How to write a book proposal

How to Write a Book Proposal – 8 Essential Steps

What Is a Book Proposal?

A book proposal is a document that presents a summary of the central idea of the book and is intended to convince traditional publishing houses to publish the book. For non-fiction books, a book proposal should also include a marketing or business plan to persuade traditional publishers to finance or subsidize the completion of the book. Book proposals are different from query letters which are usually sent to literary agents.

Why is it important to write a convincing book proposal?

A book proposal is a business plan used to sell a manuscript to a traditional publishing house. Think of publishing companies as investors and your book proposal as your sales pitch. Effective book proposals present all information necessary to convince the publishing house that the book is a lucrative investment and it is worth their time, money, and resources. Publishers do not go hunting around for the next best-selling business book. Receiving tons of proposals daily, authors should write a compelling business case if they want to get their book idea published. Some authors work with a writing coach to help them write a compelling book proposal.

Things to consider before submitting a book proposal

Unique Selling Point

Book proposals are a dime a dozen. Publishing houses get hundreds, even thousands of new proposals daily and without a unique selling point, a new angle or topic, or an interesting and innovative take on established norms, publishers might not find the book idea compelling enough to be funded.

Demand

What is it about the book that would make the target audience read it? Is there a clear demand for what the book presents to the readers? Why would a professional audience, or aspiring leaders, potential leads pick up the book? Business books have a smaller audience compared to fiction books and therefore do not have as much book sales as their fiction counterparts. For this reason, publishers want to make sure that if they will invest in a business book, there is a clear demand from it from a target audience.

Authority

Why are you the best person to write the book? What is your experience? Why are you the subject matter expert? Why would readers want to listen to you? Publishers will look at your authority and credibility because your target professional audience will do the same before picking up your book if it ever gets published.

How to write a compelling book proposal

A lot of free book proposal templates are available online and any author can simply download and fill in the blanks before submitting proposals to publishers. The thing is, many authors have done that and for sure, more than half of the proposals reviewed by acquisition editors look like they came from the same bubble-gum factory.

Title page

This serves as the cover page and should just include the title of the book, your name, and whatever titles you have. No need for any cover art or fancy graphics. It should look simple, elegant, and professional.

Synopsis

The synopsis is an overview of what the author is planning to write or has written. It covers what the book is about and gives the acquisition editor an idea of what the book focuses on and what its commercial appeal is. It is a good idea to read competing book title jackets and understand how each copy is written with charm and salesmanship. When writing your book proposal synopsis, think of your elevator pitch to the acquisition editor. 

Author bio

Book proposals sell not just the book idea, but the author as well. Who is the author? What experience does the author have? Whic position in the field does the author play? What credentials does the author have to be the right person to talk about the topics in the book?

Sell yourself. In writing your book proposal, state why are you the best person to talk about your book idea, and back it up with the size of your reach.

Chapter outline

The chapter outline is another important section of the book proposal as shows the list of chapters and their summaries. This gives the acquisition editor an idea of the scope of the book, the subject matter that will be discussed, and the journey the audience will take in reading the book. 

Sample chapter

This part of the book proposal shows the publisher that the author’s writing style does not just match the topics discussed in the book, but is enough to wow readers and give them a reason to buy the book. The chapter should convince the publisher that the author’s writing is worthy of a book deal. 

When writing your book proposal, choose a chapter that will most effectively showcase your theories, analysis, and solutions.  

Target audience

It is very likely the person reviewing the book proposal has limited knowledge about the subject. This is why the project should be described in such a way that it sounds interesting to a target audience which in turn, will make it look economically viable. 

Most business books do not fall into the “this book is for everyone” category. Each book should have a target audience and the publisher needs to know through your book proposal that there is a market for your book. 

It would be best to address items such as whose needs the book will meet, the age range of the audience, the demographic of the average person buying the book, what similar titles these people have bought, and the size of the audience. Also, provide data when necessary.

Competitive titles 

This is a section that can help a lot if your book has an unusual angle or different positioning. Editors are like sheep—they all want to follow a leader. So if your book isn’t falling into an obvious positioning slot, then give them a bunch of examples of books just like it that have succeeded.

