If you’ve written a nonfiction book and wish to pursue traditional publishing, your first step will be to write a book proposal. This is a hefty document that explains to an agent or publisher why your book is worth a glance. It’s basically a business plan for your book to help it get accepted by an agent or publisher.
What a book proposal needs to contain
Book proposals vary in length, usually running ten to twenty pages (without sample chapters). I’ve seen proposals that push 100 pages when the chapters are included.
Publishers and agents will expect your proposal to contain these standard elements:
- An Overview: This is a summary of your book and is usually a couple of pages in length. This comes first in the proposal but should probably be written last.
- Target Audience: This is a description of your readership. Who did you write your book for? Be specific, not general.
- Author’s Bio: This piece needs to be slanted to the prospective agent or publisher, telling them why you are the best author for your book. Although you can’t just copy various bios you’ve written prior to this, you can use them as a starting point.
- Comparative Titles: You will need to compare your book to several other titles that relate to your subject, explaining why your approach is different. Here you’ll establish a need in the market for your book.
- Marketing Plan: This is the most crucial part of your proposal. Here you must tell the agent or publisher what you plan to bring to the table when it comes to marketing and promoting your book.
- Table of Contents: Include the outline of chapters for your book, along with a brief summary of each.
- Sample Chapters: Include two or three chapters to show the agent or publisher your writing style and voice. Show off your best chapters here.
Tips on how to write a book proposal
Tip #1: Your marketing plan is more important than the quality of the writing.
Oh no! Really?
Unfortunately, yes. Of course, a poorly written manuscript won’t sell copies, but neither will an unknown author without credentials. Publishers want to see a market for your book along with some kind of promise that you’ll help sell copies. A well-developed blog and a YouTube channel with subscribers is a good starting place.
Tip #2: Discuss how the book will help your readers
While it is important to share the concepts of your book in your proposal, the agent or publisher is really only interested in your book’s content as it relates to the interests of your potential readers:
“Should I really spend twenty bucks on this book?”
“What will I get out of it?”
“Why should I pick this up and read it?”
You need to address these concerns.
Tip #3: You might need to submit a completed manuscript
Although it’s very possible that you can write an incredible proposal and receive a contract from a publisher, first-time authors often need to complete the manuscript before they will be taken seriously. This is especially true if you’re writing a memoir. Any agent or publisher taking on a new writer is taking a chance, so they often want to see the finished product before committing to it.
Tip #4: Write about what you’ve done, not what you plan to do
If you don’t have a strong social media platform, it might be tempting to propose things you’ll do in the future. Don’t tell your prospective agent or publisher that you’ll create a blog one day. Create the blog before you submit the proposal! Guest blog NOW then reference those sites in your proposal.
Tip #5: Read the submission guidelines carefully
This tip is the most important. If you write a brilliant proposal, but don’t bother to read what the agent or publisher needs to see, it will be rejected without a glance. While many agents ask for the same thing, some will ask for only segments of your proposal. Read over the guidelines carefully and follow their directions to a T. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to rid your book proposal of all grammatical and spelling errors. The document needs to sing!
This is in no way a comprehensive discussion about how to write a book proposal. My purpose here is simply to get you started, give you a few tips, and, hopefully, make the process a little less painful.
If you’d like to read more articles about marketing your book, here are a few suggestions: