The First Step You Must Take to Get Your Book Published

From my previous reader surveys, I know that approximately 61.4 percent of my readers have either written a book or want to write a book. That number still astonishes me. No wonder there were over one million books published last year just in the U.S.

A Book Publishing Contract - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #15895884

Photo courtesy of ©

Yet most aspiring authors will not get published—at least, not by a traditional publisher. Why? Because they don’t know how to get the attention of an agent. And without an agent, they don’t have a chance of getting a publisher.

Most publishers simply don’t have the resources to evaluate unsolicited proposals and manuscripts. Instead, they depend on literary agents to do their filtering, believing this is the best way to discover the best new authors.

So, as a hopeful author, the questions is this: “How do you get the attention of an agent?”

The answer is simple to articulate but difficult to execute. You must write a killer book proposal. In addition, if you are writing a novel, you will likely have to submit a completed manuscript.

But it all starts with the book proposal. Why? There are three reasons:

  1. Agents don’t have time to evaluate manuscripts. Think about it. How long does it take you to read a book? Ten, twenty, or thirty hours? This is an enormous investment. Agents often receive hundreds of proposals a month.
  2. Agents have a finite list of questions. They don’t re-invent the wheel every time they evaluate a proposal. The questions are predictable. Basically, they boil down to these: What’s the book about? Why are you qualified to write it? What will you do to help market it?
  3. Agents need to be equipped to sell. Whatever else a literary agent is—and I was one for six years—he or she is a salesperson. Their job is to sell you and your proposal to prospective publishers. The easier you can make it for them, the more likely they will succeed in getting you a book contract

In addition, a proposal provides a blueprint for the writing itself. This is why even published authors (at least the smart ones) start with a proposal. They want to know where the book is going before they invest too much time or energy in writing it.

I realized the strategic significance of having a good book proposal early in my career. That is why I have written two ebooks, one for non-fiction authors and one for novelists. I want to give authors the competitive advantage they need to succeed. As you will see from the endorsements I have received from agents and authors, these books do exactly that.

Whether you are thinking about writing your first book (and from my reader survey I know that is highly likely) or are an established author, I invite you to check out my two ebooks, Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal and Writing a Winning Fiction Book Proposal. Both will give you the edge you need to secure a book publishing contract.

Questions: Have you ever prepared a formal book proposal? What have been the results so far? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Sherri

    I have been sending proposals to agents one at a time as I read about agencies and agents. I know many people send multiple proposals to as many agents as possible. Do you have a recommendation either way? 

    I have your e-books, by the way. They are very practical with explanations and examples of each part of the proposal. Very helpful.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Personally, I would send them in catches, so I can incorporate any feedback I get.
      Thanks for your kind words about my ebooks.

  • John Richardson

    Thanks for presenting the process in a clear and understandable format, Michael. I have both of your e-books and they are a great first step of the process. For me, I’m hoping to publish two e-books this year. One about about a custom time management system and the other a goal setting strategy that will allow people to reach their goals of writing a book. Hopefully these books will be a positive source of income and also provide a greater window into my writing style and audience. From there I think it will be easier to secure an agent and head into next year with a couple of book projects and proposals, one fiction and one non-fiction.

    The further down the path I’ve gone in the publishing process, the more I realize how much there is involved. Actually writing the book is less than half the battle. You then need a good editor, agent, and willing publisher to make it all happen. And when you finally get that paper bound collection of words in your hands, you then need to build a platform to share it with the world. Aspiring writers are definitely candidates for time management and goal setting information! :-)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely! Writing a successful book takes enormous discipline. I’ll bet your tools can help. Thanks.

  • ScottWilliams

    Prepared one book proposal, used your book as a guideline (simple, practical, targeted & detailed at the same time), got a publishing deal.  Working on project 2 & 3 right now.  Will definitely use your book format again, it’s helpful to gather your thoughts, outline, affinity groups etc.

