How To Make a Book Proposal:
A few templates follow
by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson <miryam at mwilliamson dot com>
Distributed at the panel “Queries: Writing the killer nonfiction query,” WriteAngles 20, Nov 19, 2005, Mt Holyoke College
A nice optional extra. It can look like a book cover, or just contain the book’s title, your name and contact information, and the bookstore category under which the book will be shelved (e.g. Health/Self-Help)
Write this last. It’s the executive overview. Short, no more than two pages double spaced. Purpose: if the editor reads nothing else, she’ll at least know what you have in mind. Ideally, it will be sufficiently compelling to make the editor read the rest.
This section shows that you have thought through the question of who will buy the book and why.Audience
How many people would be interested in this book? Give demographics if possible, citing your sources. Show that you’ve done your homework.Other Books
The competition: how many books are out there on the same subject and how your book will be different.The Book
Take as much space as you need to give the editor a clear picture of what you have in mind. You might write this with an eye to using some or all as the book’s introduction. Set the stage for what you’re going to tell the reader, provide a bit of factual material (with references if appropriate.) Describe any features that will make the book unique.Content OverviewBook Length, Illustrations, and Delivery
Chapter by chapter, describe the contents of the book, one or two paragraphs per chapter. Give samples; e.g. if you’re going to use personal case histories, make up a couple and put them with the
appropriate chapters. If you’re going to use quizzes, make up a few sample questions. Indicate whether there will be appendices and what they will contain. Mention that the book will be indexed (if it’s a non-fiction book, an index is a must.)
For example: “A manuscript of about 95,000 words will be delivered within one year after the signing of a contract. Illustrations will consist of line art. Color will not be required.”Marketing and Promotion
The publisher wants to know that you will be vigorous in promoting your own book. Here you tell what activities you intend to undertake. Spend time researching and writing this section. It and the one on the market are the most important parts of the proposal, from the publisher’s point of view. Show that you have the savvy, energy, and enthusiasm to make your book a success (even if you don’t always feel that way.)
Who are you, what have you written, and what motivates you to write this book? This is not the time to be self-effacing. Exaggeration is not useful, but an honest statement of your qualifications is essential.
Appendices and Supporting Material
May not be necessary. Depends on the nature of the book.Note: I’ve sold nine books using this format. I hope it works as well for you.
The Making of a Winning Book Proposal
A successful book proposal contains these sections:
A cover sheet. The book’s title and the name of the author are
centered in the middle of the page. In the upper left corner, type
Book Proposal. In the bottom right, type your name, address and
phone number (or, if you have one, your agent’s).
Summarize what your book is about: the topic, who will read it,
why its important or interesting to your intended audience, and
what makes your book different from others in the field.
Specify approximate word length, number of chapters, types of
illustrations or graphics to be included, and any unique organizational
schemes or formats (for example, is your book divided into major
sections or do you use sidebars?)
Tell the editor who will buy your book, how many of these people
exist, and why they need it or will want to read it. Use statistics to
dramatize the size of the market. For example, if your book is about
infertility, mention that one in six couples in the US is infertile.
Is your book a natural for talk radio or Oprah (be realistic)? Can it
be promoted through seminars or speeches to associations and clubs?
Give the publisher some of your ideas on how the book can be marketed.
(Note: Phrase these as suggestions, not demands. The publisher will be
interested in your ideas but probably won’t use most of them.)
List books that compare with yours. Include the title, author, publisher,
year of publication, number of pages, price, and format (hardcover,
trade paperback or mass market paperback). Describe each book
briefly, pointing out weaknesses and areas in which your book is
different and superior.
A brief biography listing your writing credentials (books and articles
published), qualifications to write about the book’s topic (for instance,
for a book on popular psychology, it helps if you’re a therapist), and
your media experience (previous appearances on TV and radio).
Table of Contents/Outline
A chapter-by-chapter outline showing the contents of your proposed book.
Many editors tell me that a detailed, well thought-out table of contents in a
proposal helps sway them in favor of a book.
Nonfiction Book Proposal Outline
Describe your book in two or three paragraphs (500 words or less). What is the title and subtitle? Who is the target audience and what makes your book unique and worthwhile for them? Think of this as the copy that would go on the back cover of your book or in the publisher’s catalog, or as the brief review that you hope to see in Publishers Weekly or the NY Times Book Review.
II. Target Audience
Who is your core audience, the most likely purchasers of this book? How big is that market? What other groups and types of readers will also be interested?
III. About the Author
Your credentials and experience. What makes you uniquely qualified to write and promote this book? What other media outlets do you regularly appear in?
IV. Competitive Titles
List and summarize the major competitive titles and explain why yours is different from each. You are trying to accomplish two things with this section: prove there is an audience who would find your book interesting, as demonstrated by earlier, successful books, while making clear how yours is different enough to compel those readers – and others – to buy it.
V. Marketing and Promotion
What is your comprehensive plan to actively promote the book? Where should publicity be focused? What are the magazines and other media outlets that your target audience pays attention to? Where should you and your publisher work especially hard to get the book reviewed?
Blurbs: What “name” people would be willing to contribute a blurb? Can you get their commitment before the manuscript is completed?
Media and Speaking Appearances: Does this book or your prior experience give you credentials to speak on any current topics in the media? What are the topics and target outlets? Beyond book stores, what other types of groups and organizations would be interested in having you speak to them?
Serialization: What parts of your book lend themselves to excerpting in magazines and journals? List the appropriate excerpts and the 5 or 10 most important publications in which they could appear?
Describe additional promotional opportunities you will pursue: Retaining a speakers bureau to book speaking opportunities. Retaining an independent publicist. Organizational connections? Mailing lists? Workshops? Tours? Does the book have series potential? Opportunities for regular updating? Other “legs”? Think creatively, think big.
VI. Detailed Table of Contents
Include the full Table of Contents, with detailed summaries of each chapter. This section could be anywhere from three to 20 pages – it needs to give a comprehensive, detailed map of what the book will contain.
VII. Sample Chapters
Include the first one or two chapters – not the introduction, but sample chapters that offer an accurate sense of the style, substance and structure of the book.