Authors tend to panic when writing a book proposal, but it’s a straightforward process. Here’s how to look at it: you’re making a publisher a proposition for a partnership.
Your book proposal is a plan for this partnership, and has two basic elements: an appealing description of your book with some sample chapters, and a plan for marketing your book. The “marketing” aspect is more important than your description of the book, because book ideas are everywhere.
In this article, we’re discussing nonfiction book proposals. If you’re writing fiction, you need to write your novel first. You can then shop it around to literary agents with a query letter, offering a synopsis and chapters. Alternatively, self publish. If your novel hits the Amazon bestseller lists, you’ll get offers from agents.
Tip: DO NOT write your nonfiction book before you create your book proposal and get a contract
Sadly, you can’t get out of writing a proposal for your book if you hope to get a publishing contract. No one will read your book. Literary agents and publishers read query letters. If they’re interested in your enquiry, they’ll ask you for a proposal.
You need to do your research, then write your proposal. Once the proposal is done, you can send query letters to agents and publishers. You’ll know to whom to send your query, because you researched possible homes for your book before you wrote the proposal.
Which brings us to the most important element in book proposal creation: research.
Research: it’s essential, and exciting
You’ve got an idea for a nonfiction book. You think the book will sell.
Here’s how to proceed:
- Write a short description of your book, and give it a working title;
- Research similar books to yours online, and offline;
- Research the audience for your book;
- Consider how you’ll market the book.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a dog groomer. You run a grooming salon and boarding kennels. You get an idea for a book “dog grooming the easy way.” Describe the book, and then research, as above.
Here’s why you do all this research up-front, before you start writing. It’s because agents and publishers ask WHY when you send a query letter to them: WHY this book, and WHY now?
Publishers look for bestsellers, because a bestseller keeps them out of the red. They don’t have a crystal ball, so they don’t know where the next bestseller will come from.
At first blush, the dog grooming book looks like an evergreen title, rather than a bestseller. Some publishers like these kinds of titles, because they have the potential to sell for years. These are bread and butter titles, but many fewer of them are being published these days. The exception? Branded series, like the “For Dummies” series of books.
(I’ve just browsed the For Dummies book website. They publish dog-grooming books, so the topic itself is viable. However, to be appealing to a publisher, it needs more.)
If I were writing a book proposal for the dog grooming book, I’d encourage the author to come up with a element which would make the book timely.
Your book’s competition: know what’s selling
Your publisher will want to know what competition your book faces. There is always competition, so don’t be worried about this, because competition is a good thing — when there’s competition, you know that your subject area is selling.
Make notes on which books are your own book’s primary competitors. Look at their rankings on Amazon. If you wish, you can check to see how many copies they’re selling each day. The kdp sales rank calculator gives you a rough guide.
In the image below, I checked the Amazon Best Sellers Rank of EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, which is currently ranked at 1,630 Paid in the Kindle store. The calculator estimates that it’s selling at 55 to 100 copies a day.
Make a note of all competing titles, with their current sales rank on Amazon.
The competition: how is your book different?
In your book proposal, list the competing titles, and write a sentence or two for each book about the kind of readers the book is targeting.
Aim for five to 10 titles. Now think about how your book could appeal to readers. You’re looking for an angle, a slant, to take with your book, which will target a similar audience to current top-selling titles, but will offer something they don’t.
This is the most challenging part of writing your book proposal, so don’t be surprised if it takes time.
While you’re waiting for inspiration, write the book proposal. Here’s a template you can use from the Ted Weinstein literary agency. The template includes everything you need to cover in your proposal.
You’ll notice that the audience, competing titles, and your marketing plans are prominent. This material is what counts, and it will make the difference in whether or not your book attracts a publisher.
Agents and publishers look at many book proposals each week. Make yours shine: show that you know that publishing is a business, and you take writing and marketing your book seriously. Your book proposal will then stand out in the crowd.
I wish you all success with your book. :-)
Here’s a slide deck covering the concepts in this article
How to Write a Book Proposal That Sells – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
If you need help with your book proposal
I create book proposals for clients. Contact me if you need help with yours. If you wish, I can also help you to get literary representation for your new book.