    I reached out to one agent; however this particular agent seemed to be a little pretentious, so I was inspired to take a different route.  I went the non-agent route, but did lots of research from agent blogs, industry blogs and counsel from people in the business.  I felt I had a decent understanding of what I was getting into.  Once you have interest of a couple publishing companies or their acquisition folks, the market of supply and demand will naturally formulate your deal.
    Thanks for spending some time meeting with me as well, that was a helpful bonus.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Scott. I appreciate you sharing your story. (Thanks also for guest-posting last Friday!)

    • Brandon


  • Jim Schaffer

    Probably not going to write a book, but I just want to acknowledge how generous you are in your blog and elsewhere. I found you initially through my long-time friendship with Ian Cron, one of your authors. I read your blog for the simple benefit of learning how-to’s from such a well-rounded and accomplished professional. Thanks for giving so much here for the benefit of any reader. Jim Schaffer

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jim. I appreciate that.

  • Paul B Evans

    Thanks Michael!

    I’ve got a couple of completed manuscripts I’ve been selling online for a while. I did exactly what you’re not supposed to do. Went directly to the editors – with only one response. THANKS for the insight.

    (Of course, me not getting accepted has nothing to do with my belief that grammar and punctuation are optional!) :)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Ha! Have you seen Taylor Mali’s poem about proofreading? Pretty funny.

      • Paul B Evans

        Yes! Finally, a guy who can write right!!!

    • LisaGemini

      Ha, ha, ha! Yes, Paul, grammar and punctuation are essential. I’m an editor as well as a writer if you ever need a little help.

      It amuses me how many people want to be rich like Rowling but don’t realize how few actually make it. It’s like acting.

      • Paul B Evans

        Hi Lisa! Love the association to acting.Yeah, that’s funny – rich like Rowling. I’ve never really thoughtabout commercially publishing from a financial perspective (justcredibility and audience building). Maybe because self-publishing hasbeen so lucrative for me.

        • Brad Bridges

          What were the keys for you to make self-publishing so lucrative? In other words, how did you do it? What advice would you have for others?

          • Paul B Evans

            Hi Brad,

            No real magic.

            1. Build an audience through your blog and have an opt-in to get names and emails.

            2. Announce what you’re working on.

            3. Select a date to “launch” it.

            4. Remind people of the date as you publish your regular, valuable content.

            5. When the day arrives reward your faithful followers with a slight discount.

            I released a new report last Thursday and sales so far are $3500 plus since then. Nothing crazy, but it’s just the beginning and just one report. I do this at least once a month.

            The real key is building your audience. 

          • Brad Bridges

            Paul, Very helpful information. Thanks for taking the time to write, organize, and share it. Glad to hear the newest report is doing well.

  • Jay Cookingham

    Thanks Mike for the willingness to share your gifts with us, they are a blessing!

  • Jason


    Thank you for the article on getting your book started. I’ve been contacted by Westbow Press already. I’m not rushing into this as this is my first book. I’ve also reached out to other writers in my area that have written Christian books. It’s nice to have your site to be able to look at and get advise. Please look at my Blog if you get a chance and I would love any feedback you could give me.

    Thank You and God Bless.


  • David Barry DeLozier

    Your e-books are great – tightly edited to exactly the information needed.  I’m writing fiction, still in a polishing stage before launching into an agent search.  I enjoy applying structure and business disciplines to creative efforts in my other work (architecture, construction), so the book proposal seems exciting (and challenging).

  • Stephanie

    I wrote a book proposal using your guidelines (before you put them in book form) as a template and received many compliments from publishers and agents on it. I ended up landing an agent, but unfortunately the publisher I ended up with was small enough that I could have secured them without her help. 

    Nonetheless, the book proposal was an important part of my process because it helped me clearly articulate why I was writing it as well as who I wanted to read it and how I was going to get it to them. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  • gwalter

    And here, all this time, I’ve been thinking someone would discover my blog and ask me if they could publish it as a book? Oh, how naive.

