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Let’s say you have a great idea for a book. Now what? If your goal is to have the book published, it’s time for you to develop a book proposal. A great book proposal can be the difference between having your work put out into the world and having it linger in unpublished obscurity.

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What Is a Book Proposal?

A book proposal is a document designed to convince publishing houses to publish a book. Though a book proposal does not contain the entire book, it attempts to present a brief summary of the central book idea, sample chapters on the subject matter, and a marketing plan for the proposed book. Nonfiction book proposals, like their fiction counterparts, are essentially business plans for your own book, presented with the intention of persuading traditional publishing outlets to subsidize and publish your complete book. Book proposals are different from query letters, which are designed to attract the interest of a literary agent.

What to Include in a Book Proposal

There are plenty of book proposal templates and sample proposals online that can give you a sense of what you should include when submitting an idea to a publisher. The exact content of your book proposal will depend on your publisher’s submission guidelines, but the following are the most common components found in a book proposal:

  1. Title page: Your title page should include the full title of your book as well as your name.
  2. Overview: The overview should briefly summarize your book, providing a big-picture look at your book’s content and intention. Nonfiction writers and fiction writers alike should view their overview as a proposal’s “hook,” enticing potential publishers to read forward. If a potential reader picked up your book and saw the contents of your overview on the back cover, would they be convinced to buy the book?
  3. About the author: This section should include a brief author bio, a list of any previously published work, and any other relevant experience. The “about the author” portion of the book proposal should convince the book publishing outfit that you are the right person to write this book. Don’t forget to include a photo.
  4. Chapter outline and table of contents: Include a proposed list of chapters, their titles, and a brief summary of what each chapter will contain. A chapter summary only needs to be a few sentences or a paragraph long.
  5. Sample chapter: A book proposal generally includes a completed chapter of your forthcoming book. This chapter should give a sense of your overall writing style and deliver on the promise of the book. This is particularly important if you’re writing your first book, as you’ll need to convince would-be publishers that your writing is worthy of a book deal. If your book is supposed to be funny, for instance, you should include the chapter that is packed with the most humor. If you’re writing a self-help book, you should include the chapter that most effectively introduces your theories or analysis.
  6. Competitive titles analysis: Include a list of five to ten previously published books that cover similar subject matter, followed by a brief blurb that compares that book’s approach to your own. The purpose of this is to explain why your book might be appealing to the audience interested in comparable books, while also differentiating your book’s content or argument from the competition. In other words, a competitive title analysis attempts to prove why your book is uniquely suited for success in the marketplace. Your list of competitive titles should also include the title, author, publisher, year of publication, price, page count, and ISBN for the books listed.
  7. Target audience: A section of your book proposal should answer the question: Who is the target market for this book, and why will they buy it? This section should identify as specifically as possible the type of reader you think will be interested in purchasing your book and how many of them are out there.
  8. Marketing plan: Your marketing plan should provide concrete steps that you will take to market the book. This is an opportunity for you to tout any connections you have within the literary world, past speaking engagements that may have increased your audience, or prior media appearances that you feel could be replicated once the book is published. New writers without that type of traditional reach may choose to note the audience of their newsletter, number of monthly visitors to their website, or the number of clicks that a previously published article received. The goal is to prove that having your book published will result in access to a previously established author platform that will increase the likelihood of the book’s success.
  9. Additional information: Authors may also choose to include other details, like expected word count, relevant stats and figures, or sales figures for previously published books—especially if they were bestsellers.

4 Tips for Writing a Book Proposal

In order to stand out from the pack, your book proposal needs to be tight, well-researched, and exciting. Here are some tips to ensure that your book proposal is as good as it can possibly be:

  1. Be specific. The most successful books tell a unique story that feels like it could only be told by that author. Your book proposal should the relay the specificity of your subject matter and expertise. Avoid subjects that feel too broad or expansive, and make sure that your specific angle on your subject matter is distinctive and singular.
  2. Build an audience. If you’re a first time author or someone who has only dabbled in self-publishing, you may feel at a disadvantage when it comes to author platform. However, there are steps you can take right now to build a potential audience, such as guest-blogging, reaching out to fellow authors, and being active on social media. In How to Write a Book Proposal, bestselling author Michael Larsen, relays the story of a struggling author who was finding it difficult to build a platform; the writer started her own website, began posting regularly, and eventually achieved a nationwide audience, attracting the interest of publishers and literary agents alike.
  3. Don’t be self-effacing. There’s a time for modesty and self-deprecating humor. A book proposal is not that time. Your job is to convince a publisher that they should bankroll and publish an entire manuscript from you. Make sure you’re upfront about your skills, expertise, and past accomplishments.
  4. Be careful when comparing your book to bestsellers. When comparing your proposed book to other titles, be careful about including global bestsellers by renowned authors. You want to be realistic about your book’s prospects, and publishers may take you less seriously if it feels like you’re overstated your book’s potential audience.

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