Jackie M. Johnson

Jackie M. Johnson

Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!

When I worked at Alive Communications, “the world’s leading literary agency devoted exclusively to the representation of faith-based and inspirational authors,” I read thousands of book queries and submissions. Some were good; most were lacking, both in storyline and presentation.

Many writers who can craft a well-written book often forget—or don’t know—that they need to take the same care and effort to create a successful book proposal. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction it is essential to write a book proposal that captures the agent’s attention so he or she will enthusiastically shop it and sell it to the best publisher.

Michael Hyatt, a well-known industry expert and bestselling author confirms this. As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and a literary agent for six years, he provides the inside scoop: 

The real secret to securing a book contract is knowing how to write a powerful, compelling book proposal that leaves agents begging to represent you—and publishers eager to sign you.”

One of the most important things you need to know in order to create a book proposal that gets results is this: Your proposal is a marketing piece; it is intended to grab an agent’s attention so he or she is highly motivated to shop your book idea to publishers. Your job is to convince them that you are the best person to write this book. Let them know who your target audience (the people who will most likely buy this book) is and persuade them with words that “sell,” not just words that “tell.”

What goes into a book proposal?

The format and number of chapters required will be different for fiction and nonfiction writers. I’ve listed below the main items that need to be included. However, you may want to check with your agent to determine the specific criteria he or she requires.

A good story (or nonfiction topic) is important, and so is the layout. Make sure your book proposal has all the necessary elements. Then, check your final piece for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may want to use an editing service or a critique service for your book proposal and/or manuscript. 

Nonfiction – Your nonfiction proposal should contain the elements listed below and at least two or three sample chapters:

  • Cover page (with book title and subtitle, author name, and contact information)
  • Title
  • Author
  • One line summary
  • Category
  • Tone
  • Target audiences
  • Benefits (in bullet point format)
  • Manuscript length and completion (word count and when the manuscript will be ready)
  • Rights
  • Book synopsis (about three or four paragraphs)
  • Author biography
  • Connections for promotion and possible endorsements: (Who do you know that would be      likely to provide a written endorsement for your book?)
  • Promotion ideas
  • How this book differs from the competition
  • Table of Contents
  • Summary paragraph about each chapter

Fiction – Unlike nonfiction, novel writers need to complete the entire manuscript before submitting a book proposal. Plus, you need a great “hook” (an attention-grabbing tagline that briefly summarizes the content of your novel) to sell the book idea.

According to Rachelle Gardner, an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency, you need these essential elements for a great fiction proposal:

  • Title page (with the book title, names of authors, phone numbers and email addresses)
  • One sentence hook (a tagline, one sentence that creates interest in the book)
  • Brief overview (two to four paragraphs, similar to back-cover copy that is exciting and tells the publisher succinctly what the book is about)
  • The market (the audience for the book, why somebody would buy this book)
  • About the authors (half page or full page on yourself and why you are qualified to write this book, previously published books or articles, sales figures and awards received)
  • Author marketing (your platform and how you will reach your target audience to market your book)
  • Comparable books (list four to five novels that you think are similar to yours and list the title, author, release year and a few sentences about the book and how yours is similar)
  • Details (word count, number of chapters and if the manuscript is complete. Note: Unless you are a multi-published novelist, you must have a completed novel before approaching agents and editors.)
  • Longer synopsis (in two to six pages describe the story start to finish)
  • Sample chapters (include the first 40 to 50 pages of your manuscript. These should be the first few chapters of your novel.)

Where do you send your book proposal?

Most of the time, you will be sending your book proposal to a literary agent who has asked you to send it in. As you may know, the majority of publishing houses no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts or book proposals, so it is essential to have a literary agent who will represent you to the publisher. (Note: We will talk about finding a literary agent in my June CAN blog post.).

Bottom line: If you have an amazing book idea, make sure your agent and publishers know it. Your book proposal can be more effective when you have a marketing slant (to sell your idea), include all the necessary elements, know your particular agent’s requirements, and present it in a clear, clean format.


Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. She also helps writers as a book publishing consultant. Previously, she worked at the premier literary agency, Alive Communications, and the CBA-publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Visit her encouragement blog, A New Day Cafe, or website for more information.



