When putting together your proposal, please put as much care into it as if it were going to be published itself. There are some things that immediately stand out to agents and publishers alike that may make them think twice about continuing to read (as there is no lack of proposal submissions). Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you craft your perfect proposal.
1. Address the cover letter appropriately.
Do not be generic (“Dear Sirs” is the worst offender in my opinion). Do your research. Find out who you’re querying, what types of books/authors they’re looking for, and let them know why you chose to query them. Just because they’re an agent is not a good enough reason. Read here for more tips on this topic.
2. Make sure your proposal is error-free.
There is no reason for typos, auto-correct mistakes, or missing words in your proposal. Spell check is a beautiful thing, but so is the simple act of reading it aloud to yourself, and hiring a proofreader (even if “hiring” entails buying your English teacher friend coffee). You’re a writer so even if your specialty is story and not necessarily knowing the difference between their/there and it’s/its, you need to make sure these types of errors don’t make an appearance in your proposal.
3. Create a proposal compatible with your writing style.
While having a perfect proposal is the goal, make sure it’s not at the expense of your personality and writing style. A good writer knows all grammatical rules—and knows when to break them. Your proposal is an agent’s first introduction to your writing, so make sure it’s aligned with your style. More info on this point can be found here.
4. Be realistic yet cast a vision.
This point is especially apparent in the competing titles section. No, your book is probably not the next Hunger Games trilogy, but what could it be like? Spend some time thinking about the market—what’s on the front table at your local bookstore? What’s on the NY Times Bestseller lists? What books do people who follow your blog read? Who’s your favorite author? There are a lot of different ways to think about this, so include how your book fits with the current landscape and illustrate a need for it.
5. Set yourself apart.
The main question you can ask yourself as you’re putting your proposal together is, what makes me different? Why am I the person who needs to write on this topic? Then make sure this is communicated in some way in your proposal. Some authors may choose to design their proposal because it’s part of who they are. Others may choose to include a short video about their book idea as being a good communicator is what sets them apart. Whatever sets you apart, make sure it makes sense and stays true to who you are and what you’re topic/idea/message is.
Overall, proposals don’t need to be stuffy but do keep it professional.