary. They're going to want to know about Competing Books. And they're going to want an About the Author section.
Second, writers fail to use the correct word count for their sections. The Overview is often too short. The chapters are also too short. The Overview and all the other sections have no required length, but by convention they run a certain number of pages and you can see examples in Michael Larsen's book.
Third, writers fail to edit their sections for consistency. They fail to capitalize their book title and put it in bold and italics. They fail to refer to themselves as "the Author" and then (which is appropriate) as "Mr. Smith" or "Ms. Jones." They fail to make the proposal look like a unified whole. Consistency will earn points with agents and publishers.
Fourth, writers use too many adverbs. I recently got a proposal from a writer who said, "My book will be wonderfully written in a style that captures the attention of the lay reader." Are you serious? Go through your proposal and eliminate all adverbs. Don't use more than one adverb every twenty pages.
Finally, writers praise their own work in an inappropriate manner. Sure, you need to talk your work up. But don't be childish and boastful about it. Don't say, "This book will help you become a god on earth. This book will electrify readers and become another bestseller like the Bible." Remember when John Lennon said, "We're more popular than Jesus Christ"? People got upset. Don't upset your agent and publisher. Tone it down.
By following these suggestions you'll avoid the five biggest mistakes writers make when putting together their book proposal. (Photo: Franz Kafka worrying about the mistakes he included in his books. Kafka held parties at his house and invited friends to listen to him read his work so that he could eliminate mistakes in his manuscripts.)