You may want to write a non-fiction book that is based on your professional expertise. Or perhaps it's an illustrated children’s book, a cookbook or a photographic travel book. The good news is that you don’t have to write your entire book first. You can submit a proposal. In fact these books are generally commissioned by publishers on a proposal basis. (I am going to use the terms publisher / agent interchangeably).
This means that writing a proposal is actually a Pretty Big Deal. They are long and they take a whole lotta work. But they will easily weed out the serious writer (that’s you) from the ‘don’t care enough’ to an experienced publisher. Don’t rush the process of the book proposal and don’t underestimate how carefully crafted this needs to be.
This is what is going to get your book sold.
On the most basic level a book proposal is a very simple document. It is going to spell out exactly what the book is about. Then you are going to detail all the key areas you will cover including a chapter list.
Remember, a publisher gets loads of these and they want to know, in a quick glance, what your book is about. The publisher needs to be clear after reading this single document on what is the story and what makes it a good read.
Why do publishers want them? We need to have as much information as possible to see your book’s potential. It also allows us to see an indication of what the book is going to cost to produce.
Many publishers will detail exactly what they want you to include in your proposal, others leave it up to you. Check their website if you can first. For my first book proposal I sent two pages and a rough chapter outline but I was very clear on what I was saying and my chapters were carefully crafted. A shorter one can work if your book is compelling and meets a clear gap in the market.
I am going to give you the pretty simple basics that generally work for any proposal.
LENGTH: I go for brevity and like to bring these in fewer than 3- 5 pages.
FORMAT FOR A PROPOSAL
BOOK TITLE + SUBTITLE
Titles are fantastically important and can sell a book. A non-fiction book title does not leave the reader guessing. It tells a reader exactly what your book is about. They are not vague, elusive – but they can be very clever.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Rich Dad Poor Dad -What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
There isn’t a ‘random musings’ category in a bookstore. Where is your book going to sit and be sold? Children / Travel / Business / Spiritual / Self Help / Parenting / Sports. Is this a memoir, travel book, business advice book, cookbook or diet and nutrition book? You know I am a genre fanatic and if you are not clear on this your book won’t be a clear sell to a publisher.
BOOK SUMMARY/ OVERVIEW
Think of this as an executive summary. It needs to answer the question – what is your book about? It’s short and snappy (around 2-3 paragraphs) and gives an overall idea of your book and its message. The best way to do this is to look at how other authors have crafted this – as a blurb or back cover copy. So it’s both informative but it must also carry the tone and feeling of your book. It is the first glimpse they are going to get of your writing so you need to make this bit the very best you can. It’s going to make the agent or publisher take notice and it's the thing that makes a reader pluck your book off the shelf.
This needs to answer the question, why this book now?
Pinning down what makes your book special and saleable can be a daunting task.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is the blurb written in third person about you .... like 'Sally Anne is a vet who talks to animals'. Why are you qualified to write this book and who are you? If this is a non-fiction you need to present your professional credentials in a smart and readable way. Stick to one paragraph. Again bring your tone in here. If your book is funny, use your humour here. If it’s gritty, make this writing reflect that.
Again look at some other author blurbs. They are not long but they need to mix the personal with the professional in a non-fiction.
On the jacket of most book titles there is a blurb about the author. How would the blurb read about you?
This is a longer version of the above. Max 2 pages. What is this book about? What are the main points? Where does it take the reader? What are the highlights? What the key arguments / areas you will cover? Keep your style good here but make sure it also just covers the basics.
What topics will be covered? What keywords could describe your book?
This only applies to a book that includes photography (cookbooks / photo / travel) or illustrations. It is key if it is a children’s book. I want to see a sample of what the book is going to look like. Here you are going to have to put out some money if you are not doing the illustrations yourself. I highly recommend few pages actually designed, or at least some visuals of how the book is going to look. Don’t go too far as the publisher will have their own layout artists, but if images are critical to your book – include some of them.
Identifying your audience and how to reach them will be the core of your book proposal. Remember that your book is a product meant to be read, loved, and enjoyed by living, breathing people. Finding those people is core to your book’s success. Narrow down your target market. Is it for moms of toddlers, businessmen, widows, salesmen or ‘dating over 40s’? If you can back this up with some research on the size of your market, books published in the market, sales in the market or any good facts or figures that will help.
Describe your readers in demographic detail.
What are the beliefs, values, attitudes of your readers?
Describe situations in which your reader would select your book. At the airport? As a gift? As a self-help guide? When would somebody want to read your book and why? What would that reader be looking for?
What expectations will your readers have when they open your book?
Are there associations, organizations, clubs, guilds, unions or other groups that bring together members of your audience? Also government agencies, non-profits, businesses
Which books are on the shelf next to yours? Be specific about the current competition for your reading audience, from the titles to the authors and their approach. What is your book going to compete with on the shelf? List big names in this genre. If you can’t find any you are not looking hard enough. Aim for around 4–6 in a list.
SOCIAL MEDIA / MARKETING
Nowadays publishers are interested in how you are going to promote the sales of your book. Include all your interests here. Newsletters / blogs / websites / YouTube. Put numbers to each if you can eg My newsletter Healthy Food Fast has 5,000 subscribers.
How else will you promote your book? Are you an accomplished public speaker, do you do workshops, can you run a course?
Only include things you CURRENTLY DO.
This is a breakdown of your chapter titles and max of a paragraph of what is in each one. The publisher wants to see you have a way of logically organising your information.
What about a query letter?
I tend to double up and get my book summary really good. Then I will paste that into the body of the email with the title genre and the ‘about the author’ bit.
You may also want to read:
How to write a smoking hot author blurb
How to write a Query Letter
Work out your estimated book sales
The article is from The Writing Room by Sarah Bullen
Please credit in full and link to this blog post if you share it.
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, agent and book editor. She is a structure fanatic and coaches writers on how to write and get published.