Marketing plan

Publishers reading a book proposal would want to know what the target market of the book is, how stiff the competition is in the category or genre, what credentials the author has, what platform the author has, and how the author plans to promote the book. Yes, that last bit is also important because publishers expect authors to help promote the book and they want to know how the author plans on doing that. The marketing plan should be developed even before the book is fully written. How should you develop your marketing plan? Here are some pointers:

1. Understand who the target market is to ensure that the market is willing to buy the book.

2. Understand the competition and identify what makes the book better than existing titles.

3. Identify how the book will reach the target audience.

4. Create the book title with marketing in mind.

5. Design the book cover and have a general idea of the typesetting with marketing in mind.

Also, here are some elements that a marketing plan should have to convince the publisher about the viability of the book

1. Goal of the book

Authors write books for various reasons, whether to gain more credibility and authority, to get speaking engagements, to earn from royalties, to promote their business, or to have a legacy piece. Publishers would want to know what your goal is to write and publish the book so they can determine if they align with your objectives. 

2. Identify sales and distribution channels

In the book proposal, identify where the book will be sold, and which distribution channels will be used. Don’t say all. Will you be focusing on author events? Do you have target local stores? Will you be reaching out to independent book stores aside from big box stores? Do you have your own direct sales channel? What online platforms will you use?

3. Price and discounts policies

While the publisher may have their price and discount policies, it would still be helpful if they know that the author has plans on pricing and discounts to help boost sales. Set a price for various book formats and develop discount and affiliate policies that will help increase sales conversion.

4. Competition

Make a list of titles that compete with the book. Describe why these books are selling and what edge your book has over them.

5. Book description

Some authors hire copy editors to write an effective sales copy for their books. The marketing plan should have a compelling book description that can convince the publisher that it can motivate readers to buy the book.

6. Book promotion tactics

Publishers usually have their own book promotion tactics. At the same time, it would be best to let them know that you have your own promotional tactics which may range from social networking, affiliate marketing, getting endorsements from influencers in your network, etc. 

7. Timeline

Create a timeline for everything that you listed. What is the starting point of the marketing plan? How many stages are there? How long is the promotional period? What are the targets for each segment in the timeline? 

8. Success measures

It is best to let publishers know that the author proposing the book knows how to set targets and how to measure success in marketing and sales because they would rather choose an author who can help them promote and sell the book than an amazing writer who cannot and will not participate in marketing.

Additional tips in writing a book proposal

You are almost ready to write a compelling book proposal that can help you land a book deal. Here are some additional tips to consider while writing your book proposal

Submit a complete and comprehensive proposal

Make sure to cover all of the items listed above and provide data and resources when necessary. Think of possible questions proposal readers might have and make sure the proposal has answers to those questions.

What makes the book different from competing titles

Let the proposal reader know how your book differs from or complements competing titles. It is not necessary to always aim to be a better book than competitors. It also helps if a book complements other books in the genre because this shows that the target audience will most likely pick up the book.

Targets and dates

Cover practicalities such as word count, sources of images, copyright material, target delivery date, and if you are planning to launch the book in other formats and languages.

Avoid these in writing a book proposal

Knowing what not to do in writing a book proposal is as important as knowing what to do. Avoid committing these mistakes that will most likely get your book proposal straight to the proposal reader’s recycle bin.

Switching points-of-view

Usually, book proposals are written in the third person. A common mistake of new authors is switching from third person to first person, wherein they start using “me” or “I” instead of referring to themselves by their last name. When writing a proposal, it is more formal to use the last name approach and be consistent with it throughout the proposal. However, if you are writing a memoir, using the first person is acceptable.

Overview without a hook

The first thing acquisition editors read in book proposals is the overview. An overview without a hook is a critical error in writing book proposals. The people who read book proposals read a lot of proposals every day. They are the gatekeepers for traditional publishing companies and if you want your book proposal to get noticed, the first line of your overview should catch the attention of proposal readers and motivate them to keep turning the page. A hook should be compelling, simple, and clear. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_hook. I

Unconvincing bio

The author bio should be convincing enough to establish that the author is not just qualified, but is the best person to write the book in the proposal. It will be so much better if the author can establish that no one else is qualified to write about the topics in the book. How should a convincing author bio be written? Every author bio in a book proposal should have the author’s credentials, impressive career and life milestones, unique skills and experiences, and mastery of the topic.

