Do you have a book idea that you’ve been working on for years? Maybe you have a document filled with research and stories. When the concept and the vision for your nonfiction book begins to take shape, it may be time to consider publishing it.
If your goal is to get a book deal with a traditional publisher, you will need to write a book proposal. The purpose of a book proposal is to present the many aspects of your project to a publisher so they can determine how they would sell your book to a large audience.
Creating a compelling book proposal may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, writing a book proposal can help give you clarity about your project. It forces you to look at every aspect of your book, from the target audience to your marketing plan.
This article offers insight into how to write a book proposal and discusses the components you should include in your proposal.
What Is a Book Proposal?
Think of a book proposal as a business plan. You will use it to pitch your book to a publisher, agent, or acquisitions editor. Think of your book as a product you are selling and the publisher is the investor. There must be a compelling reason for the publisher to acquire your book and invest in your project.
Book proposals are for nonfiction books, such as business, finance, health, and wellness, as well as memoirs. A standard book proposal generally follows the same format in terms of what should be included, though this may vary depending on the topic of your book.
A book proposal will:
- Clearly and concisely communicate what your book is about.
- Help a publisher decide if they want to take on your project.
- Help a publisher evaluate if they can make money off your book.
Simply put: a book proposal is a way for you to sell your book. So put on your salesperson hat and let’s get started!
RELATED: How to Write the Perfect Book Blurb
What Is Included in a Book Proposal?
A book proposal has many facets, and not every proposal will cover the same topics. However, the following are the main elements of what should be included in your book proposal:
- Book title
- An overview
- Target audience
- Author bio
- Chapter outline
- Sample chapters
- Marketing plan
- Competitive title analysis
The length of a book proposal varies, but the average length is between 15 and 50 pages long. Depending on the subject manner, some book proposals will be longer in length. If your book proposal is less than fifteen pages, it is probably too short and needs to be expanded.
It’s important that your book proposal is well-organized, developed, and streamlined, all while making sure it is engaging and appealing to the publisher. A book proposal may be the only document an agent reads, so it needs to grab their attention and set you apart from your competitors.
You need to include a book title in your book proposal, even if it is a working title. The title of your book should be representative of your work.
For example, if you are writing a book about getting out of debt, your working title could be: How to Get Out of Debt. However, this title doesn’t provide enough information. Think about the content of your book as well as your target audience.
A stronger book title would be: How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt. This gives more specific details about the type of debt you are writing about.
An even stronger book title would be: How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt: Tips and Tricks for Recent Graduates. This includes a subtitle that recognizes your target audience, which is recent graduates.
Remember, your book is a work in progress, so you are not married to your book title. Create an engaging book title that offers insight and information about your book.
In the overview, you will explain what your book is about and its premise. It shouldn’t be a summary of your book. The goal of the overview is to create a sales pitch to the agent about what your book is about, what readers will gain from reading it, and how it will be received.
Here are some questions to consider:
- What is the genre?
- What is the subject matter and content?
- What are the main themes and topics?
- Who is your target audience?
- What should your audience gain or learn from reading your book?
- What is your book’s message?
- How is your book commercially viable?
The overview is an opportunity for you to dive deep into what your book hopes to accomplish. For example, do you offer tangible solutions for getting out of debt? Do you take into account that readers have varying financial backgrounds and upbringings? Because there are many books on the market about debt relief, your book needs to offer new and creative solutions.
Many authors struggle to identify their target audience, especially if the book topic can reach a wide audience. This section of the book proposal gives the agent a thorough understanding of your readership. If you can demonstrate that your book would appeal to a large target audience, it may pique the agent’s interest. The more readers you can lure in, the more money your book will make.
It’s important to distinguish between a wide audience and a target audience. Your book may appeal to many readers, but your target audience will enjoy reading your book the most. These are the readers who will pay money to buy your book. And, if they enjoy your book, they are more likely to buy any additional books you write, follow your writing career, and recommend your book to others.
An author bio is essential for a book proposal because it establishes your credibility. Your bio needs to convey why you are the ideal person to write your book. You want to establish yourself as a credible, trustworthy, and reliable source.