    Actually, since I was in my early 20s, I thought I’d one day write a book.  But I knew back then I really had nothing to say.  Now that I have something to say, I have neither the time, nor the discipline to actually write that book.

    I guess I’m content with a few hundred readers on my random online musings.

    Or not….  

    • Brad Bridges

      What if you strategically planned out a series of blog posts that you could stitch together as an eBook one day??? Perhaps you have ideas worth sharing and only need to figure out a way to package and market them. 

      • gwalter

        That’s actually a great idea. I kind of do that with categories, but am still kinda random. And with my “new” theme, the categories are less prevalent.

        Thanks for the suggestion!

        • Brandon

          What’s your blog about?

          • gwalter

            Started out talking about being a new Dad – things I learned, then unemployment, then life and growth and stuff.

            I have EMS/firefighting stories, and a host of other stuff – but mostly it’s my life journey..

          • Brandon

            That’s really cool! My blog focuses on 3 topics: leadership, Christian life, and worship/guitars. I mainly talk about Christian life and worship/guitars. I occasionally go into leadership series, but it is not too often.


        • Brandon

          Also, what theme are you using?

          • gwalter

            Theme: Clean Home by Mid Mo Design.

      • Brandon

        I have been really thinking about that. I wrote a post on it today:

        • Brad Bridges

          Thanks for the post and your willingness to share your thoughts. I look forward to reading your first eBook and hearing your thoughts after its completed.

  • Rachelle Gardner

    Great post, Mike. It’s important to distinguish, however, that the majority of agents do NOT require or even want a book proposal for fiction, only for non-fiction.

    With fiction, we just need a brief pitch and the completed novel. If we need a proposal to use in selling the book to a publisher, we’ll help you create one.

    Novelists MUST focus on writing a good book before all else.

  • Heather Sunseri

    This is wonderful. I’m a novelist, and like Rachelle pointed out, I’ve never felt the need to write a complete proposal for a work of fiction.

    However, I have worked through the process of completing a fiction book proposal, because it helped me work out the kinks in my story and how I might pitch and market that story. So, although I’ve not fine tuned the words within the written proposal since I don’t have an agent yet, I know how to answer the difficult questions an agent might ask during a pitch.

  • LisaGemini

    Whew! It’s a lot of work to be successful as a writer. I have a partial proposal but need that extra push to finish it. Thanks for the incentive, Michael!

  • Cynthia Herron

    Such wonderful information this morning!

    I can only speak from my own experience. I wasn’t asked for a proposal package until AFTER the synopsis, partial, and full were requested. Many agencies have a specific template they use when requesting a proposal (in preparation for shopping projects to specific publishers.)

    Thank you for being a continued beacon when we need inspiration, advice, and Godly insight. I love starting my day here!

  • Sarah Kovac

    This year, by submitting my blog in a contest, I won a scholarship to She Speaks (a conference for writers and speakers) and I unwittingly signed up for a meeting with an agent. I’d never seen a formal book proposal in my life. I didn’t even have a complete chapter… only the dream to write my life story someday. Instead of backing out of the appointment, I downloaded your e-book, followed it step-by-step, and within two weeks had written the proposal and chapters from scratch.

    Last weekend the agent sent me her signature on the contract. :)

    THANK YOU for your book! It was my lifeline!

    (winning blog entry here:  )

  • Ben Lichtenwalner

    First, to anyone considering Michael’s Book Proposal eBooks – do it. These are well worth the tiny investment. Second, I have a follow up question for you, Michael:

    What if You Have Other Strong Contacts With a Publisher? This post is timely for me as I was recently approached by a freelance editor to write a book. I have a strong connection with this person and respect his work immensely. Furthermore, he has an excellent relationship with one, particular publisher. I’m still tempted to seek out an agent for consideration by other publishers, but at the same time, fear damaging relations with this editor. What do you think?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Any legitimate editor will encourage you to get representation. Editors and agents do different work, but both are necessary.
      Hope that helps! Thanks.

