How to Write a Book Proposal + Book Proposal Template
Book proposals are used to sell nonfiction books to publishers.
A book proposal is a sales pitch that demonstrates why your book concept has market potential in the current publishing climate. It’s basically a business plan to get publishers interested in your project before you finish writing it.
For many authors, selling a publisher on their book prior to having much of it written is an intelligent and strategic decision. With a strong proposal, you won’t have to wait until the book is written before you can make your case for why it should be published.
Writing a nonfiction book can be done differently than writing a novel. Instead of crafting the entire text, then looking for an editor or agent to express interest, authors of nonfiction can prepare and submit proposals first. This allows publishers to decide whether they want to take on the project and pay you for completing it. The process is difficult for memoirists who are unpublished and without an audience, but it is still possible.
Creating a proposal can take several weeks or more, depending on the complexity of the project. Proposals generally range from 10 to 25 double-spaced pages, while some may reach 50 pages plus sample chapters. The length will depend on how much research and development have gone into creating a strong proposal.
New writers or those who are yet to be published may find it easier to simply compose the book initially and afterward get ready a proposal, which isn’t an awful thought with respect to a memoir since numerous editors and operators need confirmation that an obscure essayist has enough writing aptitudes to complete their undertaking.
Nonetheless, this does not spare you from the errand of composing the proposition, regardless of whether the book is finished. If an operator or distributor needs a proposition, you need to compose one despite the fact that your work is done.
You may come across the term “novel proposal” from time to time. This usually consists of a query letter or cover letter, a synopsis, and either part of or the entire manuscript. This has nothing to do with writing a non-fiction book proposal.
Your business case may matter more than the writing
People don’t like to accept it, but when it comes to many non-fiction books, the style of writing is not as important as the profit potential of its concept, topic, or author. This fact can be seen in the rejection slips that Rebecca Skloot got when she wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
If your book’s goal is to help or educate readers, you are essentially selling it based on your expertise, platform, and concept. The book proposal tries to persuade agents/editors that readers will purchase your book instead of getting advice from YouTube, Google, or another similar source. More importantly, they expect well-written content, not a literary masterpiece. People looking to shed some pounds don’t need an artist; they seek someone who can communicate their ideas and methods in a way that motivates and encourages readers to meet their objectives. Your book should contain new and exciting information that is distinct from the plethora of weight-loss books already available on the market. (What’s even better is if your book reveals what current books have been missing that readers need to know to be successful.)
Readers care a lot about your credibility and trustworthiness if you write about health, self-improvement, business, or parenting.Would you be comfortable taking advice from a book about healthcare written by someone with no medical qualifications? Could you rely on an investment guide written by someone who lives in poverty? It’s clear that in order to gain the reader’s trust, a strong background and experience are required.
For narrative nonfiction, especially memoir, the writing does matter
Instead of being autobiographical, narrative nonfiction is a story about someone or something. Examples include Seabiscuit. To write this type of non-fiction, it’s important to have excellent journalistic and storytelling skills in order to make the story compelling enough for readers. Writers also need to be able to demonstrate that there is an audience for their subject matter and that they have been published in relevant publications. In order for a book proposal to be successful, the sample chapters must be well-written, and the author’s writing credentials must be solid.
If your book’s structure does not require a storyline or longer storytelling, then you need to be able to use your writing skills effectively in order to write and rewrite the manuscript with guidance from an editor or agent. Regarding craftsmanship and technique, you must demonstrate mastery of these elements.
The biggest mistake writers make in their book proposals
It’s easy to think that the book proposal should go into detail about the subject matter. Yet this is incorrect. Rather than concentrating on the content, concentrate on why this book is essential today for its intended readership. Why will it be powerful? How is it meeting an imminent requirement? How does it provide something unexpected and remarkable that doesn’t appear to be like anything that’s gone before?
While some topics that never become outdated may not have a sense of urgency associated with them, they still have to show their importance in the current market. Consider the following scenario: you are publishing a knitting book. It is essential to prove that your techniques and projects will be more attractive to knitters today than those from three decades ago.
