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How to Write a Book Proposal or Book: Why I am a Perfectionist

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Your Book Writing Coach

I’m not a perfectionist about everything. Take one look at my desk and that will be way obvious! I am a perfectionist when it comes to how to write a book proposal and how to write a book, though.

Here’s why:

1. Branding: Your book sends a message to all readers and potential readers–from the title to book cover to content and punctuation.  You want to send a top quality message.

2. Credibility: When I see typos or incorrect grammar in a book it calls the credibility of the author into question. I wonder if the author is truly an expert. And others will wonder, as well.

3. Clarity: If there are grammatical errors in your book, it may confuse the meaning of a sentence or passages. You do not want to confuse your readers.

4. Agents are Busy: Literary agents are some of the hardest working, busiest people on the planet. Many don’t have the time to fix or edit your proposal. They expect you to have done that. I recommend hiring a book editor to make sure you’ve done a perfect job.  The first pass is about making sure you understand the elements of a book proposal and that you write each section of the book proposal in a way that is professional and answers all the agent’s and publisher’s questions in a compelling manner. Your overview also needs to stand out and offer a great hook. And every section should be compelling. Here’s an example about how to write the competing books section in a book proposal. And here’s how to write the chapter outlines for a book proposal. That first pass can involve brainstorming and idea generation. The second pass can be more wordsmithing and some additional idea generation if a section is weak. This is often the case for the book promotion section, for instance. Then, edit until it’s perfect.

5. Publishers Expect Perfection: It’s a competitive market. Publishers don’t necessarily have the time and budget to take a shaky manuscript and make it great, even if your ideas and platform are strong. They want to know you are going to make their job easy with a flawless manuscript. They may still want to make changes and incorporate new ideas, but at least they’ll know the process should be fairly straightforward because you will send them high quality work.

Two of my clients e-mailed me this week to say that they have book offers on the table–one of them a six figure deal. I hope you are convinced that when you write a book proposal or write a book, you want to take on perfectionism. Brainstorm, research, edit, proofread, have every section of your proposal (or every page of your book) be compelling–and hire professionals for each part of that process if you can. For a book proposal, a book proposal coach or book proposal editor should be enough, but for a book, I would include hiring a proofreader–which requires a separate skill from other kinds of editing.

Do you have questions about how to write a book proposal? Ask here as a comment and I will answer.

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. Jean LeBlanc says

    Is is possible for an unknown author to submit a book proposal including outline and three sample chapters that someone might think is good enough to pay a low five-figure advance that would allow me to completely focus on the book and finish it in six months?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Jean, It is possible. They’ll probably want to see that you have a following or author platform – some way you already reach a good number of people in your target market. And, of course, a compelling book concept, great writing and a compelling proposal.

  2. Val says

    Hello! I’ve written a book chronicling my journey to recovery from SI (self injurious behaviors), depression, and anxiety.
    I am growing a platform with a blog and facebook page; I really don’t want to do the self publishing route, but am not sure where to start to find a more traditional publishing company that would take a look at my manuscript? Any tips on where to start? Thank you!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Val,
      You will need a book proposal. I recommend Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal for guidance. And you will need to have a significant platform to interest publishers, so good that you are blogging–that’s an excellent place to start.
      You may also eventually pitch some blog stories to national blogging sites or news sites if they are appropriate for such venues.

  3. Taryn says


    I have 60 pages completed of my autobiography and I have no idea how to finish this “potential book”. I am at a complete loss. I don’t have a problem editing because I have people that can do that for me the main thing is getting it written and then getting it out there. Where do I start?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Taryn, that’s exciting. FYI, you’ll want to refer to the book as a memoir (a part of someone’s life who is not famous) vs. autobiography, which generally covers the whole life and is for someone in the public eye. I suggest you work with a writing coach who can read what you have and help you parse through the decisions. Would you like a referral?

      • taryn says

        Yes please. Also, what is the difference between self publishing and sending proposals to big companies? Which is better for a beginner?

  4. Lisa Tener says

    Hi Taryn,
    Please read the following blog post to understand what publishers are looking for in a memoir.
    If you can satisfy what they are looking for, it may be worth writing a book proposal and querying agents (again, see Mike Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal for how to do that).
    If you cannot satisfy the 3 things that Regina mentions in the blog post, I suggest you self-publish but get a good freelance/independent editor. E-mail me at lisa at lisatener dot com if you want a referral to an editor.

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