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Do Novelists Need A Book Proposal?

December 19, 2013

By W. Terry Whalin

TerryOne of the great misconceptions in the publishing community is that novelists do not need to write book proposals. As a former fiction acquisitions editor, I know the storytelling skills for a novelist is central. The writing must be riveting from the opening sentence to prevent rejection. Storytelling is not easy but it’s something that a skilled editor can easily spot.

Industry experts have said a million proposals, manuscripts and queries are in circulation at any given time period. For a moment, I want you to pretend that you are an acquisitions editor looking for the best material to bring to your publication board. You have a limited number of projects to present at the next meeting and you’ve found some great stories. It is natural that you are going to gravitate toward the writer who not only has a powerful story yet also has a complete book proposal. That proposal includes information which never appears in the manuscript yet is critical for the voting members to make a decision about offering you a contract.

The skill to put together a book proposal is one that every writer needs to learn—whether they are writing a novel or a nonfiction book. I’ve sold numerous nonfiction books on the basis of a book proposal and a sample chapter. In fact, two of my proposals receive six-figure advances. Yes, it can happen and it can happen to you.

Some writers assume they can avoid the research and some of the skills that a nonfiction writer needs to possess by writing fiction. They believe since the story comes from their imagination that it is easier to write. It’s simply not true. As someone who has read tons of poorly crafted fiction, I know firsthand that writers need to learn the storytelling craft. You will have to create an excellent manuscript to write fiction yet you also need a book proposal with your manuscript.

In the area of book proposal creation, I’ve read every book I can find on the topic. Plus I’ve read thousands of book proposals. With that experience, I created a step-by-step series of lessons to guide you into making an excellent book proposal. My course is on autoresponders and comes to you like clockwork. If you sign up on a Tuesday, then seven days later you will receive the second lesson.

When you pitch your book, do you pitch to agents and editors or just agents? In the course, I suggest you want to pitch to an agent first because if you have pitched to both types of professionals you have potentially done harm on work any agent will do for you. Publishers and agents keep logs of submissions. You need to have a careful submission strategy which I explore in much more detail in my course.

Whether you take my course or not, invest in learning the skill of creating a book proposal. Novelists need to understand the competition to their idea. They need to write a practical marketing plan for their book and learn how to tout the value they bring to the book beyond their storytelling skills. It could make the difference whether your next pitch is accepted or rejected.

W. Terry Whalin, an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing lives in Irvine, California. His 12-lesson online course is called Write A Book Proposal. His website is located at: He will be speaking at the Mid-Winter Conference West and Reading Festival this January.


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