INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
As a writing coach, I have worked on a number of proposals with authors and agents, and almost every one is different. They vary pretty widely with the particulars of the project. Nonetheless, some guidelines are useful, so here is a good model, courtesy of Judy Brown, journalist (LA Weekly), author (The Comedy Thesaurus) and editor (National Lampoon Books).
Of course the entire publishing industry is in such chaos and contraction right now that pretty much all bets – and rules – are off, so if this outline somehow doesn’t serve to convey what’s so great about your project… don’t use it.
HUMOR BOOK PROPOSALS, IN SHORT
Each of the below sections can be a couple paragraphs, or a page (at most) in length (With the exception of your sample chapter, which might reflect an actual chapter’s length.)
These are guidelines, so don’t get too hung up on the particulars, and you can skip the least important aspects.
The most important sections:
Sample Chapter, Table of contents (or whatever samples would best reflect your book’s style. Followed by either your credits, demographics (if you have them) — such as website statistics, or books sold – or Promotion, or Press, if you have that.
If these sections are strong, you can skip the not-so-important sections: Blurbs, and Audience.
But keep in mind that our audience is, primarily — but not exclusively — 18-34 year old guys (think frat boy, or aging frat boy, if that helps.)
Don’t go into overlong details, make the proposal easy for us to read, title the sections in bold, and give us the essential information we’ll need to visual your finished book.
The Title (and subtitle, if there is one) centered toward the top of the page – under which write “Book Proposal”; your byline(s) underneath that; and at the bottom left, your contact information (Name, address, email, phone.)
Title: Ideally, the title should be both funny and descriptive. If it isn’t both, the title can be funny, and a subtitle descriptive — or vice versa.
Fat Guy Nation: Live Fat, Die Young, and Leave a Large-Looking Corpse
Van Wilder’s Guide to Graduating College in Eight Years or More
Pimp my Crib: From Kegerators to Potato Guns and Vibrating Couches, Do-It-Yourself, Dude
For instance, if you have a plainly descriptive subtitle, search your copy for a funny and eye-catching chapter title or phrase, which could serve as the title.
The Stripper Who Gave Away a Free Lap Dance, and Other Bedtime Stories for Lunatics
Summary and Overview The summary should be a short, compelling, and amusing (if not funny) description of the book.
The overview: in a couple paragraphs you’ll be boiling down, previewing and providing the highlights of the info in the rest of the proposal, such as: your top credits, or the most impressive website statistics, or book sales, possible audience for book, etc. Write the rest of the proposal first, and you can then summarize that information briefly in this first page.
About the Author(s): Here’s where to mention your top credits: such as that you’re the creator of (or writer on) a website(s), or author of articles (which have been published where?), or a book (that’s sold how many copies?), or scripts, comedian, or other ways in which you’re suited to write this particular book. However, don’t write it bio or resume-style as lists of credits, but as a narrative paragraph or so.
The Audience: Our audience is, primarily, the 18-34 year old guy, so any connection of your book, or credits, or whatever, to that group should be mentioned. If you’ve written before for that age group in your articles, previous book, or on your website, tell us about it, or get more specific about your website, YouTube numbers or other media statistics, if you have ‘em.
Special Marketing and Promotional Opportunities: Do you have any special relationships to the market? (You’re an editor of a newsletter on the subject of your book, your website attracts the 18-34 year-old market, etc.)
Demographic information: Repeat, and perhaps go into more detail, about the demographics for your website, if you have one, or write for one or more, or podcasts, YouTube, radio, books or articles you’ve written, etc.
And add: how you could sell and promote the book, — sales on website, or promote it through radio, YouTube, podcasts, writing articles, or whatever, etc.
This section should describe what you –- realistically — can do on your part to promote and sell the book.
But don’t tell the publishers how to do their job – such as, which bookstores you think should stock your book.
And don’t get overly elaborate or fanciful with your plan — briefly, describe what it’s realistic for you to do: sell off your website (which gets how many hits a day? Or, from which you’ve already sold how much in the way of t-shirts, geegaws?), sell after gigs (and you do how many a year?), or however else you might promote (write articles for publication, if you’re a magazine writer, create a YouTube video, etc.) or sell books (after lectures, etc.)
If your website (or books, or self, etc.) have gotten press, name the top print, radio, TV, or web write-ups, or accolades, etc. (Which implies those contacts might also cover your book.) And if they said anything laudatory, please quote a sentence or so, connected to which publication, website, etc.
For example, “The Ohio Plain Dealer said of (book, website, you), ‘Readable, chewable and just plain fun!’”
Keep in mind: Your proposal is both a writing sample, and a sort of business plan.
Blurbs: Not an essential part of your book proposal, but icing on the cupcake, if you can supply ‘em. Know anyone famous, or qualified in the particular field you’re writing about? Ask them if they would agree to read your eventual book, and give you a one or two sentence blurb for the back cover. (Which, hopefully, would either praise you or book, or at least, be amusing.)
Manuscript Specifications: How long will the book be? (Generally, 150-288 pgs) Go to the Humor section at a local chain bookstore and research other humor books similar to the format or length you have in mind for your book.
And tell us if there any special printing issues (i.e., Will your book require illustrations, photographs, etc.? Indicate that, and if you would be the one supplying the illos, some should be included with the sample chapter.)
Table of Contents: A table of contents, with a paragraph, or a couple sentences, describing the contents of each chapter – if it has chapters.
Or any other way, you might expand your samples into book length.
This section shows the publisher that there will be enough material to fill a book.
But you’re trying to sell a humor book, so be sure the chapter titles are funny, or jokes, as well as making the descriptions of what each chapter will cover as humorous as possible.
Not necessarily the first chapter of the book, but what you think would be the best example of your rapier wit, and the book’s style.
A sample chapter might also be the approximate length of a chapter for the finished book.
Or, at least, a sample large enough to give us an idea of your humor-writing style, and/or the book’s format, etc.
Include sample illustrations, if you’re the one who will supply the illos for the eventual book.