      • Ben Lichtenwalner

        It does – thanks Michael.

  • John Bergquist

    As I share my book journey, those three questions ( or more so know the answers to them) have opened door after door with the people my co-author and I have needed. At what point is the agent critical though? We are now filling out the chapter outline with content. Are we ahead of ourselves in not having a formal proposal?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I always recommend starting with the proposal. It’s like a blueprint. as a contractor, you wouldn’t want to start laying concrete or framing the house until you have the plans.

      • John Bergquist

        You have not seen my house.  No just kidding.  Great point. I am taking your advice and building a proposal now before we go much further. Thanks!

  • R.A. Snyder

    Yes! And I met with an agent and haven’t heard a word back. Not even a rejection! It’s kind of discouraging. *sigh* 

    • Michael Hyatt

      My first book was rejected by 29 publishers before I found one that said yes. Publishing is a game of perseverance.

      • John Bergquist

        I remember Andy Andrews saying the Noticer was rejected 58 times or something.  It is one of my favorite books too.  Keep  pushing forward @twitter-171725040:disqus .

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    I found my agent through the Guide to Literary Agents blog, run by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. After querying and sending five pages, she requested my full manuscript. We did one round of edits, and four months later, she sold my middle-grade historical verse novel at auction, to Random House Children’s Books.

    I haven’t heard of novelists writing proposals but I do know I can send to my agent (who will present to my editor) either full manuscripts or a synopsis and the first chapter / first ten pages.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It really depends on the agent and the publisher. Some want the proposal first, so they don’t have to wade through the whole manuscript. But, if they are interested, they will inevitably want the whole manuscript.

  • kimanzi constable

    Now for most of us it’s not all about the money, but it is a little. Can you tell us Michael what do you ultimately think is more profitable, going self published or having a publisher?

    • Michael Hyatt

      It really depends on your goals. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. You may, however, want to read this post: Should You Consider Self-Publishing?

      • kimanzi constable

        Thx I’ll check it out!

  • TCAvey

    I have written a proposal and so far I am unsure of my results.  It was only last month that I sent it off to various agents.  I have received one request for the full manuscript and one email stating  they will be in further contact.  I have also received two no’s.  I’m not sure what this means?  Is my proposal good? 

    also, how do I market my book?  I don’t know how to answer that question.  what are my options?  I am a hard worker and willing to put forth all the effort required, I simply do not know what to do.  Can you please help? 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Don’t panic. It usually takes a couple of months for agents to respond. They are inundated with proposals.
      With regard to marketing, search my blog for the word “platform.” I am writing a book on this topic now, but some of my posts will get you pointed in the right direction.

      • TCAvey

        Thank you so much for your quick reply and assistance, I will take a look at your blogs on platforms!

  • Harleena Singh

    Those are very valid points Michael, and something that I plan implementing as soon as I get down to authoring a book! I have been giving it a thought for long, but the long tedious process of getting published is what holds one back. However, we do need to get down to things and experience them to learn more about them!

    Thanks for sharing :)

  • Anonymous

    Right on Michael. I have been refining the proposal for my next book over the past 2 years and it’s now ready to rock the world! But it took me a long while to realize that’s it’s not always easy to sell a project. I was totally lucky with my 1st solo project and had it accepted based on a brief proposal. But I have much higher hopes for my next title and have therefore attempted to master the arts of patience and persistence in order to snag me a much more favourable publishing contract this time around.   

  • Brad Bridges

    Would you recommend publishing an eBook prior to trying to secure an agent through a proposal? Part of me wonders if this is a much easier first step but it could also backfire if the eBook failed to impress and/or build one’s platform.

  • Guest

    Maybe I am confused here but when I looked at your 2011 reader survey results, it says that 38.6% have no intention of writing a book. Yet you say “I know that approximately 95 percent of my readers have either written a book or want to write a book”. What am I missing here?

    • Michael Hyatt

      You are exactly right. I was looking at the raw data and added the wrong segments. The correct number should be 61.4%. I have changed the number in the post. Thanks for catching that.

