The Tone of Your Book Proposal

“Match the tone of your proposal to the tone of your book.”

That’s lit agent Sharon Pelletier during her session, “The 10 Best Secrets for a Winning Nonfiction Book Proposal,” at DFWCon 2017.
This piece of advice fell under her fourth point, that everything an author writes should display their ability to write. What did she mean by that?
Essentially, your book proposal is your business plan for your book. You need to show why the book ought to exist, why you’re the right person to have written it, and how your publisher can sell them by the truckloads. You’re selling yourself and your book, which effectively means you’re selling your ability to write.
And if I had to hazard a guess (because I’m guilty of it too), many authors lovingly take their time to craft their books but slap together a proposal in the hopes that their sample chapters (or full manuscript) will be what ultimately causes an agent to say yes.
But Sharon’s advice about matching the tone of your proposal to the tone of your book is so smart.
An agent likely won’t look at your writing sample first. They’ll read your synopsis or look at your platform (particularly for nonfiction). They want to know who’s behind the words and whether that person’s platform can sustain worthwhile book sales. They also want to know if the author can write.
So showcase your skills throughout your proposal.
Don’t go overboard, and be sure to follow recommended guidelines, but never forget that you’re a writer who writes and wants to be paid to do so.
To be specific about setting the tone of your proposal, don’t write a funny proposal if your book is serious. Don’t write a serious proposal if your book is funny. In other words, don’t propose a book you haven’t actually written. If the agent gets whiplash between reading your proposal and reading your sample chapters, you’ve done something wrong.
Although you’ll be tempted to breeze through your proposal because you want to get to “the real work” of writing your book or being published, writing a compelling proposal is part of that “real work.” In fact, being able to sell yourself through what can often be a staid document will showcase just how seriously you’re taking your job as a writer.
So set the tone of your proposal from your very first sentence, and make it as enticing as your book.
For more help on writing a book proposal, consider Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal.
P.S. My latest column for The Write Life was published today: “What It’s Actually Like to Work With a Book Editor