How-To Write a Creative Work Proposal For Your Manuscript

When putting together a proposal for your creative work, whether it’s a book manuscript or a screenplay, there are a few things you’ll need to know.

What is a Creative Work Proposal?

A creative work proposal is a compilation packet of sorts. It serves as the bridge between the writer and publisher. A proposal is a business plan for a creative work that is submitted to a publisher or agent when they ask for it. And many publishers and agents websites will want this before they consider any contract offer to an author.

The proposal can also help the self-published author, because it serves as the roadmap for successful launch of a self-published work.

What Do I Need?

Think of it like a recipe. You’ll need:

  • a query letter
  • a synopsis of the work (a novel, fiction or nonfiction; collection of poems, collection of short stories, book series, screenplay… you get it)
  • a marketing plan (including genre and audience research, author background and qualifications, and current market trends)
  • and a comparative titles analysis with explanations of how each compares or differs from your proposed work. Each piece of the proposal plays an essential role in your development as a writer

It’s a hefty list but don’t let that scare you. Take it one section at a time.

Breakdown & Guidelines

Query Letter

This sells your idea to an editor or agent. For all things related to writing a query, I suggest you visit Query Shark and read, read, read, then mimic. There is no advice or instruction that I could give that would be better than what is already on Query Shark. The best way to find out how to write a compelling query is to read them. Query Shark has been helping writers for years.

Here’s a quick outline that came from my Context of Writing Professor at SNHU, on what a query letter should include. It’s coming straight from the English 340 Rubric (this is Baccalaureate-level writing content!) :

  • First, research agents and editors that might be a good fit to represent your work.
  • Compose a query letter that is addressed to a specific agent or editor appropriate for the genre of your creative work and that clearly states your purpose for writing.
  • Throughout your query letter, utilize a professional tone, while also giving a clear indication of your author voice for the editor or agent.
  • Describe your creative work using clear structure, detail, and narrative drive.
  • Write a succinct, single-paragraph biography that includes who you are and any writing- or publishing-related background you possess.
  • Conclude your letter, expressing gratitude to the recipient, informing them of any attachments, including your contact information, and ending with a targeted solicitation to read the proposal and larger work.

The Synopsis

This demonstrates your ability to write a market-friendly description of your creative work in a few brief paragraphs. This should be no more than one page. It’s one of those things that most writers dread. Because how can you take your three-hundred page novel and boil it down to a page? Best answer: By sticking with the main plot. If it’s a romance, then only tell that storyline. Don’t include the best-friend issues or even the death of a parent, if it does not directly effect the outcome of the main plot. By doing this, you can keep the synopsis to one page.

Here’s more from the Rubric:

  • Compose a synopsis with a complete structure (i.e., clear beginning, middle, and end) while utilizing narrative drive to engage the reading audience.
  • Describe necessary details that provide a visual, market-friendly synopsis of your creative work while eliminating extraneous information.

The Marketing Plan

This is vital if you’re trying to land a major publisher, but it also helps self-publishers. Creating a marketing plan forces you, the writer, to address the most important matters of what your work is (the genre, style, and theme) and who wants to read it (by defining your key audiences). It also encourages you to think beyond the work itself and about how the work will be received by the media, booksellers, and other people of influence.

For this baby, Google is your best friend. It’s all about audience demographics.

Is your work Sci-Fi? Romance? Magical Realism? Use Incognito mode in Google (for more wide-ranging results and hopefully avoid paywalls) to get the answers to who reads (or watches) these categories and why. The “why” is important and tells you a lot that can help with the comparative titles analysis.

Still from the ENG 340 Rubric:

  • Write a professional author biography that highlights your experience, background, unique expertise, and what you bring to the market or genre. (Expand on the biography you wrote in your query letter to include more about your unique identity as a writer.)
  • Define the genre and format of your creative work, including an explanation of how it fits into a specific genre. You may want to consider illustrating your response with specific examples of other works in the genre.
  • Analyze current writing styles and publishing trends in the genre of your creative work.
  • Explain how your creative work reflects these trends while bringing something unique to the genre.
  • Explain the primary audience of the creative work, using detail from market research.
  • Propose how the primary audience can best be reached. Use research to support your proposal.

The Comparative Titles Analysis

Think of it as a branch on the same tree as the marketing plan. The purpose is to use other titles that are comparable to yours in genre, theme, and medium. For example, I’ve got a TV pilot screenplay that is category sci-fi/mystery/adventure, with the theme of transformation. A comparative title, would be the TV show, LOST. While looking at the audience demographic

While we all think our stories are unique, there is nothing new under the sun, as they say. By categorizing and comparing your book or screenplay to others out there in the marketplace, you are giving your audience a snapshot of why your work should matter to them, with concrete reasoning to back it up. If your creative work is a book, Amazon is your best friend. You’ll want to know the tags and categories of the best-selling ebooks.

From the Rubric:

  • For this section, you will need to research works in the same genre or subject matter as your own. You will select three specific works to discuss throughout this section.
  • Provide a list of comparative titles, including price, format (e.g., hardcover, paperback), year the book was published, and ISBN number.
  • Write a brief, market-friendly synopsis (one to three sentences) describing each work.
  • Compare these works to each other and to your own creative work, highlighting similarities and differences that would indicate your work is a good publishing choice. Use market research to support your claims.

I know it seems like a lot of work, but if you take it one step at a time, one project at a time, you can absolutely write your own Creative Work Proposal.

Source material from: ENG 340-T6943, “ENG 340 Final Project Guidelines and Rubric” Context of Writing, Southern New Hampshire University, NH, June 27, 2022.

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