Do I need to write a book proposal?

Yes! Every nonfiction author should write a book proposal. Many people might say a book proposal is only for submitting a manuscript to an agent or mainstream publisher. For nonfiction authors, a book proposal serves the same purpose as a business plan. It provides a direction for the road to success. I’ll argue the information that goes into a book proposal is a valuable exercise for a writer to undertake for gathering market research, creating an organized, detailed book outline, and compiling an author bio with unique qualifications. 

As noted, book proposals are used to sell nonfiction books to agents and publishers prior to writing the entire book. If they are convinced by the proposal that the book concept is sellable, a contract may follow. In essence, the proposal gets the writer hired to proceed with writing the book. By contrast, a fiction writer writes the entire book first then uses a modified book proposal. 

Ok, I can imagine the responses, the groans, growl, shrugs, yawns, and backs turned at this topic. Actually, I don’t have to imagine, because I see these reactions when I teach and when I hear agents or publishers talk about the importance of book proposals, too. Book proposals are not an “awe inspiring” or “sexy” topic, but ignore this wisdom at your own peril. As a book writing coach, I hear from authors who can’t sell their book and want marketing help after the fact. The reasons for lack of success are simply lack of clarity as to: 1) What is the author’s goal for writing the book and 2) Who is the target reader? Many self-published or hybrid published authors don’t do any market research up front, and don’t have a grasp of these details. 

The philosophy for answering the questions a book proposal asks of the author is the opposite of one of the quotes from the movie Field of Dreams: “Build it and they will come.” Authors find out the hard way it doesn’t work the same way: “Write it and they will read it.” Nope! 

The marketing elements that go into a book proposal are important to all authors, regardless of publishing method. All the information that goes into a book proposal is needed by the author for the same reason an agent or publisher wants it: to determine the specific market niche (or genre), to prove both a need and uniqueness in the marketplace, and to maximize opportunities for sales success. 

I’m strictly talking about nonfiction books at this time, since that’s my specialty. If done properly, a book proposal can range from about 30 to 80 pages, or more, depending on the complexity of the topic addressed and the amount of competition. Book proposals are double spaced, which allows for about 250 words per page. Use 12 point Times New Roman, Ariel or Courier font. All these tips are industry standards.

About eight to ten key parts make up a book proposal. There are more depending on the author’s expertise and connections in the field.

  • Cover Page (Author name, book title, subtitle, date, and author’s telephone number and e-mail address)
  • Proposal Overview (What items are included in the proposal. A Table of Contents, with page numbers, for the proposal itself)
  • Book Overview (What’s the key point of the book, the goal once it’s written)
  • Target Market (Primary and secondary readers, specific number of potential readers)• Author Biography (Make a case for unique qualifications to write this specific book)
  • Existing Book Competition (Market research, which takes time because it should include three to five topic-related books)
  • Table of Contents (Title of each book chapter and summary of each chapter)
  • Sample Chapter(s) (Introduction and another chapter that is representative of flow/format)
  • Marketing/Promotion Plan (What does the author bring to the table to help sell books)
  • How to contact the author (Include telephone number, e-mail, links to website and all social media, YouTube channel or anything else that indicates the author is not living in a cave).
  • Additional piece, if possible: Professional Endorsements (Big name endorsements willing to write a statement for the proposal vouching for the author and the program method, for example, which can go into marketing materials and the book, too.)

This is an outline of the basics, but not 100 percent across the board for all agents or publishers. Order of sections may vary, for instance. Above and beyond this overview, make sure to check the requested format submission guidelines found on websites for specific agents and publishers. Then follow those instructions. Sometimes, getting the proposal read is showing the ability to follow directions.

Knowing the information that goes into a book proposal should lead to an “Ah ha” moment. Going through these steps is important to success regardless of how you’re planning to publish. A book proposal answers questions the author doesn’t even know they have, and is therefore, a great tool and exercise for enhancing success.

Your assignment

If you’re having trouble writing a book proposal, start by creating the outline of the specific sections as listed in this blog. Then work one piece at a time. #WednesdayWritingWisdom #BookWritingBusiness 

2 Responses to Do I need to write a book proposal?

  1. Kathy Maguire

    Thanks Arlene! Great information to organize my thoughts and ideas. Let me know where to start.

    • Arlene Gale

      Thank you Kathy for the kind words and for reading. Due to many requests on this hot topic, I’m working on a post that gives a lot more details about each section of the book proposal. Please stay tuned.

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