Podcast: How To Write A Book Proposal With Gary Smailes, From BubbleCow

This blog is about adventures in publishing, and today we are looking at writing book proposals if you are pursuing the traditional publishing route.

Gary Smailes is the author of several history books for children published by Hachette, and also has a wide experience of the publishing industry working as a freelance writer, historian and researcher. He is part of the team at BubbleCow.co.uk which specialises in helping writers get published through copyediting manuscripts and helping with book proposals.

In this podcast you will learn:

  • How BubbleCow is run by writers for writers. Some great lessons for making a living as a writer, start a business editing, helping other authors. The name BubbleCow is a brand that is memorable and is the main entry on Google for the search term. The big licking cow is a familiar sight on Twitter @bubblecow It is important to have a consistent face and image on the internet – being memorable is key in the market.
  • The book proposal is basically the industry standard pitch to publishers and agents. You need to do one unless you are self-publishing. It’s the only way you will get noticed.
  • The basic proposal consists of a cover letter, a synopsis and an extract – usually first 3 chapters.
  • For fiction, finish the book before you pitch as you will be asked for the full manuscript if they like it. For non-fiction, most book proposals are done before writing the book – you pitch an idea.
  • A good cover letter is basically a sales letter so don’t waste it. You’re trying to convince the agent /publisher that you understand the marketplace, that you fit in the list, that it is marketable and information about you the author, that you can support and promote the book. Make sure your writing ability and personality shines through as well.
  • In the first paragraph, use an elevator pitch – a 1 line blurb that sells your book. Then brief summary of what the book is about.
  • Then try to sell your book as it is still a product that has to sell to make money. Publishing is a business so your book needs to make a profit. Give 2/3 representative titles that reflect your book and give them an idea of what it is like.
  • Include the word count.
  • Talk about you as a writer, your experience and what you will bring to marketing. The industry is looking for new writers but you do need to mention marketing ideas or platform.
  • It doesn’t have to be 1 page, but make sure it is to the point and succinct. It is important to have the skill of writing these letters as it is the way to get attention but you still have to have a stunning extract.
  • Remember the industry is slow, and they are looking for novels that will come in a year-18 months time, not what is trendy right now.
  • Be very careful to target who you send your proposal to, as publishers and agents deal with different genres. You need to convince them that your book fits with what they already publish and sell.
  • You are pitching so your extract and your book needs to be as good as possible BEFORE it reaches an agent/publisher. It used to be industry standard to spend time with writers getting them to publishable quality. Now, it is expected that the book is the best it can be before it reaches the agent and publisher.
  • The best time to approach a professional editor is when you have done everything you can to improve your book. After you have rewritten yourself and got feedback from first readers/critique groups etc. Professional editing will include a structural edit, a stylistic edit, and a copy edit for grammar and sentence structure. There will also be a proof-reading.
  • Gary’s opinion on the changes in the publishing industry. He thinks it makes a difference if you have experienced the iPad as this is a game changer. The internet has changed the self-publishing industry as it can be worthwhile if you have an online platform.

You can find Gary at BubbleCow.co.uk where you can get help with copyediting and book proposals as well as a fantastic blog packed full of information for writers. You can find BubbleCow on Twitter @BubbleCow and also on Facebook/BubbleCow

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  1. Vincent says

    Hi Joanna, I’m currently writing my first novel and I’m about 15,000 words in. It’s intended to be a 60-70000 word novel, aiming for the latter. I have my story and plot worked out and from what I’ve shown to people so far they’ve been highly impressed. My issue is, when I finish in about 2 months time (I only write two days a week, one chapter a day, it drains me) I need to pick the correct editor. However, I don’t fancy paying a minimum of 1500 euros for their services. I looked through your list and noticed Bubble cow mentioned. Would you recommend Bubble Cow for a fiction novel, espionage, action, thriller and elements of conspiracy. I know I have a great story, my issue is getting it submission ready and formatted et cetera. Is Bubble Cow a safe option, I like they’re rates they seem affordable?


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