  • JHyatt

    Bought your e-book and it has been extremely helpful in writing my non-fiction book proposal.  Straightforward and streamlined, it helped me know exactly what needed to be included and how to write it step by step.  Waiting to hear back from my query letters to agents so I can send them the proposal! 

  • Joe Lalonde

    Sharing with a friend who’s writing a book. Hopefully it will help her!

  • Sundi Jo Graham

    I used your “How to write a winning book proposal” and it was truly amazing. I followed it step by step in creating my proposal. I sent in my proposal and have since been asked to send the completed chapters. Now I am just waiting and trusting for the other half. 

    Thank you for taking the time to write such an amazing ebook. Every writer wanting to get published should make the investment. 

  • Robin Shelby

    I have only written one proposal and it was posted on an “agent website”. I received many offers from self publishing companies but their fees were simply put more of an exhorbitant printing cost than a true publishing contract. I am currently in contract with a joint venture publisher and this has cut my costs by half but I still have doubts about whether I have done the right thing. The one good thing is that the contract gives them the right to the barcode only and I retain the right to take my book to another publisher even after it is in print.

  • ThatGuyKC

    You would not believe how timely this is. I just announced to my blog readers that I’m writing a book today. Will put your eBooks on my to-read list.

  • Ellen Lambert

    Yikes, Michael!  I sure have submitted book proposals.  I’d hate to have to show you the last one I submitted!  I thought all you had to do was follow the publishers guidelines and send it off! The biggest mistake I made? Not answering the unspoken “So?”

    Thank you so much for your honesty and showing us that there is so much more to writing a book than, well, writing a book.

    Bless you!

  • Dlouyoung


    I read one comment below that said, “I have mailed out the query letters and am waiting for a response so that I can mail the proposal.” I purchased your ebook and drafted both, a letter and proposal. What an I supposed to mail to a perspective agent, the letter, proposal or both?

    Also, I just watched your telecast with Rachelle Garner. Very informative! Thank you. I will stop telling agents, “God led me to write this.”



  • Dlouyoung


    I read one comment below that said, “I have mailed out
    the query letters and am waiting for a response so that I can mail the
    proposal.” I purchased your ebook and drafted both, a letter and
    proposal. What do I mail to a perspective agent, the letter,
    proposal or both?

    Also, I just watched your telecast with
    Rachelle Garner. Very informative! Thank you. I will stop telling
    agents, “God led me to write this.”



    • Michael Hyatt

      You should check the agent’s guidelines, which you can usually find on their website. In the absence of that, email the query and the proposal.

  • Andrew Hill

    Thank you, Michael, for reminding me of the importance of book proposals. I am working on the third draft of my proposal and finding every aspect of writing for publication a challenging learning experience. Fortunately, I have been helped by the publication support program at the University of Melbourne (Australia) and am receiving support from an accomplished writer who is acting as a mentor.

    Scheduling writing into each busy week is my latest challenge – any advice is welcome.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think scheduling your writing is really important. You might also read Steven Pressfield’s marvelous book, The War of Art or Do the Work. Both are excellent.

      • Jeff Randleman

        Loved the War of Art!

  • Reverlandson

    I intend to download and read the book right now. I’ve just self-published a book, but despite having an e-mail readership of a few hundred over the years for a daily devotional I’ve written, I’m only seeing slow sales. Maybe your ebook will convince me to seek an agent.

  • Joanne

    I finished my first book proposal this summer after purchasing your non-fiction book proposal e-book. It was so helpful!! 

    However, I have a problem. My content is not so easy to organize and define as the example in your non-ficition proposal; it’s not a step-by-step. As I work on the book, trying to flesh out the content of my outline, I have to change my proposal to match it. My book is both scripture-based and experience-based, and as I research and write, what I thought I was going to say keeps changing and, I hope, getting better. 

