How to Propose to a Literary Agent


I’m Proposing!

Yes, it’s official. I’m in my second ever relationship and have decided, “It’s a GO! Let’s Get This Thing Done!”

What the heck? Right?

When my first book, So Many Africas: Six Years in a Zambian Village came out with Autumn House Press, I didn’t need an agent. It was a small press. I’d won a contest. They published it. Simple as that.

I’ve been writing a second book for two years now. And yes, it’s “done.” Which is just another way of saying, I’ve turned my attention away from the writing itself and onto the next step. I’m ready to propose, this time to a literary agent.

Writing a Book Proposal

This is a brand new thing for me. Since my first book won a contest and was published by a small press, I didn’t need to find a literary agent. This time around, I’m looking for a larger press. Authors cannot approach larger presses on their own. I cannot email a NYC publication house. Only agents can approach. So, I want to find a literary agent, a middle person hired to do the job of linking and matching prospective book titles and authors up with interested houses.

Agents have protocols. It’s a business, people! The only way agents make money is on commission when they sell a book to a house.

Here’s the chain of events.

  • An author ‘sells’ her book concept to an agent, beginning with sending out a Query Letter.
  • IF the agent is remotely interested in the query, she will ask for a Book Proposal.
  • The author sends a book proposal.
  • IF the agent is still enthused about the book, she will negotiate a contract to work with the author.
  • The agent then represents the book, bringing it to publishing houses, promoting it, finding the best house available.
  • IF a house is interested in publishing the book, the agent is the go between and helps negotiate a contract between the author and the publishing house.

A Book Proposal

Since a book proposal is the first thing an agent will request if interested in my book, I’m studying how to write a stunning one. It’s not rocket science (there are a bi-zillion books and websites on the subject) but it is strenuous and demanding.

I started with Ted Weinstein’s brilliant one hour podcast: Book Proposal Bootcamp. Which comes with a link for an outline

I ordered books from the library, visited websites, and started writing.


Every book proposal includes the same items. It can be a forty or fifty page document!

  1. Synopsis (two pages single spaced)
  2. Author Credentials and Publications
  3. Target Audience
  4. Comparative Titles
  5. Marketing and Promotion
  6. Table of Contents
  7. Extended Table of Contents
  8. Sample Writing

Buying the Diamond; Planning the Day

As with any proposal, the planning behind the event can make or break the day.

When my husband proposed to me (thirty some years ago!) we were in Rotterdam, sitting under the Euromast: the Eiffel Tower of the Netherlands. He’d plan the day all out; I didn’t have a clue. Back in those days, people didn’t propose while skydiving above the Mojave Desert, on a mega-screen in the middle of the Super Bowl, or on top of Mount Vesuvius.

The fact that the Euromast (180 m high and built in 1960 as part of the Netherlands once every ten year national floral exhibition) was meaningful to him, was enough for me. I said yes. We walked to a jeweler and picked out matching gold rings. We were married  three months later in a small Dutch Reformed Church, the wedding officiated by my father-in-law.


Thirty Years Later

So here we are, hubby and I, thirty years later, standing once again under the Euromast. It did us well.

So what I’m hoping for is something similar. A proposal, an acceptance, a marriage of sorts. My book + An Agent = A Publishing House.

Wish me luck. In the meantime, I’m going to write my heart out and dream of the day I actually propose to a literary agent, and that agent says, “Yes.” Maybe, I’ll even go out and buy a ring! 

Ring photos from the very gifted and wonderful KrisKandel

Jill Kandel
  • Heather MacLaren Johnson
    Posted at 15:08h, 25 July Reply

    Excited to hear you are at the book proposal stage! Rooting and praying for you! Can’t wait to read it! You’re a beautiful writer!

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 18:51h, 25 July Reply

      Thank you so much, Heather! It is an exciting (and new) place to be. I’m enjoying learning new things!

  • Julie Bettinger
    Posted at 15:20h, 25 July Reply

    You explained this so well, Jill! I’m at Goucher College this week, surrounded by everyone from aspiring writers to Pulitzer Prize winning authors (and one who just had a movie come out based on her book). I am going to share your post far and wide.

    You helped take the mystery out of this critical step on a writer’s journey…

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 18:52h, 25 July Reply

      Hi Julie! Wow!! Enjoy Goucher. What a wonderful time you have planned! Thank you for your vote of confidence on taking the mystery out. I love passing along the things that I am learning about. Kind of exciting! Next up … “The Ethics of Proposing to More Than One Person at a Time!” Love you!!

  • Diane McElwain
    Posted at 07:48h, 26 July Reply

    I’m researching the same subject, and I’ve found plenty of help. Best wishes to you Jill!

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 07:58h, 26 July Reply

      Thank you, Diane. Best wishes to you, too! Maybe we’ll have to send each other engagement presents!!

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