Expert Tips for a Successful Book Proposal

Barbara Jones

The OpEd studio welcomed Barbara Jones on May 26, a former executive at Hyperion Publishing who has extensive experience in editing fiction for magazines and book publishers. Jones offered insights into the book industry, as well as her editorial expertise when she reviewed the diverse array of book proposals submitted by the class. Additionally, she outlined several key points to aim for in a book proposal:

• Proposals must be well written. They should have their own voice and “embody what the book is going to be.”

• You need a good story. “Is this a story you can tell better than anyone?”

• Strong narratives are key. “A sweeping narrative still sells.” The arc of your story should be authentic. In the case of a memoir, it should be passionate, acknowledge the problem and embrace the struggle.

• The more you can write before you go out, the better off you are. While it’s important to be ready for input and changes from your editor, it’s helpful to have as much of your book written as possible beforehand. Most publishers will give you a year to complete the book.

• Do your own PR though social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Make videos and post them online.

• Beware of modern scenarios and topics that have become cliché subjects for books, i.e. women in Afghanistan (Although, women in Afghanistan have recently been an invaluable part of one OpEd Project staff member’s work. See our previous post!).

• Be able to “tag” your book with terms that someone can Google, such as “psychology”, “celebrity”, “drugs”, etc…

• Know specifically what group of people the book is intended for. Include details such as the kind of cover, placement in stores, length and even price.

Jones also explained that publishers look for books that can easily get television publicity and can potentially be turned into movies. The “platform” of the author, or her popularity, career and notoriety, will often be the key to a successful book deal.

-Katherine Milsop

One comment

  1. Barbara, thanks for these tips which are well-stated and offer fresher insights or ways of thinking about non-fiction proposals, but which also have import for fiction writers. For example, I find many new authors unable to offer more than the obvious tags for their work.

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