When writing about your book’s content, it is important to not get bogged down in specifics. Always discuss the topic from the reader’s or a larger community’s perspective and why it is important now. This will help keep your audience engaged as well as give them a reason to care about what you have to say.
Other common pitfalls:
- Common mistakes to avoid when pitching a book idea include thinking that an in-depth discussion of the topic is enough to make it attractive to publishers. It’s important instead to consider how to make the argument novel and convincing by showing how it relates to something people care about, provides fresh illumination, or challenges readers in unexpected ways. With this in mind, authors should be aiming for a “switch” rather than a “dial” in their approach if they want agents and editors to take notice.
- Similarly, trying to sell your project based on its brevity or accessibility may also fail if you fail to prove there’s an audience out there ready and waiting for it.
- Finally, even if you’ve experienced the issue personally, that doesn’t guarantee success for your book; famous authors or those with established platforms may have an easier time in this regard. It is wise to bear these pitfalls in mind when seeking publication.
The memoirist’s dilemma
When submitting a memoir, the guidelines can vary greatly among agents and publishers. While some may not require a book proposal, others may only want the proposal and the first few chapters. For new and emerging writers who have no publishing track record, they may be asked to submit a complete manuscript in addition to the proposal to prove their writing ability.
To be successful in selling a memoir, the writing must be of high quality, and the story must be compelling and unique. Writing about common topics like addiction or cancer may not be enough to stand out unless the story is exceptional. Additionally, having a platform or a way to reach readers without a publisher’s help can increase the chances of securing a book deal.
The dilemma for many memoirists is that when submitting a proposal, agents may be more interested in the strength of the writer’s platform than the writing itself. They want to see if the story has potential for mainstream media coverage and major interviews that will lead to sales. For those with little or no platform and a quiet or literary story, it may be best to target agents and publishers who don’t require a proposal, as it may only highlight what the project lacks.
Finding a literary agent (and do you need one?)
If you’re looking to get published by a major publishing house, it’s likely that you’ll need to work with a literary agent. Exceptions would include works that are intended for niche audiences or university presses and those that have limited commercial value. In these cases, an agent may not be necessary. Otherwise, partnering with a literary agent is the best way to ensure your book has the highest chance of success.
The most common book proposal sections
Creating a book proposal is an individualized process, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, there are some sections that will be included in most proposals regardless of the genre, author’s style, or publisher’s submission requirements. These commonly found elements are:
Comparing titles or analyzing competitive works should be one of the first steps a writer takes when crafting their book proposal. Doing this can help them understand their idea more clearly and save time in the long run. Usually, five to ten titles are used for the analysis, but less may be enough if the book is about a niche topic or is meant for a very specific audience.
For each competitor, it’s important to note down details such as the title, subtitle, author, publisher, year of publication, page count, price, and ISBN number. It’s then necessary to write a brief synopsis (around 100–200 words) comparing and contrasting how your work fits into the overall scene. Refrain from criticism—publishing is an intimate industry! Also, make sure you have done your research properly.
Don’t be fooled into thinking there are no competitors for your work. If this is the case, it could mean that the book is too obscure or specialized to sell. Moreover, in some non-fiction categories, such as travel, print sales have declined significantly since 2007 due to the availability of online information and resources. In these cases, it may be better for a writer to start with an online platform before transitioning into a printed product once they have garnered a sizeable following and learned more about their target audience.
The primary buyers of the book will be those who are easiest to convince and most likely to purchase it. These potential readers should be described clearly instead of making broad industry statements regarding book buying in the United States. Generic, broad statements, such as referring to the number of Google search results or US Census data, do not provide meaningful insight into your book’s target audience.
A better approach is to look at recent reviews from competing titles and discuss how new trends have been left out or overlooked in recent publications. Additionally, it can help to refer to articles from established media outlets covering military memoirs, podcasts, and newsletters with devoted followers as a source of potential readership. Publishers can gain a better understanding of who the primary buyers of the book will be by providing these insights on a specific demographic.
