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Writing for Profit, Issue #017, Preparing a Proposal
August 25, 2003

Issue Number: 0117

Date: August 2003

Many writers struggle over preparing a proposal for publication. Some regard fulfilment as a daunting prospect while others treat the exercise as nothing more than a necessary chore. It is neither. Unless you execute the document with professionalism and the same degree of enthusiasm you put into writing your book it won’t get read and you won’t get published. Commissioning editors have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through flimsy submissions so this month we put the spotlight on how to prepare a proposal that commands attention.


Spotlight on preparing a proposal for publication
Tip of the week
Featured guest article
Famous quotations on the subject of writing


Preparing a proposal for a work of niche non-fiction requires almost as much clinical application as goes into writing the book itself and when you follow the guidelines provided here it allows you to focus on what to include in your proposal and also enables the publisher to make a more accurate and speedy assessment of its viability. These are the key factors to bear in mind as you set about construction.

Who you are writing for (the target market)
The structure of the content
How you can offer something different from competitive titles

You would normally be requested to submit the following:

300/500 word description of the aims and scope of your book
Features and benefits for the reader
Intended style
Subject matter covered
Why there is a need for such a book
Does it cover a gap in currently available literature?
Does it present new findings?
Is it topical?

Detailed list of contents - Chapter headings and subheads for each chapter.

Target market readership - Outline in 1/2 paragraphs.
Who are you writing this book for?
What is the approximate numerical size of the market?
At what level are you writing (for beginners, experienced practitioners)?
Would the material be suitable for international markets?
Would it be more usefully directed to regional readership?
Would local editions be necessary?

Comparative/competitive books on the market
List titles
State why yours is different.

Mechanical data
Word count
How you would present the text (mss only; mss and disk)
How illustrations would be provided (digital or hard copy)
Word processing package normally used

Timescale - Indicate when final manuscript would be ready

Biographical details
Editors or contributors
Professional capacity
Experience relevant to topic covered; previous publications.


Self-publishing: Is it for you?
Excerpt from the February 2003 issue of The Writer
Arlene S. Uslander

What to know and ask about doing it yourself
Are you a person easily dejected by rejection? Impatient when publishers or agents don't respond to you in a timely manner--or not at all? Do you like to be "captain of your own ship," always in control of your own fate? Do you have some extra cash and time you can invest in a worthy project--your very own book? If you answered "yes" to all four questions, you may be a candidate for self-publishing.


Brought to you by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab Adapted from Jacqueline Berke's ‘Twenty Questions for the Writer’)

Planning (Invention): Thought Starters (Asking the Right Questions)

As a writer, you can begin by asking yourself questions and then answering them. Your answers will bring your subject into focus and provide you with the material to develop your theme. Here are twenty questions or "thought starters" that present ways of observing or thinking about your subject matter. Each question generates the type of topic listed in parentheses after the question.

1. What does X mean? (Definition)

2. What are the various features of X? (Description)

3. What are the component parts of X? (Simple Analysis)

4. How is X made or done? (Process Analysis)

5. How should X be made or done? (Directional Analysis)

6. What is the essential function of X? (Functional Analysis)

7. What are the causes of X? (Causal Analysis)

8. What are the consequences of X? (Causal Analysis)

9. What are the types of X? (Classification)

10. How is X like or unlike Y? (Comparison)

11. What is the present status of X? (Comparison)

12. What is the significance of X? (Interpretation)

13. What are the facts about X? (Reportage)

14. How did X happen? (Narration)

15. What kind of person is X? (Characterization/Profile)

16. What is my personal response to X? (Reflection)

17. What is my memory of X? (Reminiscence)

18. What is the value of X? (Evaluation)

19. What are the essential major points or features of X? (Summary)

20. What case can be made for or against X? (Persuasion)


Albert Einstein: "Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in language comprehensible to everyone."

Wilson Follett: "Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganization can flourish"

H.W. Fowler: "Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavor, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid."

Anatole France: "The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can't understand them."

Hippocrates: "The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words."

Thomas Jefferson: "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."


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