Preparing a proposal gives you the chance to describe your book and show how well you can write and promote it. Whether you sell or publish your book, a proposal will help you. Most proposals range from 20 to 60 pages and have three or four types of material: Sales and Marketing Information, an Outline, Sample Writing and sometimes Supplemental Material.
The first page of a proposal is the title page. It has the title and contact information. The second page is the table of contents for the proposal.
Sales and Marketing Information
This section must prove that you have a salable book and that you are the right person to write and promote it. Four parts of it are optional.
- (Optional) Pizzazz: This is placed after the title page, and before the table of contents for the proposal. Something that grabs editors’ attention–a blurb from a well-known writer OR a mission statement OR a photograph OR an intriguing fact OR, for narrative nonfiction, killer writing from the manuscript OR a selling handle of up to fifteen words that captures the essence of why your book is fresh and salable OR a combination of a few of these elements.
- Overview. One to three compelling pages explaining why your book will appeal to a reachable audience that will want to purchase it. You will expand on this later. Open with a quote or a hook if you like; in any event lead with your strongest suit. If you have 100,000 opt-in email addresses, that’s your lead. If you’re the world’s foremost expert on your subject, that’s your lead. If your subject itself is its own best argument, that’s your lead. If you’ve successfully self-published the book, provide stats.
- Book Specs. Also called “About the Book;” list or describe important thematic, research and production elements, such as whether you’re writing in first person; if the structure is unconventional; how many illustrations, if any, it will have; how many words will it have; how long it will take you to write.
- Your proposal must convince editors that there is a book-buying audience for your book. Identify, in descending order of size, groups of consumers who will buy your book. List the places that prove you have an engaged potential readership: the related magazines they buy; the websites they visit; the conferences they attend. Become an expert in your field by investigating websites, digital content, and online experts serving the same audience. Find out what relevant books and other sources experts and librarians send people to for information.
- (Optional) A bulleted list of Sales Tips to help editors buy the book. A how-to proposal may include a list of the book’s benefits–the reasons readers will buy it.
- Comps: a list of three to ten comparable books published within five years that will help editors position your book in the field; books that will be on the same bookstore shelf as yours, or discussed with your book in articles on your subject. Include author, publisher, year of publication, format, price, ISBN. Briefly explain why each book’s similarities prove there is a market for yours, while your book’s differences fill a documentable unmet need
- Bio: up to a page, in descending order of importance, about your credentials for writing the book: your academic, professional, and publishing experience and awards, and perhaps your sense of mission about writing and promoting it. Start with your most impressive achievements. Consider including a link to a one-to-two-minute video, ideally you in a promotional context such as a speech or media appearance. Another idea: do a 1-2-minute video query with you talking about the book. End with personal and other professional information in descending or of impressiveness and relevance.
- Platform: a bulleted list in descending order of visibility describing your ability to reach your readers about your subject. Online: numbers for blog subscribers, website visitors, your social media presence, a list of links to articles. Offline: the number of articles in magazines and newspapers; the number of talks you give a year with the number of people you speak to a year and where; your media appearances. For promotion-driven books such as how-to books, a platform is essential for big and midsize houses.
- Personal Promotion: for promotion-driven books, list how you will employ your own time or money to promote. Include a bulleted list, in descending order of impact, of what you will do to promote your book, online and off, on and after publication. Start each part of the list with a verb, and if possible, use impressive numbers. End with: “The author will coordinate his/her plan with the publisher.”
- (Optional) Special Markets: Some publishers welcome a list of author-provided opportunities, such as:
Special-interest markets, on and offline: retailers, organizations, institutions, schools and businesses that might buy your book
Companies that are very likely to, or have committed to, purchase bulk quantities of your book.
If you have an audience abroad, mention it.
Buyback Commitment: Business authors buy books to sell at speeches; chefs sell them in their restaurants.
- (Optional) Foreword and Blurbs: a foreword or the commitment to write one by someone whose name will give your book credibility and salability in fifty states two years from now. A pre-publication endorsement from a well-respected, well-known authority will also help; perhaps as useful as a foreword and maybe easier to obtain.
- The first page is the book’s complete Table of Contents, as it might appear in the finished book. The following pages reprint the chapter titles in order, in an expanded outline. Provide one to three present-tense paragraphs describing each chapter, using outline verbs like describe, explain, and discuss. For an informational book, you can use a bulleted, self-explanatory list of the information for each chapter.
- Twenty to forty pages of sample chapters or writing that reads as if pulled out of the book itself (between one and three chapters). Choose material that will most excite editors by fulfilling your book’s promise to readers and make your book as enjoyable to read as it is illuminating. If your work is prescriptive–a cookbook, diet book, how-to book–include writing from the book’s introductory chapters and writing from a prescriptive chapter. Editors need longer samples for narrative nonfiction and memoir.
- Articles, reviews of previous books, platform-related lists, or any other supporting material that would disrupt the flow of reading your proposal.
Adapted from How to Write a Book Proposal, Fifth Edition (2017), Michael Larsen and Jody Rein.
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