How to write a book proposal

Book proposals succinctly explain what you want to write about and why anyone would be interested in reading what you have to say. While the quality of your writing is paramount, the marketability of the book crucial. If a publisher is not convinced that people will want to read your book or, more importantly, shell out £20 of their cash to buy it, a rejection is on its way.

There is, unfortunately, no single way to write and present a compelling book proposal. Different publishers have differing submission guidelines. However, the sections detailed here do appear in almost every guideline, so any author can use them as a guide to help make a pretty good start in writing a core proposal which can then be adjusted according to individual publisher requirements.

The first element of a book proposal can prove to be a tough one for most authors: the title. As every avid bookshop browser will know: a great title counts for a lot. Your title should communicate what the book is about, but do so in an edgy, interesting way that is designed to get would-be readers reaching for it out of sheer curiosity. Take your time on this.

Next, comes the big sell: the book’s description. Write about 300 to 500 words describing the essence of the book. Think about it in terms of the blurb you’d see on the back cover of a bestseller. This strong, short description distils the whole story and shows why it will stand out from any other book on the shelves. Most importantly, it will leave the publisher wanting to know more. Certainly, it should lure them into reading the rest of the proposal.

Before you get into the detail of what the book will cover, there needs to be a section detailing the business case for investing in the book. Break it down into key areas which the publisher can then use when they pitch it to their associates, which is what will happen if the proposal piques their interest. Begin with the target market/audience. Who will buy this book? Don’t say ‘everyone’ because this simply isn’t true. Give as much detail as possible about an identifiable market of readers who are interested in this subject. Back your argument with meaningful statistics. Say, for example, you have penned a book on business technology. You’d include a detail such as: A recent McKinsey survey found 50% of executives believed they did not have sufficient knowledge about up-to-date tech developments. Do though, avoid, generic statements such as: A Google search on understanding technology turned up more than 10 million hits. That would be largely meaningless.

The business case section should also include an analysis of competing book titles. List anywhere between five and ten books, including the title, subtitle, author, publisher and year of publication. Add a brief 100-word summary, describing the book’s approach and how it differs to your own. The aim is not to trash the competition, but simply to show you understand the market and to argue there is a clear need for your book. This is a good time to scrutinise how many other titles there are in a similar genre. When there are already hundreds of comparable titles, your book will have to work hard to stand out. Equally, do books of this type seem to sell in any quantity?

A marketing plan is also required. This is a confident run down of what you will do to ensure your book becomes a bestseller. This is the place to highlight that 100,000-plus following on social media, as well as describe your regular blogs and appearances on TV, radio and the speaking circuit. Put specific numbers on your reach and solid connections, so the publisher can see you are in demand. These are the potential book buyers you can easily reach right now and which would get  sales off to a cracking start.

The final part of the business case is an author bio. Don’t be tempted to simply cut and paste your LinkedIn profile, or the one you use on your website. Think what it is about you that will convince a publisher you are the person to write this book. What experience and expertise do you have that gives you the perfect platform? Feel free to brag.

Now is the time to turn to the overview of the content of your book. Write a summary of around 200-words for each chapter. Think in terms of how the book concept will play out from beginning to end via these summaries, while conveying the scope and depth of your research and knowledge. The quality of the writing in this section is important. A bland summary that simply details all the information contained in each chapter is not going to excite anyone. You need to add colour, description and detail that is going to intrigue and grab the interest of the publisher reading the proposal. It should go without saying that your proposal should be carefully checked for typos and grammatical errors.

Finish the proposal by outlining the deliverables. This will include the proposed date that the manuscript will be available from and an indication of the word count. If the book has not yet been completed, you won’t know the exact word count, but you can give a fair estimate. Most non fiction books, for example, are around 70,000 to 80,000 words. Don’t forget to include your contact details at the end of the proposal. If a publisher has read this far, they are clearly interested.

Many publishers will ask for up to three sample chapters to accompany the proposal. Ensure the ones you choose to send back up what you have promised. If you said the manuscript is going to be gut-bustingly funny, make sure the chapters raise a laugh. Likewise, if you’ve talked up your ground-breaking ideas, the sample chapters should reflect this. Again though, if the publisher reads the chapters you are definitely on the right track.

Writing a good proposal is hard work and time consuming. But, look at it this way: if you can write a good proposal, you can write a good book. And, if the proposal is that good: your book will almost certainly sell.