Book Proposals

I’m often asked about book proposals. Are they necessary? If so, why?

Purpose of Book Proposals

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Generally, most literary agents require a synopsis (long, short, or both). Some may require a book proposal in addition to a synopsis. Each book proposal has to be customized for your project — fiction and nonfiction, including memoirs, biographies, self-help, YA, etc.

Certain elements should be included in most book proposals regardless of genre. I’ll share a few points from my own experience and author/agent feedback.

Generally, a book proposal is written to convince a literary agent and publisher that your unwritten or unfinished book will sell, especially if you are a first-time author. However, some agents may require a book proposal even if your book is complete. Why? Well, book proposals are not so much about the content of your book (like a synopsis) but have everything to do with marketability and profitability that publishers consider the “bottom line.”

This is your chance to knock the socks off of potential literary agents and publishers. Your book proposal should shine. It should delight decision-makers by demonstrating that you are a wordsmith.

What Do Book Proposals Include?

Proposals vary, but generally include:

  • Overview
    • What is your book about, and why is it significant? Brilliant? A must-read? Your overview should include a hook, meaning your upfront opportunity to keep a literary agent (and publisher) reading. They are busy. They are inundated with hopeful authors. Give them reasons to keep turning the pages of your proposal.
  • Target Audiences
    • Who will want to read your book? Does it have crossover appeal (for instance, a memoir of multiple careers, multiple causes, or multiple topics that will draw additional readers — history buffs, animal lovers, genealogists, those seeking self-help, fans of thrillers or medical mysteries, etc.)?
  • Competitive Title Analysis
    • Who has written books like yours, and were they successful? This type of market insight is important, for it tells you about the market saturation of your genre and the fierce competition you may face, but may also indicate if there is a gap in the market that your book fills.
  • About the Author
    • What experiences, background, and compulsion led you to envision the book? Are you a subject-matter expert, have an incredible vocation (sports, medicine, law, digital media, etc.), or have a story too good not to share (like the adventures of a plumber or the life of a traveler or a healer of hearts)? Maybe you have a great imagination that takes sci-fi to another level, or maybe you are calling attention to a rare disease, an incredible cause, or feats of faith. Whatever your reasons for writing your book, make sure your passion and belief in the premise shines through. If you are unable to adequately articulate and communicate these points, hire a professional who can do it for you.
  • Marketability
    • What will make your book sell?
      • Let’s revisit social media. What social media following do you have on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter? These are free platforms — use them to their full advantage. Remember, the bigger your visibility and network strength, the better in the eyes of stakeholders, so start increasing your online footprint now, preferably before the book publishes.
      • Now, let’s talk about other marketability factors. How popular is your genre? How popular is your topic? Who is willing to endorse your book (blurbs)? Are your endorsers recognizable and high profile? What pull-outs (sometimes referred to as callouts or pull quotes) can be excerpted from your book and placed in magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc.?
  • Marketing Plan
    • When you are confident that you can defend your book’s marketability, do some research and define the market itself. What is the need for your book? What makes it different? Why should people buy it? How will you spread the word about your book (social media, blog tours, book signings, radio, guest speaker spots, outreach to media and organizations)? Do you have a website (you should, and I can recommend an experienced web developer who specializes in authors)? Be thinking about how you will increase awareness and sales on your own. Let the literary agent hear how you are currently “pre-selling” and how you’ll advocate for your own book before, during, and after it launches.
  • Table of contents
    • If you don’t have one, create a working version from your book outline and notes.
  • Sample chapters
    • Literary agents might inform you about the chapters they want to see. But if you have a choice, include three that are most compelling, thrilling, poignant, etc. Make sure the chapters are professionally edited. This allows the potential publisher to see your “writing chops” — and this can also add to the “hook” quotient.

Do You Need a Book Proposal?

That depends, and here are points to ponder.

Some literary agents require book proposals, while others do not. Research literary agents (many tweet calls for submissions) and follow every single instruction on their websites. If they require a large or small synopsis, have one ready. If they require a book proposal, that’s when you produce one. If they want to see your first three chapters, provide them.

But have your manuscript professionally edited first. Seriously, even if it is a partial manuscript, have it edited! Why? Whatever you excerpt and share from your book will be ready for critical eyes. This is your one chance to impress.

Then, submit your query letters (and whatever materials the websites call for) to literary agents. Most top-tier publishers do not accept un-agented manuscripts, meaning you have to land an agent to publish traditionally. The agent’s job is to push the book to publishers.

Note: I personally suspect that some literary agent websites have instructions with a degree of difficulty. Maybe this is to weed out weaker authors. Or, perhaps the literary agent is simply busy and has a system in place to expedite the selection or rejection of authors. Regardless, do precisely as you are instructed. Follow the instructions on a literary agent’s site to a “T” to demonstrate that you are a professional and respect guidelines. This can keep your proposal out of the trash bin.

By the way, if you are one of my book editing or ghostwriting clients and get “stumped,” you can contact me for advice. I’ll do my very best to steer you in the right direction.

Know What You Are Doing

Yes, you can put together a book proposal yourself, but you must know exactly what it entails. Research what is required (this blog post you’re reading should help), and by all means, have it edited. I can’t stress that enough. Or better yet, hire a professional writer (like me) who has done book proposals before. Through collaboration, brainstorming, and putting your “best foot forward,” we’ll come up with ideas and strategies. We’ll pinpoint all the appealing factors and wonderful worthiness, and then we’ll weave them into your book proposal. This will minimize, say, a lack of writing experience or name recognition. Or, if you already have a fan base, your proposal will capitalize on that fact. Focusing on your strengths is the way to go — and what a publisher will consider the book’s strengths.

As a side note, check out this “experimental” collaboration between Palgrave Macmillan and the public on book proposals — the first of its kind that I’ve heard about.

Convince, Convince, Convince

Again, a book proposal is a powerful tool to convince publishers to offer you the best contract possible. This is why literary agents might require it. But… if you can demonstrate the likelihood of strong book sales without a proposal through your query letter, then do so! It could save you time and money.

Contact me at for a consultation about your book proposal, synopsis, manuscript evaluation, editing or ghostwriting project today, and let’s get started!