    So I’ve held off on sending it out to agents until I feel more confident that my subject is nailed. Does anyone else have this problem? I can’t comprehend how people can have it all laid out perfectly beforehand and not find that it changes during the writing process.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Theresa Ip Froehlich

    Yes indeed, both a publisher and an agent want to see a compelling book proposal.

    Several years ago, I read several books on writing book proposals but never did anything with it.

    Then in Feb, I attended the first Christian Writers Guild conference, where I learned so much about the publishing industry. If I had learned all of this about the industry before I wrote my manuscript, I might not have written the book! I met several agents at CWG and signed a contract with one of them last month.

    I didn’t follow the usual order of doing things, but I am grateful God seemed to work it all out for me.

    • Dlouyoung

      Could you please share some of what you learned about the publishing industry that might help a novice writer?

      Thank you!

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  • Traci

    I am in the process of writing my book proposal now. My book is non-fiction and I am using your ebook to help guide me in the process. You aren’t kidding when you say that it is a difficult task, but I am determined to get it done!

  • Jeff Randleman

    Evernoted.  I’m getting incrementally closer to having my book ready to go.  Just not sure on the direction:  ebook, self-publish, or get an agent and a publisher.   I still have some time to think and pray on it, but it’s getting closer!

    • Brandon

      You are a whole lot farther ahead of me… I’m thinking about getting an ebook together based on old blog posts. I wrote about it here:

      • Jeff Randleman

        I’m not so sure.  With all the stuff we have going on at our church, I have to write as I find time.  My book, as well as my blog, have suffered this summer as a result.  I just have to keep plugging away…

        Looking forward to reading yours!

        • Brandon

          Very true. Thanks! I have enjoyed your blog as well!


          • Jeff Randleman

            Thanks!  Hopefully my fall writing schedule goes a little smoother than my summer did!

          • Brandon

            Yeah…I hope the same is here!


  • Mark Mahoney

    Thanks for this insight Michael. Having had a book placed upon my heart and now building the discipline of writing through blogging, the idea of a proposal had not even entered my thinking as yet. Appreciate your practical style. Cheers!

  • Kate Johnson

    Thanks for the insight. I completed one book proposal and was offered a contract, but began to see things that made me not trust the publisher so I declined.

    I do have a question. I have heard that publishers do not like to look at or consider previously self-published books. Is this true? My book, Healing the Broken Places: for Women Healing from Domestic Abuse was such a necessity (and I had been asked for this resource from women all over the world) that I wrote it and began making my own copies and selling them. But I would really like to find a publisher for more distribuion and wider reach. Have I shot myself in the foot by doing it myself first?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Five years ago, this would have been the case. Some publishers may still be in the dark ages and feel that way. But most publishers look on self-publishing more favorably.

      • Kate Johnson

        thanks, I don’t feel so anxious then. I will purchase your ebook though. I’m sure it will help.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Preparing a formal book proposal seems to be herculean task. Picking the right literary agent is of paramount importance.

  • Lora Aroy

    Most publishers simply don’t have the resources to evaluate unsolicited proposals and manuscripts. Instead, they depend on literary agents to do their filtering, believing this is the best way to discover the best new authors.

  • TNeal

    I’m finally getting around to this post after seeing it in my inbox. I can’t believe it’s been sitting there for a month.

    My first proposal started with a pitch to an acquisition editor. When she asked for me to send her a proposal, I said, “I sure will.” Then I added, “What’s a proposal?” The editor was gracious, helped me with the basics, and gave me some helpful pointers for future reference.

    The novel went as far as committee which I now know is a pretty rare thing, especially for a pure rookie.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is a pretty rare thing. Congratulations!

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  • Terp

    I am an Afghan national and have worked with US marines in Afghanistan. I want to write a book about that experience. I want my book to be published in US as i think that most of the people, especially US Marines, would be interested to read it. I don’t have money to pay an agent, editor and/or contact a publisher in US. What will be your recommendation for me Mr. Hyatt? Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You need to start with a book proposal. That will enable you to try and find an agent. Thanks.