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A book proposal is a comprehensive document you create to propose your book to traditional publishing houses, typically alongside your literary agent. It’s like a business plan for your book.
Don’t get a book proposal confused with a query letter, which is what you write and send to potential literary agents. Despite what some popular Google results say on the topic, a book proposal is not a query letter.
However, you almost always need an agent before you write and send a book proposal, so writing a query letter should also be on your radar.
What does the perfect book proposal accomplish? Ultimately, your book proposal should perfectly answer these 3 questions:
- Why this story?
- Who would buy this book?
- Why are you the person to tell this story?
Let me take you through how to write the best book proposal possible as you answer these 3 questions effectively and excitingly.
- What to include in a book proposal
- Who needs a book proposal
- Book proposal template
- 9 steps to writing a compelling book proposal
Quick note: As you probably already know, I’m a big proponent of self-publishing. Traditional publishing is almost impossible nowadays. Self-publishing can be more profitable and is a lot more achievable.
However, if you already have an agent, or a publishing house solicited your manuscript, you should still keep reading for valuable information.
What is a book proposal?
A book proposal acts as a business plan in the eyes of publishers. Traditional publishers want to see how marketable your book is and to whom they can sell it. This is why you (and often your literary agent) craft a book proposal and send it to multiple prints in the publishing industry.
You need a book proposal for both fiction books and nonfiction books, although fiction proposals and nonfiction proposals are slightly different.
Your book proposal is critical to landing a traditional book deal. First book? First-time author? If you can guarantee a publisher tens of thousands of pre-sales, then you could land a book deal even if you’re a new book writer.
How do you propose a book to a publisher? 95% of the time, you will need to secure a literary agent to propose your book to a traditional publisher, such as Penguin/Random House or Simon and Schuster.
5% of the time, you will find a traditional publisher accepting unsolicited, unagented submissions. In their submission guidelines, they may ask for a full-on book proposal. Remember that they’re going to receive thousands of submissions and only choose a few to publish.
Nevertheless, submitting an unsolicited submission might be worth a shot if the opportunity is there.
Rarely, a traditional publisher will solicit a book proposal from you. This may happen if you have a large following on social media or a friend or family member in the biz. However, if publishers are soliciting you for a manuscript, chances are high that you already have an agent.
What is the purpose of a book proposal? The purpose of a book proposal is to show publishers that your book will sell. With these proposals, publishers are looking for authors who already understand the way traditional publishing works. In their minds, that equals sales.
How many pages is a nonfiction book proposal? A typical nonfiction book proposal contains 20-50 pages, usually landing on the lower end of that spectrum. This length is standard for fiction book proposals as well.
How much does a book proposal cost? A book proposal shouldn’t cost anything unless you hire a professional ghostwriter to write it or a professional editor to edit it — both of which are valid considerations.
What should you include in a book proposal?
What is included in a book proposal? With the help of an agent, you should include the following in any book proposal:
- Title page
- Overview (synopsis, big picture)
- Word count
- Author bio
- Comprehensive marketing plan
- Platform, target audience, market profile
- Influencers who might provide a foreword or blurb on the back cover
- Schedule to publish
- Competitive titles analysis (5-10 comparable titles with shared audiences)
- Author’s previous readership and sales figures, if applicable
- Chapter breakdown, coupled with a very brief description of each chapter
- Sample chapter
How do you structure a book proposal? The structure of a book proposal is usually title, overview, about the author, marketing analysis, competitor analysis, chapter outline, and then the sample chapter.
9 Tips for Writing a Book Proposal
- Don’t write the book first. For nonfiction writers, do not complete the entire book before you send out book proposals. Publishers like to accept nonfiction book proposals before the proposed book is fully written. (However, for fiction authors, it is customary to propose a complete book.)
- Focus on how your book will benefit the reader, not just what your book is about. Experts call this “evidence of need.” This aspect is especially vital for nonfiction proposals.
- Be specific about your book. If it sounds like your book idea is derivative and same-old-same-old, then no one will want to publish it (or buy it).
- Make sure your book proposal has a hook. Just like any good story, your book proposal needs to hook the editor who reads it, so they send it to their superiors. For your proposal to have a hook, your book needs a hook. There’s an art to hooking your readers.
- Avoid generic statements. Don’t say, “A Google search turns up more than 10 million results!” or “Everyone will be talking about this book, so everyone is my target market.” Generic statements often cross over into laughable hyperbole or annoying irrelevance. Instead, name-drop recent trends, making a clear connection between the increased relevancy of your book and current events or specific statistics.
- Don’t be modest. Mention if you know famous people, publishing biz pros, other writers, etc. Mention all your experience and natural talent. Answer the question: Why are you the right person to write this? You can be modest some other time — not during a book proposal.
- Start networking years ago. This is cynical, but you already need to have laid the groundwork for marketing and outreach long before you publish. Traditional publishers are looking for authors who already boast a network of high-profile influencers (such as book reviewers). Publishers seldom accept a book proposal if you can’t guarantee 20k pre-sales.
- Be realistic. Publishers may take you less seriously if you compare your book to New York Times bestsellers. Instead, be realistic about your audience size and compare your work to reasonably successful competitors.
- Build your platform as early as possible. Nowadays, you need a pre-established platform to sell books. Whether self-publishing or hoping to land a traditional publisher, start building your platform as early as possible. If you haven’t started yet, start now. This can include social media, email list, guest blogging, vlogging, or even procuring subscribers on YouTube. (Think Jena Moreci’s successful channel that has gotten her brand in front of hundreds of thousands of new eyes.)
- Proofread. Please, do not send a book proposal with spelling and grammatical errors. This often equals an automatic toss in the bin. Check out my list of Best Proofreading Software for more info.
Do self-publishers need a book proposal?
No, self-publishing authors very rarely need a book proposal.
You may find a traditional publisher accepting unsolicited, unagented submissions. If they require a book proposal in their submission guidelines, you will need to write a book proposal even though you don’t have an agent.
At that point, you would be seeking traditional publishing, so you wouldn’t really be considered a self-publisher anymore.
Free Book Proposal Template
Use this free template as a sample proposal. Copy and paste the following text into a document, and follow the directions after the asterisks. Delete the instructions (and asterisks) from the text once you have done what the directions say.
Alternatively, you can download Kindlepreneur’s free book proposal template here.
Template to Copy + Paste
You’ve written a book proposal. What now?
Congrats! You know how to write a book proposal. Now it’s time to land that book deal if that’s what you’re going for.
Note: Most publishers will require your book proposal in DOCX file format, if not printed on standard 8.5” x 11” paper.
Comment below what part of this article you found most helpful — or any other questions you have that I didn’t get to cover. I love keeping up with your comments long after these posts go up.
Check out my Book Marketing Podcast. Even if you land a traditional book deal, you’ll still have to do most of your own marketing. (Traditional publishers are astonishingly bad at actually selling books to readers.) And check out my free course on Amazon Ads for Authors.
Best to get ahead on your marketing endeavors now for future success!