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Writing and Publishing

Tips for Query Letters, One Sheets, and Book Proposals

Early in my career, I thought a query and a proposal were two names for the same document. Boy, was I confused?

A query letter is a short communication to get an agent or publisher’s attention. If your query letter succeeds, they’ll ask for a book proposal. A proposal is a lengthy, detailed document that shares key elements of your book in organized sections. If they like your proposal, they’ll ask to see the full book (for fiction) or encourage you to move forward in writing the book (for nonfiction).

The Query Letter: There’s a lot of information online about writing a query letter. Unfortunately, there’s disagreement over what to do. It seems to be as much art as science. Despite differing opinions on the specific content and order, here are the pointers I’ve picked up and use:

  • Address it to a specific agent, following the agent’s guidelines and making sure they accept queries in your genre.
  • Open with a concise connection to the agent (sincere and non-embellished), followed by a great hook, sell your idea, and then sell yourself (including your platform). This should take four paragraphs. Making it longer makes it too long.
  • Keep it to one normal page (even though you will email it as text).
  • Don’t ask them to click a link or download an attachment. I understand most will skip your link and few will download an attachment unless they know you and requested that you attach a document.
  • Keep it professional. Avoid being cute, clever, or gimmicky.
  • Spell-check and proofread carefully.

Note that in the non-book world, some periodical and online publishers also want you to query them first. Others just want to see the finished work. If they ask for a query, the preceding discussion applies.

A-One Sheet: Something like a query letter is a one-sheet (sometimes called a one-pager). It’s a document that you might hand to an interested agent or publisher whom you meet at a writing conference. It contains much the same information as a query but can include more, as much as comfortably fits on one page. A one-sheet can also include relevant graphics and professional formatting, which you should avoid in a straight-text query letter.

A Book Proposal: Whether you have a fiction or nonfiction book, agents and publishers who like your query letter will expect you to send a book proposal next, even if the book is complete. There are many courses and books that teach how to draft a book proposal, so I won’t try to cram all this information into a brief overview. 

Do an online search, and you’ll receive more matches than you have time to read. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with the expectations for a book proposal and some contradict each other. Focus on recommendations from successful agents and authors who have sold a lot of books to traditional publishers. You will benefit from their experience.

Here are the sections I include in my nonfiction book proposals: 

  • book title
  • synopsis
  • hook
  • target audience
  • table of contents
  • detailed outline
  • about the author
  • author platform
  • competitive titles
  • sample chapters

Though I’ve never done a fiction book proposal, the sections are about the same. The main difference is that, instead of including a chapter-by-chapter detailed outline, a fiction proposal needs a concise summary of the entire book, including any spoilers. Don’t hold back. Condense your book into a couple of pages. 

Search online for specific examples of nonfiction and fiction book proposals to further guide your work on your own proposal. 

Make the best proposal you can. Some agents and publishers will tell you what they expect in a book proposal. Follow their instructions exactly. 

If your proposal follows their format, it’s easier for them to evaluate. And if it doesn’t meet their expectations, it’s easier for them to reject, because they know you’re a person who won’t follow directions or doesn’t think the instructions apply. You will be a challenging writer to work with. No one wants that.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Turning a Dissertation into a Book

Ever since I finished my dissertation three years ago, my plan was to turn it into a book. Actually a dissertation is already a book. Mine weighs in at 40,000 words. What I mean is that I want to turn dissertation into a marketable book. Dissertations are not marketable. They are academic and boring. I suspect the only people who actually read dissertations are the instructors who have to and other students doing research for their dissertations.

In fact, turning my dissertation into a marketable form was one of my goals for 2013. Alas, I didn’t achieve that objective. In truth, I never started it. Other writing projects were more interesting and got in the way.

However, the project is back on. I recently generated some interest in the book version of my dissertation, and an editor asked for a proposal. Book proposals are arduous affairs—at least for me. You need to talk about platform and marketing. You need an annotated outline and you need three sample chapters. Yuck.

The outline was easy enough, but it also revealed that the order of my dissertation—as necessitated by academic requirements—would not work for a book. I would need to move sections around and merge other segments for people to actually want to read it and not give up.

For the sample chapters, I pulled out three of the more straightforward portions of my dissertation and set down to edit them. My plan was to pull out the arcane requirements, remove the formerly required repetition, simplify long sentences, and replace the big words. I often do this type of editing at work, so I thought it would be easy for my book. I was wrong.

Turning my dissertation into a book is not going to be an easy edit but a complete rewrite. It won’t be something I can crank out in a week or two. It will take months. I’m not complaining—because I desperately want a larger audience to read my ideas—but the amount of time and work required discourages me.

This points to a larger issue for me. Though I can accurately estimate the time required for smaller projects, such as blog posts, articles, short stories, and freelance assignments, I often struggle to realistically project the amount of time it will take to write books.

