Home > Blog > How To Write A Fiction Book Proposal: Part 1 – What Is A Query Letter

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In this article, you will discover why a book proposal is essential and understand what an agent or publisher is looking to find in a successful book proposal.

What Is A Commercial Success?

The goal of the Book Proposal is very simple. Its job is to convince agents and publishers that your book has the potential to be a commercial success.

In this context ‘commercial success’ does not mean bestseller. Instead, commercial success means a book that the publisher is able to sell to enough readers for them to make an overall profit. With big publishers (such as HarperCollins) ‘commercial success’ is often measured in the tens of thousands of sales, whilst for smaller niche publishers, such as the military history publisher Osprey, ‘commercial success’ is measured in the thousands, if not hundreds.

To understand what a publisher is looking for in a potential ‘commercial success’ we must first understand how their businesses work.

Though the publishing industry has changed in recent years, their business model is still (largely) based on the concept of selling books to real, physical, brick and mortar bookshops.

This is important and you need to understand this to be able to think like a publisher.

The sales process starts when a potential reader walks into a bookshop. Rather than walking aimlessly up and down the aisles, most readers head for the section of the bookshop that contains the books they like to read. If the reader is a Science Fiction fan then they head for the Science Fiction shelves; if they are looking for cookbooks then they will go to the cookery section, and if they’re looking for a book for their kids, then it’s off to the children’s aisle.

This makes sense and we have all done it. However, it is important to see that at the very granular level bookshops are segregated by GENRE.

When looking to stock their shelves bookshop buyers are also genre focused. They will buy books based on genre from representatives of publishers who publish books in that genre.

When the book buyer needs a Science Fiction novel, they will go to a Science Fiction publisher; they get cookbooks from cookbook publishers and children’s books from children’s book publishers. These publishers are experts in producing genre specific books that sell well in bookshops. The publishers have teams of people (writers, editors, marketers and salespersons) all specialized in that one genre.

This brings us full circle. When you approach a publisher (or agent), they are simply looking for books that fit their genre model and will sell well in bookshops.

Therefore, a Book Proposal must do two things:

  1. Convince the publisher that the book fits into the publisher’s business model.
  2. Convince the publisher that there is a big enough readership for the book to make a profit.

The Aim Of The Query Letter

The book proposal is split into three sections: query letter, synopsis and extract. We will go into depth regarding the synopsis and extract in later articles.

The query letter, sometimes called the cover letter, is the first thing the agent or publisher sees. It introduces your book and you, as a writer. Many writers underestimate the power of the query letter and instead of producing a highly detailed document that allows them to ‘sell’ their book; they instead provide a brief please-read-my-synopsis-style letter.

This is a recipe for rejection.

The query letter is an agent or publisher’s first contact with your book and provides you with a chance to ‘frame’ your book proposal, impressing them from the first word.

The goal of a query letter is as follows:

  1. Provide a clear outline of your book’s content.
  2. Define your book’s genre.
  3. Define your book’s place in the market.
  4. Define your book’s potential readership.
  5. Provide information of your book’s status.
  6. Outline your marketing plans.
  7. Sell you as the writer.

In the next article, we will look at how the Four Paragraph Method will allow you to fulfil each of these seven goals, in the process providing agents and publishers with all the information they need to make an informed decision about your book.

Summary

  • Commercial success is a book that makes a profit for the publisher.
  • The publishing industry is segmented by genre.
  • The aim of a book proposal is to convince the publisher that the book fits into the publisher’s business model, whilst also convincing publishers that there is a big enough readership for the book to make a profit.


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