How to Write a Book Proposal (if You Plan on Publishing Your Book)

This post comes from Managing Editor Janna Maron, who has helped guide several Winning Edits clients through writing book proposals.

How do I write a book proposal?

So you want to try to get a traditional book publishing deal. When you’re writing a nonfiction book, the standard operating procedure for most publishers is to consider book proposals rather than complete manuscripts. This could potentially be both good and bad news, depending on where you are in your writing process.

If you have an idea for a book but have not yet started writing, the good news is that you don’t need to write the entire manuscript before trying to get a publisher to pick it up. This route may end up saving you a lot of time and heartache if it turns out that selling your idea is harder than you thought. Conversely, if you already have a complete draft, the potential bad news is that there is more work ahead of you with compiling your proposal before you have something publishers are willing to consider. 

Why is a book proposal necessary?

You may be wondering why publishers don’t just want to see the entire book right up front before deciding whether they will publish it or not. What many writers don’t realize is that publishers are in the business of selling books. So that means they are much more interested in the target market, the author’s platform, other books that have done well in your niche, how you plan to promote and contribute to the marketing of your book once it’s published—those are all the factors that will give publishers an idea of how many books they will sell if they do end up picking up your manuscript.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

What does a book proposal entail? 

Regardless of whether you have a manuscript draft or not, you’ll need to start with a book proposal if you intend to shop it around. Yes, some writers may sign with a literary agent who can help with the book proposal and then will handle the process of pitching it to publisher. But it is still a good idea for authors to understand what goes into writing a stellar book proposal. The important thing to remember, as I mentioned, is that in order to sell your book to a publisher, you need to give them as much detailed information on what will help them sell your book. So think about things like your platform and your network. Here are some questions to get your wheels turning:

  1. How engaged is your audience and how can you activate them to spread the word about your book?
  2. If you have a blog, how many subscribers or monthly visitors do you have?
  3. If you have an email list, how many subscribers are on it?
  4. If you have your own podcast, how many monthly downloads do you get?
  5. If you have published a book previously, self-published or traditional, how many copies have you sold?
  6. If you are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc., how many followers do you have on each platform?
  7. Who do you know that would be willing to partner with you to promote your book or interview you on their podcast?
  8. Are you willing to travel and put on your own book tour?
  9. What creative ideas do you have that will be of interest to a publisher’s marketing plan?

What are the components of a book proposal?  

Think of your book proposal as a written sales pitch. If you had an opportunity to get in front of a room full of publishers who may or may not make you an offer at the end of your presentation, what would you include in your pitch, and what would you say?

In our experience, the basic components of a book proposal include:

  1. Overview: one part introduction to the book, two parts overview of your proposal
  2. Promotion: how you, the author, will promote the book
  3. Affiliations: others who would support the launch, with qualifications
  4. Additional promotional possibilities: any other opportunities for marketing you have
  5. Potential pre-sales marketing plan: e.g., book bundle tiers and bonuses you can offer to generate buzz before the book is published
  6. Market description: your target audience and the type of media they consume
  7. Author bio: about you and your credentials for writing this book
  8. Related books: similar titles in your niche and how well they have performed
  9. Publishing details: timeline for completing your manuscript
  10. Detailed book structure: complete table of contents plus a sample chapter

Fully fleshing out each one of these sections usually ends up being somewhere around thirty to fifty pages, and you can see that the bulk of the proposal focuses heavily on the marketing and promotion opportunities that you bring to the table—it’s 80 percent about the marketing of your book and 20 percent about the book itself.

You might be thinking that all this talk about market description and promotion opportunities sounds an awful lot like a business plan and, well, you’d be right. Buying a book idea from an author is a business decision for publishers—remember, they are in the business of selling books. Before they take on the risk of publishing your book, they need information to help them decide if the numbers make sense.

You could have the best book concept in the world and if the numbers don’t pencil out then your chances of getting a deal are slim. This is why there is so much emphasis on authors building a platform and an engaged audience even before they have written a book. If you can start thinking about your book as a component of your larger business, you’ll be one step ahead of most authors and set up for success when you’re ready to sit down and tackle your book proposal. 

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about writing your own book proposal, we're here to help. Please let us know my commenting below or saying hello to us here

And, as always, if you feel like taking a break from writing your book proposal and want to exchange puppy gifs, we're @WinningEdits on Twitter. :D