Though I know how many words I can write per hour, after a few weeks of staying on track, something inevitably conspires to derail me.

The book version of my dissertation is presently on hold as I await feedback from the editor. However, I may be starting another book next week. And this one will have a deadline. I hope my time estimate is realistic and feasible.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Seven Steps to Deal With the Sting of Rejection

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve received very little rejection from the articles I’ve written. In fact, aside from contests, I haven’t won and a few editors who never responded, I can’t recall a single time I’ve heard “No!” But that’s just for articles.

For books, my results are different. Half the time, I hear “no.” And the times when I hear “maybe,” it eventually turns into a “no.” Given my success with articles, I wasn’t prepared for a lack of success with books. Rejection stings.

The first time someone said “no” to one of my books, I went into a tailspin. It lasted several weeks. I stopped writing for three, and when I resumed, my heart wasn’t in it. It took too long for me to bounce back, to reclaim my joy for writing, and write with zeal.

Since then I’ve gotten better at dealing with rejection. Here are my thoughts:

1) Be Realistic: We will hear “no” much more often than we will hear “yes.” Accept this; it’s the reality of being a writer.

2) Be Positive: As they say in sales, each “no” gets us one step closer to “yes.” It’s a numbers game, so don’t stop too soon. Our next submission may be the one that’s accepted.

3) Listen to What Is Said: Consider why our book or proposal was rejected, but don’t make false assumptions. If they say, “This isn’t the right book for us at this time,” they’re not saying our book is bad, we can’t write, or we should quit. They’re simply saying the timing is off.

4) It’s Not a Reflection of Who We Are: Although our work is rejected, we aren’t. Reflection of our work is not a rejection of us; it may not even reflect our skill as a writer. Maybe our idea wasn’t good or our type of book isn’t selling at this time. But none of this means we are a bad person.

5) It’s Just One Person’s Opinion: In my critique group, I’m amazed at how many times one person doesn’t like something and the next person really does. The same is true for books. Everyone has an opinion, but that’s all it is.

6) Allow Time to Grieve: I give myself time to grouse. Sometimes I only need a few minutes, while other times I take the rest of the day. What I don’t do (anymore) is to ignore the pain; I acknowledge it – but only for a time.

7) Start Again: Then it’s back to writing as usual – even if I don’t feel like it. That’s what the pros do; that’s what I’ll do.

Rejection stings, but it’s not the end.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Four Essential Elements of a Successful Book Proposal

To approach an agent or publisher with our book, we start with a query letter and are ready to follow it with a proposal. For me, writing my first proposal was harder than writing the book. Seriously.

To learn about creating proposals, I read blog posts, listened to podcasts, attended webinars, went to lectures, and took classes. Amid the confusion and conflicting information, I realized two things: 1) writing a proposal is as much art as science, and 2) there is no one, right format.

Then I melded all this disparate information together to realize four essential tasks a book proposal must do:

1) Sell Our Idea: In our proposal, we pitch our book. We make it compelling and not give anyone a reason to say “no” or push delete. Our idea must be unique, memorable, and enticing.

2) Show Our Professionalism: Our proposal establishes us as a competent writer who is easy to work with and not flaky, disorganized, or flippant.

3) Exhibit Our Talent: As a writer, our work must always shine and nowhere is this more important than in a proposal. Make every word count. Our writing voice must ring out, true and clear.

4) Demonstrate Our Ability to Sell Books: A publisher will look to us as the primary person to promote, market, and sell our books. Yes, they will provide logistics and support, along with some marketing, but we need to show we have the ability and means to motivate people to buy our books. This means we need a platform, that dreaded word every writer detests. Regardless of its size, it never seems big enough.

Whatever format we follow for our book proposal or if we choose our own path, we must make sure we include these four essentials.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.


Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Five Ways That Publishing a Book is Like Finding a Job

I like working but not finding work. I like writing but not finding a publisher. Unfortunately, there are similarities. Consider these parallels:

1. The Search

For a job, we need to find where to apply. This means looking through help wanted ads, researching companies, and networking with people we know. For writing, this means scouring market guides, learning about agents and publishers, and networking with others in the industry. Just as we wouldn’t apply for every job at every business, we don’t query every agent and publisher. We work smart and are strategic.

2. The Resume

Just as the goal of a resume is to land an interview, the goal of a query letter is to prompt a request for a proposal. Resume equals query letter; both must shine.

3. The Interview

In a job interview we need to sell ourselves and our abilities. In a book proposal, we have the same goal.

4. The Follow-up

A successful job interview results in more interaction with the company. A successful book proposal produces additional discussion about our writing. Both bring us closer to an offer.

5. The Offer

Sometimes we grab the first deal that comes along. Other times we negotiate. And occasionally we say “no thank you” but leave the door open for the future.

The same is true for jobs and for books.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.