How to Write a Proposal

On an earlier post by Dragonqueen, she writes a general guide on how to submit to a publisher. Here, I’ll give you a live example using my ninth novel, The Ties That Bind to walk you through each part.

Before we start, you’ll see a lot of services geared toward writing that “perfect proposal.” Most of those services are crap and just another way of getting you to part with your money. There are only two rules to follow when writing a proposal.

The first is to follow directions exactly to the letter from the publisher. If the publisher says they want five comparative works to yours, you provide five. You do not provide three, four, or six. It’s five. If they tell you they want your proposal on a Word doc in Times New Roman font 12 with 1″ margins, do it. Publishers have these rules in place to make it easy for them to read, format or do their work. They have to sift through piles of garbage to get to that one gem in their slush pile. Don’t create garbage simply by failing to follow directions. Dragon Soul Press is no exception and they specifically tell you that following directions is paramount.

The second is to be yourself. Don’t kill yourself trying to optimize your perfect word count or coming up with that super-awesome hook to grab the editor’s attention. Yes, spend some time on it, but write it, proofread it, get a couple of your buddies to critique it, and move on. Odds are more in your favor if you wrote something easy to read to get those eyes from your proposal to the actual sample of your writing. Trying to be cute or clever endears you to no one and is tantamount to people who believe in sending in typed resumes on pink stationery sprayed with perfume.

See? I just saved you a couple hundred bucks. Okay, let’s get to each component with examples.

One sentence summary – this is fairly explanatory (actually I wrote a post on it). Write the point of your book in roughly twenty-five words or less.

A man from our world is caught in a race war between werewolf shifters and demons, confronting an ancient power seeking release upon the rise of the Harvest Moon.

Now, we get into the pitch of your story. Dragon Soul Press states to spend only a whole paragraph. There are many parts of a pitch, but since the story is urban fantasy, let’s challenge some assumptions the editor might have made upon reading your blurb.

What if earth is just one of many dimensions of a great realm of different possibilities? A realm where elves, fae, shifters, demons, angels, and other creatures were real? Enter this story, The Ties That Bind, where our hero crosses through a Rift and discovers he is only part of many different realities that is beginning to fracture like a house made of glass.

Let’s run through a final example that publishers and literary agents love to ask for and that is comparative works. While Dragon Soul Press doesn’t ask for this, they do want to know the genre, so bear this in mind. Are you writing fantasy? If yes, what kind? Urban fantasy, steampunk, grimdark, hopepunk, epic, or quest fantasy are just a few of the subgenres.

The Ties That Bind is clearly urban fantasy (our modern world surrounded by many elements common to fantasy-other races, magic, gods, etc.). It’s also portal fiction (the main character from our world, but winds up in a different world and reality). Now that we know this, let’s find our five examples:

1. The Magicians Trilogy
2. The Seventh Sword series
3. Guilty Pleasures (Laurell K. Hamilton)
4. Moon Called (Patricia Briggs)
5. Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)


Having trouble choosing a specific genre? There’s an article for that as well.

Don’t fall for services that try to sell you that perfect way to sell your proposal. Save that money for marketing and promotion. Follow directions, be yourself, put some effort into your proposal, and you’ll do fine if you truly have a top-notch story to pitch.

Happy Writing!

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