Your author bio should include relevant information about who you are and how your background relates to or enhances your book project. This is where you can elaborate on your qualifications and experience. Not only are you trying to sell your book, but you are selling yourself as the most competent writer to take on this project.
Things to include in your author bio are:
- Other books you’ve written or published
- Articles or blogs
- Educational background
- Talks or lectures you’ve given
The biggest mistake writers make when writing an author bio is including information that does not relate to the book project. It’s great if you’ve written three fantasy novels, but if your book proposal is about European art history during the Reformation, your fiction novels may not be relevant. This isn’t to say you can’t include those credentials, but your author bio should emphasize how credible and competent you are to write the book you are trying to sell.
Creating a chapter outline will help agents understand the “flow” of your book: its structure, organization, and chapter topics and discussions. A chapter outline presents the material you plan to cover over the course of your book.
Provide a brief summary of each chapter in one or two sentences. You should describe the main focus, purpose, and theme of each chapter, as well as offer key takeaways for the readers. Keep the chapter outlines brief but engaging. Many writers fall into the trap of providing too much information, but this is not necessary.
It’s fine if you haven’t finished writing your book. You can still provide a chapter outline or a Table of Contents of what you intend to cover in your book.
Many book proposals require sample chapters. This is your chance to shine and show what your writing is all about! Most publishers require one sample chapter, but you may be asked for more.
You will be the best judge of which excerpts to use for your book. If you are writing a memoir, you may want to start with the first few chapters that really pull the readers in and pack a punch. If your book is about art history, perhaps a chapter in the middle of your book with a lot of research and strong themes might work best.
The takeaway is to select a writing sample that is strong, engaging, and truly captures the essence of your book. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your writing style and tone, as well as your most impressive research. You want the publisher to feel confident that you are a strong writer capable of producing engaging content.
Buying and selling books online has forever changed the publishing industry. Authors now have more control over how their book sells and how to reach their audience thanks to social media, Amazon, author websites, and email lists. Selling books is no longer the sole responsibility of the publisher.
Creating a strong marketing plan is essential because it can demonstrate that you are ready and willing to take on a role in marketing and selling your book. It will pique an agent’s interest if you have a large author platform with thousands of followers on social media as opposed to no online presence. Whether you like it or not, we live in a digital world. If you want to build a large platform, you need to show your willingness to engage.
Here are some ideas to include in your marketing strategy:
- Author website
- Newsletter or blog
- What do you write about?
- How often do you send out your newsletter or blog to your followers?
- Email list
- How many people are on your email list?
- How often to you communicate with your followers?
- Social media accounts
- What accounts do you have (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram)?
- How many followers do you have?
- Podcasts or webinars
- Speaking events (i.e., webinars, writers’ conferences, lectures)
- Other ways you plan to sell your book (i.e., library readings, book readings, book tours)
The purpose of a marketing plan is to show what you intend to do to sell and market your book. Be realistic in your goals and expectations.
Competitive Title Analysis
The competitive title analysis shows a publisher how well you understand where you book fits in your genre on bookshelves and how well it will sell among competitive titles.
How well do you know your competition? The goal is to look at other books on the market and explain how necessary your book is in comparison to those similar titles. Why should a reader choose your book over a comparable title? What does your book offer that a comp title doesn’t?
Full disclosure: a competitive title analysis requires a lot of time and research on your part. You need to put in the effort to fully explore other books in your genre.
There is no set number of how many competitive titles you should use, but you should aim for at least five. The competitive titles must be current books that have been published within the last five years. Your competitive analysis should be one paragraph in length per title.
Here are some things to consider when writing your competitive analysis:
- Provide the author’s name, book title, publisher, year of publication, and ISBN number for the competitive title.
- A brief summary of the competitive title.
- A brief explanation of how your book is similar (i.e., topic, point of view, era).
- A brief explanation of how your book goes above and beyond the competitive title.
Writing a book proposal can seem overwhelming, but don’t fret. You know your book better than anyone else. It’s just a matter of switching from a writer’s mindset to a seller’s mindset. Look at your book from the perspective of a publisher who wants to sell books and make money.
Stay focused on your goal of publishing your book. If you are having trouble or would like a professional to review it, our editors can ensure that your book proposal is clear, concise, and the best that it can be.