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How To Make Sure Your Book Proposal Gets Read…And Fast.

Your Book Writing Coach
Your Book Writing Coach

This weekend an agent told me she wants to represent an author of mine and she hasn’t been this excited about a book since she represented two authors whose books became top sellers.

In our conversation, I happened to ask about another proposal a different client had sent in and she hadn’t seen it. Whoops. Turns out I forgot to tell the author to put “Requested material” and my name on the envelope. I knew better, but just forgot. My omission is your boon, since it’s an important point to remember.

[Note: I wrote this post some time ago. Most book proposals are sent by e-mail now, but do include “requested material:book proposal”  in your subject line. In the email, include the conference where you met, the name of the person who introduced you, or anything else that will remind them of your connection .]

Here are 3 steps to make sure your book proposal gets read:

Avoid the slush pile.

1. Send a query first. Only send the proposal once the agent or publisher requests it. Otherwise, it goes straight to the slush pile or sometimes even the trash—the penalty of not following directions.

2. Check the agent’s website to see if he or she prefers queries by phone or e-mail. Different agents have different preferences; your upfront research shows you’re a team player.

3. Once an agent has requested your proposal, either because of a query you sent or a pitch you made in person at a conference, mark the envelope (left bottom corner) [or nowadays, it’s mostly the subject line of the e-mail]: “Requested:” followed by an abbreviated version of the title of your book. If you met the agent at a conference, include the conference where you met. For example, you might write, “Requested: Saigon Effect: Harvard Medical Course.” This will get you priority reading. I find that agents will look at a requested proposal I sent them anywhere from immediately to two weeks out, occasionally as long as a month. This is much, much faster than the slush pile.

Download these 10 Tips to get started on your proposal–and make it your best!

My cautionary tale ends happily and provided compost for a quick and useful blog post. The agent was very kind and understanding about my omission.

So remember:  Send a query first. Research the agent’s website for query preference. Mark the envelope “Requested” and stay away from that slush pile!

Get my free ebook: 10 Tips to a Book Proposal Publishers Will Love.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Monica Strobel says

    Lisa– You are so honest in sharing all of your information! Yet it is your willingness to go for it and your expertise that really shines through! How did you get comfortable talking to agents?

    • lisatener says

      That’s a great question. You don’t necessarily want to call up a literary agent you don’t know and ask them questions! These are some of the busiest people in the world. I’ve gotten to know these agents as colleagues, mostly through the writing and publishing course at Harvard Medical School where we serve as faculty members together, but also through sending several of them high quality book proposals. I have met others through mutual clients or through the International Women Writers Guild.

      Occasionally, I will e-mail one of these agents asking for their opinion or experience for a blog post I am writing. So, we have a relationship that has developed over the years. When I have a client whose book I’m excited about but I’m wondering about the market for the book, or how to make it more marketable, I may even contact an agent ahead of time, let them know about the project, express my concerns and see if they have any ideas of feedback in order to make the book more marketable.

      If you are looking to connect with agents personally, I recommend attending a writing conference where you are going ot meet agents who are interested in the genre of book you’re writing.

  2. Robin Gillette says

    Your information is always helpful, timely, and inspirational. Thank you for your insights and guidance.

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