What do real editors say about proposals?

The basic philosophy behind writing a book proposal is to describe to the editor the book you want to write, and provide the editor with sufficient facts and figures that will give him/her enough ammunition at an editorial board meeting to convince colleagues in both editorial, and sales and marketing, that this proposed book is not only a quality piece of work, it will make money for the publishing company. ~Peter Rubie, from Writing a Book Proposal

According to Mr. Rubie you should start with these FOUR thoughts in mind:

Antonia Hodgson, Editor-in-Chief for Little/Brown Book Group says that "Andrew Willie is one of the best editors in the business. He combines meticulous approach with real creative flair. He is passionate, perceptive and always professional. He also has a very wide range of knowledge and experience, which makes him not only a superlative editor, but also a terrific teacher."

On his webpage, Mr. Willie explores what a good nonfiction book proposal will contain:
~ a good title
~ an overview of the work
~ a synopsis
~ a description of the market/readership
~ a comparison with competing works
~ biographical information (including: experience, reputation, previous publications,
uses of social media, reviews for previous works, and endorsements)
~ a sample of writing
~ manuscript Status

Mr. Willie suggests that proposals vary in length - some are just a couple of pages, some are a hundred pages long. Many books are sold for great sums on very short proposals or just an idea, but these tend to be for well-established names in a field. It's a good idea to aim for five to ten pages for the proposal itself (in addition to the sample material), and maybe up to twenty pages if there's more to say. The proposal itself can be single-spaced, especially if it's broken up with lots of headings, but sample material should be double- or 1.5-spaced, as the final manuscript would be.
Aside from recommending research to find out where to send your material, and tailoring your proposal according to specific guidelines given by the publisher or agents you select, Mr. Willie's final piece of advice reads:


BETSY LERNER received an MFA from Columbia University. She was a co-editor of Columbia's literary magazine and a co-founder of the now defunct underground magazine Big Wednesday. She has won a Thomas Wolfe Poetry Prize and an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize and was named by American PEN as one of the three emerging writers in 1987. She worked in the editorial departments at four New York trade publishers, finally as executive editor at Doubleday, before becoming an agent. In her book, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor's Advice to Writers, she shares memoir and advice.

HERE is a YouTube in which Writing Coach Julia McCutchen interviews Agent Simon Trewin on "How to Write the Ultimate Book Proposal":

The following excerpts are from the 2002 book Thinking Like Your Editor, from the chapter "How to write a proposal"..............................................................................

Most editors will read between the lines of a proposal for evidence of an author who:

Demonstrates real command of his material by showing that he is not afraid to make observations and draw inferences.

Knows how to pull readers into his world and make it come alive. (Such an author also knows what to leave out)

Has good command of the tools of rational discourse, displayed by precision in language, a sense for sound overreaching structure, and good narrative skills

Has a passion for her topic and a greater passion to leave her mark on it

Knows what the published literature has already said on the topic (pages 68-69).

On pages 69 to 96, Ms. Rabiner details common reasons why book proposals fail, and lists her "BIG FIVE" questions that editor's ultimately ask:

Last, but not least, here is a link to a 2-page PDF by Susan Ferber, Executive Editor, Oxford University Press) titled "TIPS FOR BOOK PROPOSALS":

Peter Rubie, How to Write a Book Proposal http://www.prlit.com/bookproposal.htm
Andrew Willie http://wille.org/aw/Nonfiction_Proposals.html
"Good Advice" image retrieved from: http://www.bubblecow.net/do-you-need-help-with-your-book-proposal/
Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal, 4th ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 2011. Print.
Lerner, Betsy. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010. Print.
Link to Simon Trewin YouTube: http://youtu.be/irbBuDJGwXc
Rabiner, Susan & Fortunato, Alfred. Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction - and get it published. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. Print.

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