Book proposals serve two primary, and several secondary, purposes:
- Sales piece. If you’re hoping to have a conventional publisher sell your book through online and through bricks-and-mortar retail bookstores, your book proposal functions as a direct-response sales letter intended to them to invest time and money into your project. It has to spell-out the inevitability of your book’s success to skeptical readers.
- Marketing plan. Regardless whether you are looking at trade publishers, or intend to publish your book yourself, your book proposal must describe how you are going to market and promote your book before and after it’s publication. Your proposal has to describe the market your book addresses, the benefits it offers, how it differs from existing books on the topic, and the specific steps you’re going to take to sell it to its intended readers.
Secondary purposes include providing a sample of your ability to communicate in print. In many ways, the style and detail of your proposal are as important as the contents of the proposal. A professionally written and presented proposal communicates to literary agents and acquisition editors that you’re an author worth paying attention to. Even if the proposed book doesn’t meet their current publishing needs, a proposal can open doors to other opportunities.
But, a rambling proposal that hasn’t been thoroughly edited and proofread can close the door to future possibilities.
Elements included in book proposals
A book proposal includes seven sections. These provide the structure needed to communicate the details of your project. The sections include:
- Engagement. The proposed title and the first paragraph of your book must immediately engage the interest of your agent or publisher in the first paragraph, or two. The title and opening paragraph must communicate at a glance, describing what your book is about, how it differs from the competition, why it will sell, and how you’re going to market and promote it. The first sentence and paragraph of your proposal must “hook” your prospective agent or editor’s interest and “sell” the importance of reading on. Each sentence and paragraph must continue selling, providing details that support the premise, or big idea, behind your book. If the initial sentence and paragraph fail to convince, the remainder of your proposal probably doesn’t have a chance, either.
- Description. The second section, sometimes called an overview, provides an opportunity to step back and provide the details necessary to support the promise offered by your book title and first paragraph. Think of this section as the 30,000 foot view of your project, your qualifications, and how you came to propose the book.
- Market. Next, you have to prove that a market exists for your book. You have to describe the characteristics of the market you’re writing for and their goals and objectives. You have to prove that you know how to reach your prospective readers and tap into their urgent need for assistance solving a problem or achieving goals. In addition, this section must include a review of existing books, so you can show how your book provides a fresh, needed perspective that goes beyond any currently available book.
- Contents. After you have proven the existence of a market and the need for your book, you have to prove how your book will live up to the promise expressed in its title and the premise described in the opening paragraphs. It’s not necessary to completely write your book, but it is necessary to show that you have put a lot of work into organizing your book into sections and chapters. Each chapter should be described in a couple of sentences, followed by 7-10 bullet points corresponding to the main ideas you plan to include in each chapter.
- Author platform and promotion. This section begins with an overview of your current online presence, and goes on to describe how you are going to market and promote your book before and after its publication. Limit your marketing plan to the print, broadcast, public relations, and social media that you realistically expect to employ for marketing and promoting your book, and list the marketing affiliates and professional services you intend to work with. Remember that your marketing plan will be judged on both its detail and its creditability. Avoid unrealistic promises or a laundry list of media alternatives, but do emphasize your network of professional connections in your field.
- Qualifications. Why should a publisher trust you with their money? How do they know you will deliver. Rather than list your academic credentials, family situation, or employment background, place the emphasis on your accomplishments and achievements. It’s not important that you “love to write” or have “great passion for your topic.” It’s more important to communicate that you are driven to succeed and do whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. (Note: you don’t have to say you’re a good writer, because the writing in your proposal should speak for itself!)
- Details. This section, like the previous, can be relatively short. In this section, describe the anticipated size of your book and the number of pages you’d like to see in the printed book. Describe the number of colors and illustrations, or photographs, you intend to include. And briefly mention topics for follow-up topics that will expand the book into a series. Finally, provide a realistic date for completing the manuscript, following receipt of a publishing contract.
Your proposal is an investment
If the above sounds like a lot of work, it can be!
However, your book proposal is an investment that doesn’t have to be repeated! Once you have your proposal, you have done the hard part—you’ve identified a book that needs to be written, and you have identified the information needed, and you have organized that into a logical order.
You’ve also created a marketing and promotion plan for selling your book.
Many authors find it harder to prepare a book proposal than it is to complete a book!
Writing is easy when you know what you’re going to write, and marketing becomes easier when you know what you want to happen, and when.
Writing a book proposal can be a lonely proposition, unless you’re working with an experienced book coach. But, when you’re actually writing your book, you typically have access to editors and proofreaders who will provide the feedback and support necessary to create a successful book.
Prepare your book proposal as carefully as you’d prepare a marketing plan for your career. Your book proposal can be the catalyst that transforms your career and, with it, your life!