Book Proposals

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

Purpose of Book Proposals

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There is no “set in stone” formula for book proposals and each has to be customized for your project, fiction and nonfiction, but there are certain elements that should be included. I’ll share a few points from my own experience and author feedback.

First, a book proposal is written to convince a literary agent and publisher that your unwritten book will sell, especially if you are a first-time author. Book proposals are not so much about the content of your book, but the marketability and profitability that publishers consider the bottom line. Proposals vary, but generally include:

  • An overview — what is your book is about and why it is significant.
  • 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, self-help, fans of thrillers that can segue to medical mysteries, etc.).
  • Competitive title analysis — who has written books like yours and were they successful (market insight)?
  • About the author — what experiences, background, and compulsion led you to envision the book?
  • Marketability — what will make your book sell; what social media following do you have (the bigger the visibility and network strength, the better, so start now!); 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; and what pull outs (sometimes referred to as call outs or pull quotes) can be excerpted from you book and placed in magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc.?
  • Marketing plan — how will you spread the work about your book (social media, blogs, radio, groups, outreach to organizations); define the market and need; do you have a website and how will you increase awareness and sales on social media platforms?
  • Table of contents — if you don’t have one, create a working version from your book outline and notes.
  • Sample chapters — include three that are most compelling, thrilling, poignant, etc. This allows the potential publisher to see your “writing chops.”

Yes, you can put together a book proposal yourself, but know what you are doing. Research what is required, and by all means, have it edited. Or better yet, hire a professional writer (like me) who has done book proposals before. Through collaboration, brainstorming and putting “the best foot forward,” together we come of with the most appeal for your book proposal, minimizing, say, a lack of writing experience. We focus on your strengths… and what a publisher will consider the book’s strengths.

As a sidenote, check out this “experimental” collaboration between Palgrave Macmillan and the public on book proposals — the first of its kind that I’m aware of.

Do You Need a Book Proposal?

That depends, and here are two points to ponder.

First, if you are determined to write a book or have already done so, then consider bypassing the book proposal. Have your book professionally edited; have a professionally written large and small synopsis ready; research literary agents (many tweet submission call outs), follow every single instruction on their websites, and then submit your query letters (or whatever materials the websites call for).

Honestly, if you are a high profile name or have an extremely good social media following or have a popular blog established, then a book proposal is less important than the manuscript itself. Again book proposals are simply tools to convince publishers to offer a contract. If you can demonstrate the likelihood of book sales without a proposal, then do so!