How To Write A Book Proposal

by Lindsay 1/17/2018 9:50:00 PM

Contributed By: William Grigsby


You have a great idea about a book and you’re sure it will be a success. However, you’re probably wondering if literary agents and publishers will be interested in it. How do you contact them? Do you write a query letter and send it along some sample pages and a synopsis?

If you manage to get a publishing deal on your book before it’s even ready, you’ll get the wind to your back. You’ll be motivated to push yourself and write without any procrastinations. How do you do that? There’s something called a book proposal.

What Is a Book Proposal?

To define what the book proposal is, we can compare it to a research proposal - the paper that PhD candidates submit before they start working on their dissertation. According to the definition by Assignment Masters, the research proposal refers to the “ideas and theories that a professional in a certain field would like to examine. The paper is usually presented to a university board or another organisation responsible for authorising the research or providing funding for it.”          

By definition, the book proposal is something similar. It’s basically an outline, which will clarify the ideas and theories, as well as the plot of the book you plan to write. You’ll present it to a potential publisher, or an agent, who is going to make your book marketable and profitable.                       

There are two ways to handle this:

- Write the proposal before you start writing the book. In this case, the proposal will serve as a stimulator during the writing process. In the case of narrative nonfiction, many publishers prefer this approach. In order to sponsor the project, they want to make sure the author can pull it off.

-  Write the book first, and then capture its essence in a book proposal. This works best for fiction work. When you have the manuscript ready, you won’t just start sending it around. The book proposal, as its presentation, will be much more attractive and easier for the agents to review.

Fiction writers rarely write book proposals. That’s because the publishers usually require a cover letter, synopsis, and a complete or partial manuscript for the review process. When it comes to non-fiction work, however, the proposal is practically mandatory.

So let’s focus on that aspect: writing a book proposal for non-fiction work. How do you do it?

Tips for Writing a Great Book Proposal

  1. Think of Your Project as a Business Offer

Let’s say you’re planning to write a nonfiction book on the Japanese art of living. There are several books of that type (such as Ikigai for example). What makes your idea special? Why would people buy and read your book? Yes; the publisher will be interested in the commercial aspect. They are doing this for the money. So you must present your idea as marketable, and that’s exactly what the book proposal serves for.

Your credibility as an author who can tackle this topic is very important. The book proposal should make the agent/publisher confident that you’re the best writer to invest in when it comes to this specific theme. If, for example, you’re planning to write a health book, mention your background in medicine and healthy living. That will show your intentions to write a serious book, which people will be interested in buying. 

  1. Explain How the Readers Will Benefit from This Book

If you’ve never written a book proposal before, you might assume that the publisher expects you to discuss what your book is about. Of course you’ll tell them what the book is about, but you won’t focus on describing its content. Instead, you’ll focus on how the readers will benefit from reading this book. Why should they care to buy it?

Identify a specific problem that many people face. If, for example, you’re tackling the matter of mindfulness, write about that concept and explain why people need it today. Use facts and statistics to show how significant this matter is. Then, explain how your book will help people overcome specific issues.

  1. Organize the Proposal Well

If you were about to write a research proposal, its organization would be clear. What about the book proposal? Is there a specific structure you should maintain? The structure may be flexible. However, it’s still important for the book proposal to encompass the main sections that a publisher expects to see:

- Author Bio

Make yourself look like a true professional in this section! Mention the strengths that make you capable to tackle this topic.

-  Overview

This section, which should be around two or three pages long, will be a summary of the book. You may also include a table of contents, so the publisher will get a more precise idea of the issues you plan to cover. If you already wrote part of the book or you have a complete manuscript, you may also include sample chapters.

-  Analysis of the Target Audience

Why will your book sell? That’s the main question to answer in this section. You’ll analyze the target audience. You’ll expose the issues they have and you’ll discuss the solutions your book will provide.

-  Competitive Analysis

Chances are, you’re not the only author who had this idea. You’ll find books on similar concepts. The competitive analysis should show how your idea is different and what additional benefits it will provide to the reader. You won’t trash the competitors; you’ll just show what else you’ll bring to that topic.

-  Marketing Strategy

What will you do to promote your book? You have to define the steps, since the publisher will want to see if they can rely on your authority. Here, you should show how active your social media pages are and how the audience on your blog supports you. Needless to say, you have to work on those aspects before you submit a book proposal. When you prove your serious online authority, the publisher won’t ignore you.

It’s a Challenge, But You Can Handle It!

The book proposal must be very specific and convincing. It should “sell” the project, as well as you as an author. Keep in mind that if the publisher is going to invest in this project, they must envision a great return of that investment. The book proposal will help them do that.

It’s not easy to write a winning proposal, but hey; you’re a writer. Just focus and you’ll definitely make it!                                                             


William Grigsby is a book addict and professional editor. He lives for literature and its seduction of Mankind. Whatever challenges he goes through, he has one motto to rely on: keep reading, keep writing.

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