Ask any aspiring writer what they want to accomplish and they’re likely to tell you that they dream of the day when they can get paid to write.
To finally “have the time” to write the book they’ve thought about for years.
Writing is a dream job.
How do you get paid to do the thing you love? How can you possibly finance turning your Great American Novel into the job you get to go to every day?
I posted on getting paid for what you write recently. Check out that article and you’ll see there’s money out there for writers wanting to write.
But now I want to turn it up a notch. I have two things to tell you:
- Write no matter where you are, what you’re doing, what your day job is, or how much time you have. To write is a verb. Do it. Every day. On scraps of paper, in your journal, on your hand. No matter whether you’re getting paid or not, be writing.
- The single best way to be paid to write your book is to sell your book before you actually write it.
Write the book proposal for your nonfiction book idea
A well written, well thought out book proposal will help you know exactly what you are doing and why. It can also spur publisher interest, and give you all important deadlines.
When I’m considering book ideas (I have dozens, which usually come to me in the shower or on walks), this is my preferred path. I like to know the book idea is solid and sell-able before I spend the many many hours needed to write the book itself. I like to know that there is a market for my words, and that people will want to read them. Even if your plan is to self publish your nonfiction book, having a book proposal will help you every step of the way.
There are a hundred reasons to write a book proposal. A book proposal will help you get clear on your goals, better understand your audience, and get a better sense of what books on your topic have already been written and how well they sold. As you’re working on the proposal, as well as on your book itself, you can use your research and writing time to build interest in the topic and grow your audience. A book proposal will also help find other sources of funding.
For example, these good folks give $40,000 grants for writers already under contract. There’s a helpful list at the bottom of their article of other organizations that support nonfiction projects.
How do you write a book proposal?
There’s no one right way to write a book proposal but every nonfiction book proposal includes:
- an OVERVIEW of the book
- an ABOUT THE AUTHOR section (which you write in the third person to better allow you to blow your own horn)
- an ABOUT THE AUDIENCE section (basically a market analysis of who will buy your book),
- a section on COMPETITIVE AND COMPARABLE TITLES
- a list of famous and well-accomplished PEOPLE TO ENDORSE your book
- a PUBLICITY PLAN
- a brief section on the FORMATTING of the book itself (length, time it will take you to complete, whether you plan to have back material, illustrations, and an index)
- up to three SAMPLE CHAPTERS
Writing a book proposal is not an easy task. Some writers think it’s harder to write the book proposal than it is to write the book. But every minute you put into the book proposal is time well spent.
Do you need a book proposal if you’re writing fiction?
Literary agents and editors at big publishing companies do not expect fiction writers to write a book proposal. But many of the elements of a nonfiction book proposal are helpful for fiction writers also.
You need to spend some time thinking about your audience (why write a book that no one will read?) and how YOU will reach them. Having a well thought out, actionable publicity plan is an excellent strategy for authors of books in any genre. Every fiction writer I know who took the time to create a publicity plan was very glad to have done so.
You’ll also need a kick-ass biography for the book jacket, as well as endorsements. So while it’s not traditional or expected for fiction writers to write book proposals, I think it’s an excellent idea.
A book proposal for the fiction book you’re writing may not be a document you share with others, but it will be a document you refer back to again and again.
Get a literary agent to get a book deal
Once you have a really solid book proposal for your nonfiction project, including an introduction and 1 to 3 sample chapters, you’re ready to get a book deal.
So how do you get a book deal? There’s good news and bad news.
The good news: YOU don’t have to get the book deal. Your agent will.
The bad news: YOU have to get the agent.
All you aspiring writers out there, don’t think for a minute I didn’t catch the eye roll back there.
I know many of you have already received many, many rejections.
Or worse, the Black Hole of Silence.
I know how hard it is. I can wallpaper my entire house with the rejections I’ve gotten since becoming a writer. And I can tell you from firsthand experience that life on the slush pile is anything but sweet.
Yeah, get an agent, you think. Bahahaha…
But here’s more good news: You only need one! Getting an agent is just like getting funding. Put in the work. Figure it out. You will get an agent. How can I promise you this? Think about it: New authors get agents every day. Agents make money when they sell books. You make money when they sell your books. It’s a win-win for everyone. You just have to convince a potential agent that your book is going to sell. Which it is, once you’ve put the work into making that happen. And that work includes writing a book proposal
Still with me?
Let’s break down how to find an agent:
- You find out the agents of the authors you admire whose work is not unlike yours (but not too similar). You write a glorious and carefully tailored letter of introduction to each of these agents. Never send a form letter to an agent. I repeat: NEVER send a form letter to an agent. It’s bad sportsmanship. It doesn’t work. You will stay in the slush pile forever if you spam any agent or agency.
- You join professional organizations in your genre (like SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors; or ASJA, the American Society of Journalists and Authors; or SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers; or AHCJ, the Association of Health Care Journalists), and look for their upcoming conferences. At many of these conferences, there are agents in attendance. Some will speak on panels. Others will have slots open to meet with writers (like speed dating). Even established agents like to scout for new talent. Attend these conferences, network like crazy, and be the new talent for an agent to find.
- You network with authors in your genre. Once you know them and have a relationship—and YOU do THEM some favors—you can ask your author friends about their agents. Have a conversation about the good, bad, and ugly. Ask them what they like about their agent, what they don’t like, how their agent responds when a book proposal doesn’t sell, what they had wished they had known before getting an agent. If an author offers to introduce you to their agent, via an emailed introduction or a phone call, that is one of the best ways to get your work seen.
I know you want an agent desperately. You want your book sold to a publisher for a six-figure advance. And you want it to happen overnight.
I want that to happen for you too.
But building networks, doing research, and writing well do not happen instantly.
Be patient. And be picky. Even the smallest steps you take today (and tomorrow and the next day) are setting the groundwork for your success.
You’re in the driver’s seat of this process.
If you want the dream, then do the work to make it a reality. That way you get to have and live your dream, and leave all the nightmares behind.
Need help with crafting a stellar book proposal? Looking for a writing coach? Want to find out more about book marketing and publicity?
I’m in the middle of writing a book so I am not taking any new clients right now. But read this and if it doesn’t scare you away, feel free to reach out. I am happy to refer you to a writing coach to help you with your project.