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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:
- Header: The header should include basic information such as the title, your name, email, and phone number.
- Synopsis: You can have a brief synopsis and often a longer synopsis of the book. The book synopsis should include a succinct and compelling one-to-five paragraph description of the project, as well as a longer narrative description answering questions about the project, your qualifications, and potential commercial viability, including target audience and methods for reaching them.
- Chapter breakdown: In creating a book proposal, it is recommended to create a chapter list with a brief summary of each chapter, including images if applicable, and potential ideas for a foreword by a well-known person to increase sales, though the chapter breakdown may change throughout the book's development.
- Sample chapter (sometimes optional, see the editor's requirements): Non-fiction book proposals should include the introduction and one or two sample chapters, while fiction proposals should submit the first 40-50 pages or the entire manuscript, with a focus on high-quality writing and crafting a captivating beginning to draw in readers.
- Word count: Be sure to include the word count or estimated word count of your book.
- Author bio: In the book proposal, it is important to make a convincing argument for why you are the right person to write the book, including relevant published articles or books, press outlets that have reported on your work, and lectures you have given, as well as potential for public speaking or TV appearances, to demonstrate your capability of reaching a buying audience.
- Platform, target audience, market profile: publishers want to see that you can reach an audience that will buy your book. In your book proposal, you should include a section that demonstrates your reach, such as your social media stats, website or blog metrics, and the number of people on your mailing list, among other things. Additionally, you should include a section that outlines the market profile for your book, including a narrative on the book's market and a list of similar books with synopses, to show that your book fills a gap in a viable market.
- Influencers: If you know people who might provide a foreword or blurb on the back cover, you should include that information as well
- Schedule to publish: Include a preliminary schedule on how long it will take you to finish the final draft, any images or other needs that will take time, etc.
- Competitive titles analysis (5-10 comparable titles with shared audiences)
How do you structure a book proposal? The structure of a book proposal is usually title, synopsis, chapter outline, sample chapter (if needed), and then the other details, such as about the author, marketing analysis, competitor analysis, etc.
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
***Halfway down page, centered. Replace all text in brackets with your own text that applies to your own book proposal.
[BOOK TITLE; 16-point Times New Roman, can be in all caps]
[Book Subtitle, 12-point Times New Roman]
***Bottom of title page
***Insert page break (CTRL+ENTER on PCs, CMND+ENTER on Macs). Don’t just press ENTER until you reach a new page. The text from here on should be left-aligned (not justified), 12-point black Times New Roman, double-spaced, with either first-line indents of 0.5” or an extra 10 points of space between paragraphs.
[This is where you describe the overall point of your book, as well as the need it fills in your market. Include a brief summary.]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
[This is where you describe yourself in immodest detail. Stick to 2-5 paragraphs. Mention your credentials, experience, author platform, marketing potential, who you know, what qualifies you to write this book, etc.
Don’t waste time talking about your step-by-step writing process. Be sure to include a high-quality headshot at the end of this page.]
[Also called a market analysis. Here, you answer the editor’s inevitable question: Why will people buy your book? Be specific. No vague generalizations of, “Everyone will want to buy this book!” Instead, focus on why a select market of people will spend their money on your work. Include what celebrities or influencers you can get to plug your book, if applicable.
Publishers like to see steps: for example, step 1) write a great book, step 2) push pre-sales on Twitter and email list, step 3) have the following influential friends mention the book on Instagram, step 4) tour the country on speaking engagements at colleges and business functions where I can push my book, step 5) book media appearances on national news and talk shows. Bonus points if you say you’re going to spend part of your advance on marketing.]
[This is where you analyze 5-10 competitor books, why they succeeded, how your book compares and contrasts, and how your book’s marketability compares to theirs. A book published less than 5 years ago is preferred. Break this section down by each competitor. List the title, subtitle, author name, publisher, year of publication, price, page count, and ISBN number.]
[Some writers start with a simple table of contents, but this is optional. The required part is outlining what each chapter entails. Remember, publishers don’t really care about what’s in your book, as much as they care to know that it flows and is an interesting, relevant take on the subject matter. Break this section down by chapter. You may use bullet points below each chapter title if that helps your organization. Don’t include your entire manuscript.]
[Choose the most intriguing chapter, preferably from the first half of the book.]
Where to Submit the Book Proposal?
One of the best ways to find successful publishing companies (so you can submit your proposal to them) is to analyze the genre for your book and see what other companies are publishing books in that genre.
If you're doing this manually, this can take a very long time, and you'll end up finding a lot of other companies that aren't really great.
Thankfully, there's a tool that makes it easy to see all of the major publishers for the bestsellers of any genre.
That tool is Publisher Rocket.
With Rocket's category analysis tool, you can easily find a list of publishers for any genre by doing the following:
- Finding your desired category/genre through the Category Search
- Clicking on the “Insights” link
- Hover over the “i” icon under the Large Publisher tile
- Find a list of large publishers in that genre
A lot of these publishing companies will be traditional publishers, so you can reach out to them if you want a traditional publishing deal. Or you might find some hidden gems, like lesser known but successful small publishers.
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.
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!