Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


September 27, 2011

What to put into a book proposal from Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn

At Red Pencil in the Woods last weekend I heard a great talk on how to write an effective book proposal from Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn of The Business of Books. Some of the key points were:

Why do you need to write a proposal?

A book proposal is like a business plan. It tells the publisher:
  • What your idea is
  • Why this idea is interesting and marketable
  • Why you are the right person to write this book
  • How the book can be marketed
Even if you are going to self-publish, the proposal helps you to focus your concept and find your readers.

The key parts of a proposal

Jen and Kerry recommend that you set out these main points. You can tailor the format for each publisher or agent’s specifications.
  1. Introduction: Explain and sell the general concept. Some good ways to begin are with a startling statement or statistic (75% of Americans . . .) or a question (What would you do if . . .).
  2. About the book: State the genre or category, e.g., where it will be shelved in the bookstore, and the format (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback), dimensions, price range, etc.
  3. Competing titles: Get to know the section of the bookstore where your book will be shelved. Name four or five books in the same category and explain how your book is similar and where it is different. Focus on books that have been published in the last ten years, and any “category-killers.”
  4. About the author: What’s your connection to the material? What makes you easy to work with and marketable? Mention interesting achievements, past careers, and skills.
  5. Marketing: Present clippings and logs for any promotion you did for earlier books. Mention any events, seasonal tie-ins, or regional and historical connections that can be used to promote the book. Describe any social media platform that you can use to promote the book with giveaways, contests, etc.
  6. Outline: Show that you know what the structure of the book will be.
  7. Sample text: Depends what the publisher or agent requests, but usually the introduction and one chapter.
  8. Extra materials: Include material that supports your proposal. It might be clippings to illustrate trends that you described, more information about you, and even audio and video clips that show you giving interviews or doing demos from the book.

More information on writing proposals and query letters

September 12, 2011

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell

Book cover: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

Be your own editor

You won’t always get the perfect editor for your book, and you can’t rely on editors having time to do all the work they’d like to. Be your own editor as much as you can.

Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit is a guide for writers to help them edit their own work and to get the most out of their collaboration with an editor. Bell considers different strategies for editing during the writing process and suggests ideas for getting a fresh view of your draft. She then deals with the nuts and bolts of what to look for when editing. Later in the book, she steps back to look at the role of editing in art by interviewing non-print artists about how editing has improved their work and looking at some famous writer–editor relationships.

The book contains a lot of practical advice and examples. There are checklists and exercises to help you focus on specifics. Bell quotes from letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins, to show how they worked on The Great Gatsby and quotes passages from different drafts of the manuscript to show the changes they made.

Although the book has some concrete stylistic advice (remove excessive “be” verbs, watch out for redundancy), this is not a style guide. Read it if you’re interested in larger issues (intention, structure, theme) and if you’re interested in thoughts about the role of the editor in creative writing.

Be a mechanic, not a judge. When you edit, do not ask yourself: Do I like this? Ask instead: Does this compel me and can I follow it? If the answer is no, figure out why.

—Susan Bell, The Artful Edit

Tips for getting distance from your draft

From The Artful Edit

  • Read it aloud, with or without an audience
  • Print it in a different font
  • Read it in different surroundings
  • Take a long break: don’t look at the manuscript at all for a few weeks
  • Go through the manuscript with someone else
  • Hang the pages on a line or lay them out on the floor to help you visualize the flow and layout
  • Send it away: giving your manuscript to someone else can make you see it with new eyes

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.