The book is for everyone

No book is for everyone. Every book proposal should identify the book’s target market. If possible, include data on the audience such as demographics, age range, industry, likes, behavior, etc. Never say that your book is for everyone. Yes, it may end up as an international best-seller and get a wide readership outside of the target audience, but no one can foresee that much into the future. It is best to show to the proposal readers that you have an intended market and you have what it takes to sell the book to that market.

Creating suspense 

Book proposal readers read a huge pile of proposals every day. Not getting to the good part early on in the proposal is a bad idea. Include the best part of the book in the overview. Acquisition editors do not have the time, nor the patience to read each proposal from cover to cover.

Comparisons to bestsellers

A lot of authors, especially new ones, do this in their book proposals. Everyone claims they are the next bestseller, but they have nothing to show for it. It is not a good idea to compare your book to existing best-sellers and say you are the next one in the genre. It is okay, however, to mention best-sellers in your proposal to help the proposal reader understand the book’s target market. For example, the proposal can say, “Readers who love Alinka Rutkowska’s Supreme Leadership will resonate with the message in this book.”

Saying the book is unique

It is a terrible idea to say the book is unique. Again, everyone else does this. And this is what book proposal readers put up with day in and day out. So instead of saying that your book is unique, it is better to say what your book is about, find similarities with best-sellers, and mention unique ideas in your book that the target audience may find interesting.

More than 50 pages

The book proposal is not the book itself. Busy as they are, acquisition editors and other book proposal readers will not go through every single page of your book proposal. Writing a long proposal is not just a waste of your time, but it may well be the reason for the proposal reader to not read your proposal at all. 

Mediocre sample chapters

Sample chapters are usually at the end of the book proposal. If the proposal reader has made it to the last part of the proposal, that means they are interested. A common mistake of authors is using an unedited or poorly written chapter in the proposal. Do not disappoint the proposal reader if you want your proposal to end up in the recycle bin. Work with a copy editor if you must. Have a professional editor proofread, review, and edit your sample chapter. It has to be flawless as it will reflect the totality of the book being proposed.

Misspellings and grammatical errors

Most proposal readers are particular with spelling and grammar. They should be. A proposal with multiple misspellings and grammatical mistakes is an eyesore and brings a negative impression of the author. Nowadays, it’s really easy to correct these mistakes using tools and apps. Grammarly is a free tool that you can use to make sure that your proposal is flawless and does not have any glaring mistakes.

What to expect after sending a book proposal

Book proposals are usually ready by acquisition or commissioning editors. They assess how suitable the book is for their publishing program. Once endorsed, the book proposal will undergo a review process wherein internal and external experts will provide feedback on the quality of the book being proposed. Afterward, the proposal will be sent to the publishing committee or editorial board for final approval. Once the book is approved, the author will be offered a publishing contract. 

This is a general process and it may differ with every publishing house. Submitting book proposals is a long and tedious process and there is no assurance of getting a book deal. Some authors go through several revisions before they even get their book proposal reviewed. 

Is it necessary to submit a book proposal?

Nonfiction authors who want to traditionally publish their books should write a book proposal as it serves as a business plan. Traditional publishers would want to know how viable the book is and what the author’s plan is in getting the book sold to the target audience. From a business perspective, publishers give book deals to authors whom they deem would bring a return of investment. 

However, there are options other than traditional publishing to get a book published. Working with a hybrid publisher has advantages traditional publishing does not offer. Hybrid publishing usually means the author will finance the production and publication of the book while the publisher will take care of the operational aspect of book production, distribution, and marketing. It differs from self-publishing as hybrid publishers employ ghostwriters, editors, typesetters, graphic artists, and marketing teams just like those of traditional publishing houses.

For authors who want a higher return of investment and more control over the book creation process, working with a hybrid publisher is a good option. Most hybrid publishers like Leaders Press do not require book proposals. In place of the book proposal, hybrid publishers usually schedule consultation calls to determine if the author is a good fit for their business model. With Leaders Press, authors do not even need to write their own book. All they have to do is sit and get interviewed and let the team handle everything from writing the book, publishing it, and launching it as a bestseller.

Is it necessary to submit a book proposal? It depends on how the author wants to get the book published. It would be best to check various publishing options and what each option requires to get a book published. 

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