Manuscript information – proposal series #7

When it comes to book proposal writing, there is one element that is often overlooked. But actually, I think it’s one of the most valuable and interesting ones: the manuscript information. Now that we know what your book is about; who will want to read it; how it’s positioned in the market; and how you will be able to tell your ideal reader of the book’s existence; it’s time to give your agent or publisher all the information they need to assess the cost of publishing. And that’s what this seventh instalment of the book proposal series is all about.

The purpose of the Manuscript information

I know that the cost of printing will probably not be something you’ve given any thought to before. When you decided to put images in your book, you didn’t think about it. And you certainly didn’t reflect on the issue when you ended up with the page count you have today. But then again, it is all quite obvious. You won’t be surprised to realize that colored images are more expensive to print than black and white ones, and that longer books are more expensive than shorter ones. And that is why the manuscript information is quite essential in the book-details part of your book proposal.
As I mentioned before: the purpose of a book proposal is to convince the publisher that they will make money if they invest in publishing your book. But to do a cost/benefit analysis, of course, you also need to know what your expenses and risks are going to be. So it follows that now you have your publisher/agent interested in this book, they’re going to need a bit more detail. 

Basic questions for Manuscript information

First, you’ll have to answer some basic questions. You don’t need to elaborate here, this can be incredibly short. In fact: I usually put them in there in bullet points. 

Answer the following questions:

  • How many words will your manuscript be?
    Note, this is not about pages, but about words. The amount of pages will depend on a lot of other factors. The size of the book (not all books are the same); the amount of figures and graphs; the font; margins… All of those are things the publisher will want to have a say in. And that is why most publishers will want to see a wordcount, not a page count. If you have not yet written your book and don’t know how long it will be yet, just find out online what the average length is of a book in your genre and put down a range (for example: 50.000-70.000 words). 
  • When will it be ready to be submitted?
    Here, you can be a bit more detailed. Tell them what stage your manuscript is in right now (how much have you written, has it been edited?) and how much more work you need to do before you can submit the entire manuscript to the publisher. Or, if everything’s finished, just tell them that!
  • Will there be images/tables/graphs in the book?
    If so: how many? Do they need to be color or can they be black-and-white? 

Legal issues - Copyrights

If you use any copyrighted materials you have not created yourself in your book, you will need to tell your publisher/agent about them in your proposal.

In theory, copyright means that if you want to use or print any part of an already published work, you need permission from the person who owns the rights to it. However, there is a loophole. The law acknowledges that if you need to ask permission for every single idea you found somewhere else, that will be tedious for everyone involved. So most countries have a version of the “fair use” rule, meaning that if stay within reasonable limits, you can use the work of another without asking permission (but do credit them!). Note: the limits might differ per country.


If you have hired someone to create your images for you, check your contract with the creator. You’ll need to know if you now own the copyright. If so: good news! Put that in your proposal! If not, try to get the creator’s permission to use the images in a published book.

In the case you got the images on the internet, make sure there are no restrictions on how you can use them. If you can’t use them for commercial purposes: try to replace them or put in your proposal that you’ll be looking for illustrators to create replacements. 


Ooooh, this is the big one! You know those quotes at the beginning of a chapter? They’re usually in cursive (italics) font, they set the scene but are never mentioned in the text? Yes, those are epigraphs. Authors love them. Publishers are less ecstatic. The reason? They are a big exception to the “fair use” rule. 

The idea behind that is that if you put a quote in an epigraph, you probably think that that quote represents the essence of the other person’s work. And if you want to use the essence of someone’s work, the least you can do is ask them permission. So if you use epigraphs in your book, tell your publisher about it in the “manuscript information” section of your book proposal. And also tell them that you intend to ask permission from the copyright holder for every single one. 

Song lyrics and poetry

The use of song lyrics and poetry cause roughly the same issues as epigraphs: you’ll need permission from the copyright holders to use them. Often, the copyright holders are not the creators themselves. Instead, they’re the publisher, record company or an estate. When you want to use lines from a lyric or poem, check who the copyright holder is. Often, on the copyright holder’s website there’s a simple form to request permissions. 

Other quotes

Like I said before: different countries have different requirements. But a rough rule of thumb is that it’s usually safe to quote under 300 words from one source without asking permissions. Of course, you should give credit where credit’s due: if you quote from a book, mention at least the author, book title and publisher of the quoted work. If you have longer quotes, mention those in the book details section of your proposal (e.g.: three quotes of 300 words). When they give you a contract, the publisher can then easily advise you on the right course of action about those quotes given the country your book will be published in. 

Legal issues - Other

If there’s any other potential legal issues, they should also be addressed in the manuscript information section of your book proposal. The two most common ones are potential issues related to slander and republishing. 

If you write a book based on real events, you might open yourself up to questions of libel and slander. When there’s a risk a person might not like what you write about them and you use their real name, mention this in the book details. 

If parts of your publication have already appeared somewhere else, you need to mention this as well. 

Manuscript information - concluding thoughts

The manuscript information section of your book proposal will probably short and sweet. (Certainly shorter than this blogpost!) All you need to do is give the publisher the information they need to assess the costs and potential risks. You don’t have to have acquired permissions yet before you send your proposal. In fact, you probably won’t need the permissions until the book goes into production. But what you do need is to give an honest and clear assessment of the work that’s yet to be done.

If you want to learn more about the elements of a book proposal, have a look at the other posts in this series, in the blocks below. Or, if you want help with your proposal, go to my book proposal page. There, you’ll find the different book proposal services I offer, ranging from final checks to writing the proposal for you. 

Talk to you soon!


– Susanne