I meet a lot of writers who want to write for children. They come to writers’ conferences with high hopes of making a connection with an editor from a publishing house who is looking for children’s material. Many of the writers I meet have written good stories. Some are short stories written in rhyme, others are slightly longer stories written in prose. But even though they may be good stories, well written stories, and stories with a strong, age-appropriate message, most of these stories will not be published as books. The hardcover premium picture book is getting harder and harder to publish, and very few houses are actively seeking them. The cost of publishing premium pictures books is high, which makes the selling point high, which makes parents think twice before buying. So what are these writers supposed to do with the gems they have written? Read on.

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Jesse Florea
Davalynn Spencer

Davalynn Spencer

A hearty Rocky Mountain greeting today from Davalynn Spencer as we welcome Colorado author, Jesse Florea, who has a fabulous outreach to young people.

Tell us, Jesse, how did you get into writing?

As a sophomore in high school, I took an introduction-to-journalism course where I fell in love with writing. I started writing for a weekly newspaper covering high school sports.

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Author, Janet Perez Eckles

Author, Janet Perez Eckles

I’m a rare bird. I’m not afraid of snakes, not really. Could it be that I don’t see them?

The other day this was put to the test. My 6-year-old granddaughter jumped on my lap. “Nana! There is a huge lizard on the carpet.”

Huge lizard? She likes lizards and she usually guides my hand to grab them by the tail (catching them happens to be a common thing in Florida).  But this “huge” lizard might in reality be a snake.

So what does a logical, collected and calm blind Nana do? I grabbed my most effective and best weapon—a broom.

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Maureen Pratt, CAN Member-at-Large

Maureen Pratt

Hello! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog about the craft of writing. This month, some thoughts about satisfying, “gotta read this author again” endings.

Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, each piece has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Although they are each crucial to telling a good story, it’s the ending that gives readers the final feeling, the ultimate impression, of the work as a whole. If your beginning hooked them into starting to read, and if your middle was expertly crafted to keep them reading along with your storytelling, then the ending is that wonderful “icing on the cake,” and ideally makes them (the readers) want to run out and buy or read your next work.

But endings can be very tricky. They need to be just long enough, just complete enough, and just resonant enough. What do I mean by that?

We’ve all read books that didn’t know how to end. Instead of tying up the story parts into a neat package, some authors simply over write to the detriment of the piece as a whole. How do you know if your ending seems unending? As you reread your work, ask yourself, “Could I cut this second-to-last scene and still have a coherent story?” Or, cut the last scene from your book and see if the ending works with the deletion. Then, cut the next-to-last scene and examine the book again.

Carefully study your characters’ thought arcs – are they thinking in circles, or is their thought (or prayer) process, leading them to a conclusion? Is the story cycling in the same way, with several scenes that could be worked into only one?

Seemingly endless endings often suffer from lack of energy. Ask your editor or the person to whom you give your “final” draft to tell you where the book might have sagged, and where the pace flagged, toward the ending.

The second thing to gauge is whether your ending is complete enough. Does it convey the end of the story, or does it leave the reader wondering, “what happened to the [ ] back in Chapter Two? Or the character with the long monologue in Chapter Eight?” In non-fiction, if the end of the story is unresolved at press time, tell the reader there’s more to come, or simply that at press time a conclusion to the story was unavailable/had not yet occurred.  In a news story for print, one of the things that helps me “end it” succinctly is the knowledge that, if the editor runs out of room, he or she should be able to cut the story at any paragraph (lop it off, in other words), and have it still be a whole story.

Third, does your ending resonate with the rest of your piece? Is the story’s voice still that of the beginning, or has you – the author – allowed his or her voice to creep in at the end? Is your effort to end with a huge climax so aggressive that the end seems to jump off the page as if it were unrelated to the rest?

Just as we study the beginnings of classic literature, to see how authors before us began, so, too, is it helpful to study how our favorite authors tie up the loose ends and allow their stories to bid us farewell.

Finally, if we’re writing from our heart, we will feel a twinge (or more) of sadness at finishing up our work in progress. We might loathe to finish, in fact, and this can lead to some of the pitfalls I’ve tried to address here.

But when (if?) this happens to you, take a breath. Relax. Type that “30” or “The End.”

You can always begin again.

Blessings for your work and life,