If you want to land a traditional publishing deal, you will need a book proposal. This remains true even if your blogged book gets discovered by an agent or publisher. A book proposal serves as a business plan for a book, and publishers rely on it to determine if your book is marketable and if you make a good publishing partner. The information you include in the proposal helps them decide if they should invest in you and your idea.
Although nonfiction writers must always submit a book proposal, today fiction writers benefit from submitting a proposal, too. The best model for a kick-ass book proposal is the non-fiction proposal; it contains all the business-related information authors need to convince agents or publishers their projects are salable. It can be modified by novelists to suit their needs.
Book Proposals are Business Plans
Writing a book proposal is similar to writing a query letter, only it is much more in depth. This is a marketing document, which means it’s about business, not about creativity. Yes, it must have a creative and compelling beginning to make agents and publishers want to read further into the plan, but you must write it with salability in mind. Every word must support your argument that your book idea:
- has a market or audience
- is unique and necessary in its category and marketplace
- will, indeed, sell—and sell well
Not only that, you must convince the publisher you are the correct person to write the book and can and will help sell it.
A book proposal also serves as a business plan. It contains all the necessary information to help a publisher determine if your proposed book constitutes a good business investment—if it is likely to provide a return on their investment. It provides market research as well as a competitive analysis and a promotion plan. A publisher will use your book proposal as its business plan for your book—or build upon it. (If you were to self-publish your book, you would also want to have a business plan for your book, and no better one exists than a book proposal.)
Novels are often sold just on manuscripts, but the competitive nature of the publishing industry now makes novelists who produce a book proposal more likely to garner a traditional publishing contract. Many agents require one from novelists, as do acquisitions editors at publishing houses. These proposals are looking more and more like nonfiction, rather than fiction, proposals as well.
The Parts of a Book Proposal
From many years of studying this subject I’ve determined there are 10 essential parts to a proposal, but three of those are optional. If you want to break your proposal into two parts, include an Introduction and an Outline. Or just start with the Overview, the following six sections (minus any optional ones you choose to exclude), and the outline and its three sections. (Click on the links to learn more.)
- Overview: This a 1-2 page description of your book that includes a pitch, a short summary of your book, the benefits of your book, the estimated number of pages in your manuscript, the back matter you plan to include, and any special features. If you have room, you can include the reason you are well-suited to write the book, a mention of your top platform elements or the market for the book.
- Markets: This is a market analysis. Provide a description, including actual numbers that specify size whenever possible, of the audience for your book. You can also break it down to individual readers, if necessary. Tie this into your promotion section.
- Spin-offs: (optional) If you plan to write a series or additional books that tie into the proposed book, mention that here. Include a short pitch for each book. (You can mention the series in the overview as well.)
- Promotion: This is a list of all the things you will do after the book’s release to help sell the book to your target market(s).
- Competing Titles: This is an analysis of 3-5 books that represent the most direct competition for your proposed book. It includes all details (price, publication date, hardcover vs. paperback, publisher, page count, etc.), an analysis of each book and a final analysis of how the book differs from the one you plan to write.
- Complementary Titles: (optional) This is a list of books similar to the one you propose to write but not direct competition. It contains the same details as provided for competing titles and a brief analysis of how all the books differ from the one you plan to write.
- About the Author: This is your professional biography.
- Mission Statement: (optional) This is a one-paragraph mission statement you can include if you feel compelled to write your book, as if it is your purpose in life.
- Author’s Platform: This is a list of all the things you have done to date to build an audience for your book in your target market who would purchase it right now. Include numbers as relevant.
- List of Chapters: This is the table of contents for your proposed book.
- Chapter Summaries or Synopsis: These are chapter-by-chapter summaries for nonfiction or a synopsis for fiction. Chapter summaries should be about a paragraph or two long each; a synopsis should be no longer than two pages in length.
- Sample Chapter or Manuscript: Nonfiction proposals include 25-30 pages of sample manuscript; these should be your best pages—1-3 chapters. A novelist should send along the whole manuscript or whatever amount of the manuscript the agent or acquisitions editor requests (3-30 pages).
Proposals come in many shapes and forms. You can learn more about them and find some examples in these books:
- Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why by Jeff and Deborah Herman
- How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
- The Author Training Manual by Nina Amir
- The Nonfiction Book Proposal Demystified by Nina Amir
If you need help writing a proposal or getting one edited and polished up prior to submission, check out my query and proposal services. I’d be happy to help you with a nonfiction or fiction proposal for your blogged book or some other book.
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