How to write a book proposal that sells

Early this morning, I emailed the formal proposal for my new book to New York. It was sixteen pages of single-spaced description, starting with a single painstakingly-written sentence. That first sentence has to hook my editor or she’ll never read the rest. I mean, you guys read the first page or two of a book before buying. If you don’t like what’s right there at the beginning, you pass on the whole thing. Right? Well, pitching a book isn’t all that different.

Here’s the sentence I sent:

A woman has a secret that may save the life of her best friend’s husband – or destroy him.

I followed it with a brief synopsis – five short paragraphs of elaboration – because no single sentence can describe an emotional book.

Then what? New writers ask this all the time, and they want a definitive answer, which embarasses me a little. Of the dozens of proposals I’ve written, no two were the same. Form doesn’t matter, the sheepish me argues. Content does.

Over the summer, my editor and I had thrown questions back and forth, the sixteen pages of this proposal took the form of a Q & A. To whom does this woman tell the secret first?” I asked, then answered, “Her best friend,” and explained why. Where is the book set (an island off the Maine coast) and what is its appeal (the ocean, the food, the guy whose house is at the very tip of said island)? Who are the main characters and what is their past? What events keep the story moving? Where’s the emotion?

There is a high-concept element in this plot that forms the spine of the story, but I’m not telling you that just yet. I’m not giving you a title either, because it’s TBD.

What now? My editor will show it to the head honcho and others at SMP (my publisher, St. Martin’s Press), and then come back to me with suggestions, caveats, and what I hope will be an overall thumbs up, because I’m ready to write.

In the meanwhile, I wait.

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