Elements of an Effective Book Proposal

What you need to include in your book proposal in order to sell your book

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A book proposal is a sales document, the tool with which you pitch your book to an agent and, eventually, to an editor.

Non-fiction books are sold with a proposal rather than the entire book. If you have a non-fiction book idea and the proper credentials, you don’t need to write the book in its entirety to approach a literary agent to get representation, or for your agent to approach an acquiring editor to sell the book.

Instead, you write the book proposal.

To get started, read this overview, which tells you how to get started with your book proposal.  While writing a book proposal might take less time than completing a finished book, it is not necessarily easier. A well-crafted, bulletproof book proposal requires you to think hard about the book you want to write, as well as do some serious research into the specifics of the marketplace.

Once you’ve done your homework, learn about each of the elements of a book proposal.

Book Proposal Cover Letter

If you’re sending the proposal to an agent, you presumably will have already made contact with a query letter and gotten agreement to your sending him/her the book proposal. Your book proposal cover letter should be short and punchy and give your reader (the agent and, eventually, editors) an introduction to and overview of:

  • The book idea, why the market needs this book
  • Who is the audience and what’s the market for the book?
  • Your author bio highlighting your media platform and other connections to the book’s subject
  • What you anticipate the finished book will look like: length in pages, format of the book, illustrations or photographs, etc.; and when you’ll deliver a finished manuscript • your writing style and tone
  • What the rest of the proposal contains - introduction, sample chapter, etc.

Overview of the Proposed Book

The overview should give a robust idea of the book, focusing on marketplace need, and how the market need will be filled by the book you’re proposing. Note that if you get a book contract from a publisher, the planned contents of the book will likely change somewhat. What’s important here is that the agent or acquiring editor sees that you know the market and have a clear vision for the book.

Author Bio

You need to position yourself as THE person to write the book you're proposing. Filling out an Author Template, Part 1 will be helpful in reminding you of the pertinent points relating to your qualifications to write the book; Author Template, Part 2 will help you pull together information about your potential media platform you’ll want to highlight in the book proposal.

Audience / Market for the Book

Here you’ll show you know the market, who your potential readers are. If possible, quantify how many potential readers there will be for the work. 

Competition for the Book

Show more of your stuff by knowing what other books are in the marketplace that could be considered competition for your idea.

Then, show how your finished book will be better than any of them, how they all lack some essential element that the audience needs—an element that YOUR book will include. Use online resources such as Amazon.com to research competitive titles.

Annotated Table of Contents, Including Chapter Summaries

It is essentially a fleshed-out Table of Contents, showing the flow of ideas through the book, and giving overviews of each chapter in short bullet points or brief paragraphs. Again, this might change after you sell the book to a publisher, but you should show that you have a complete, initial vision for the book.

Sample Chapter

The sample, the representative chapter will give a prospective agent and editor or both an idea of your narrative writing and your ability to communicate your ideas in a coherent, cohesive way.

Other elements of your book proposal might include testimonials for you, articles you have written on the topic, etc. but the above list will serve you well as a solid book proposal. 

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