When creating a marketing plan for a book, it is important to be specific about the actions that will be taken to promote it. Instead of discussing what you hope to do, focus on what you can and will do using your current resources. This means being confident, firm, and direct about your plans and making them concrete and realistic.
For example, instead of saying, “I plan to register a domain and start a blog for my book,” you should state, “Within 6 months of launch, my blog on [book topic] already attracts 5,000 unique visitors per month.” This shows a clear action and a specific goal. Similarly, instead of saying “I plan to contact bloggers for guest blogging opportunities,” you could say, “I have guest blogged every month for the past year to reach 250,000 readers at sites such as [include 2–3 examples of the most well-known blogs].” I have invitations to return on each site, plus I’ve made contact with 10 other bloggers for future guest posts.
The key to a successful marketing plan is not the number of ideas but the number of solid connections you have and the readers you currently reach through your current efforts. It’s important to show that your ideas are not just hypothetical but actual action steps that will lead to concrete results and connect you with an existing audience.
When creating an author bio for a book proposal, it’s a good idea to start with one that you already use on your website or LinkedIn. However, it’s important to customize it to convince agents and editors that you are the ideal author for the book. Your bio should showcase how your expertise and experience make you well-suited to connect with your target audience. If you don’t have a strong platform, look for other strengths that can give you credibility with readers or help sell books, such as connections to experts or authorities in the field, a large online following, or previous success in marketing yourself and your work. It’s important to remember that the author bio is an important part of the book proposal and should be written as such.
The overview is the first section of your book proposal, but it’s best to write it last. Consider it to be a brief summary of the entire proposal, around two to three pages long. It should be persuasive and clearly present a strong case for your book. If done well, it can serve as the foundation of your query letter. My proposal template includes more detailed instructions on how to write a compelling overview.
Chapter outline and/or table of contents
When creating a book proposal, it’s important to include an outline or table of contents for your book. A chapter outline works well for narrative or detailed works, especially those that are text-heavy and expected to be 80,000 words or more. In the chapter outline, provide a brief summary of the main idea, information, or story presented in each chapter. It’s recommended to keep the chapter outline under 3,000 words. If an outline is not suitable for your book’s content, use a table of contents. And if you want to use both, that’s acceptable as well. The most important thing is to demonstrate how your book’s concept will unfold from start to finish and to strongly convey the scope and range of the material covered in your book.
When submitting a book proposal, it’s important to include sample chapters to give the publisher a sense of your writing style and the content of your book. If your book is a memoir with a clear structure, include sample material that starts at the beginning of the book. If your book is not a narrative, choose a chapter that you believe is the most important or impressive to include as a sample. Don’t try to use the introduction as a sample chapter, this is your chance to demonstrate that you can fulfill the promises of your book.
Common problems with book proposals
Some common issues found in book proposals include the following:
· a lack of a clearly defined target audience or market,
· a concept that is too general and doesn’t stand out,
· an author without sufficient expertise or credentials,
· an emphasis on the author’s own experience instead of the book’s appeal to readers,
· a proposal that is similar to many others without any unique selling points.
These problems can make it difficult for publishers to see the potential success of the book. If a publisher thinks the market is too small, it might be a good idea to try a smaller publisher with a lower sales requirement.
The most common problem leading to rejection: no author platform.
One of the major reasons a book proposal may get rejected is the lack of an author platform.
When submitting a proposal, it is important to show that you have a significant following and are an expert in your field. This can include both your online and offline activities, such as your website, blog, social media accounts, and email newsletters.
Additionally, traditional media coverage and connections to influencers or thought leaders in your field can help to demonstrate your platform. Publishers want to know that there is an audience ready to buy your book and having a large, engaged platform can help to demonstrate that.
Furthermore, with the changes in the publishing industry, it is important to remember that a print book is not always the best way to make money, and authors should consider other ways of monetizing their work.