How to write a book proposal

A book begins as an idea and progresses into a story before it becomes a book, that is, if your end goal is to have it published. And if you intend to turn your idea into a book, then you need a book proposal because this is the determining factor of whether your book goes out into the world, or it remains an unpublished obscurity. You may need to determine these questions before you decide on a book proposal.

  1. Is your book non-fiction or a fiction book?
  1. Are you self-publishing or using a traditional publisher?
  1. Have you researched books in your genre or niche that are already published, and how you will break through their success to get to your target audience?

If you have answered the above questions, then you should also take note that book proposals are traditionally only non-fiction books. This is because fiction books are factored with the hook and marketing strategies, which needs a brief format of a book proposal. Whereas, fiction books are hung on completed manuscript. Also, this is not expedient if you are self-publishing a book.

Now, let us define what a book proposal means.

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What is a book proposal?

When you want to have your book published traditionally, you have to write a book proposal, which is a document that convinces publishing houses that they need to publish your books. The book proposal is an attempt by the writer to present a summary of the main idea of the book, a marketing plan, and sample chapters of the manuscript. Whether it is a fiction or non-fiction book proposal, it should be essentially a business plan or a marketable product that shows your intention to persuade traditional publishing firms to subsidize and publish your complete book. It also states why your idea is salable and an investment for the publisher.

Writing a book proposal could take between ten to twenty-five pages, excluding the chapter sample, and several weeks of writing,. If you are a first-time writer or an unpublished author, it is also best if you write the entire manuscript first and then write your book proposal thereafter.

Note that, book proposals are not the same as query letters which are written for the interest of literary agents.

Now that we have defined what a book proposal is, let us get into the ingredients of a book proposal.

What should a book proposal have?

There are no laid down guidelines or components that should be in a book proposal. Various online samples and templates of book proposals are available to give you a sense of what should be included when submitting an idea to a publisher. The following, however, are the most common guidelines to include in your book proposal.

  • Title page: This should include the correct title and name of your intended book, and should be clearly stated.
  • Overview: An overview is a brief summary of your book that provides a larger picture of the content and intention of your book. This should also serve as your ‘hook’ which should entice potential publishers to go ahead with the entire read. To get an efficient working overview, when writing it, ask yourself if the potential publisher picked up your book to read the contents of your overview, would it convince them to buy your book?

An overview hook will

  • Reel the reader through the drama and mystery
  • Bring the essence of the hook into an easy to digest sentence
  • About the author: An author’s page should include a brief description of the author also known as the bio, a list of previously published work if any, a photo, author platform, past, and recent awards, press conferences, and other information or experiences relevant to the book proposal.

Basically, this page is meant to be succinct and convince the publishing firm that as an author, you are the right person to write the book.

  • Table of contents and chapter outline:  There should be a proposed list of the chapters, a brief summary of what they contain, and their titles in a few sentences or a long paragraph. Keep it brief and detailed.
  • Sample chapter: There must be a completed chapter of your intending book included in the book proposal. This is most important if it is your first book, to have the chapter give a sense of your overall writing style, because this convinces the proposed publishers that they can take the risk on you. If you are a non-fiction writer, include the chapter that effectively introduces or explains your analysis. And if you are a fiction writer, include the chapter that is most packed with action or humor, depending on the genre of your book.
  • Competitive title analysis: Your book proposal should also include between five to ten previously published books that have the same or similar subject matter as your book, with a blurb that states the comparison between that book’s approach and yours. This does not sound like a good idea? Well, it distinguishes your book and shows why your book will be more appealing to readers of the same book competitive titles. It shows that your book is hinged for success in a competitive market of the same titles. And also dispels any doubt that the publisher may harbor in their mind.

When stating the list of other titles, you should include the author, publisher, book title, ISBN, price, year of publication, and page count. You should also take the time to study the competitive book’s strengths and faults.

Avoid books that are out of print or published centuries ago.

  • Target audience: Your book proposal should have a section that tells who the target market for your book is, and why that target audience would buy your book. Detail out an identifiable market audience or readers who can spend money on your story. Avoid discussing broad industry statistics, and simply state the specific type of audience with an interest in your book.

In essence,

  • Who are your readers? Men or women?
  • Is it urban or rural?
  • What age audience are you targeting?
  • If your book got to a bookstore, where would it be placed?

Remember, your audience cannot be everyone.

  • Marketing strategy: You should have a detailed marketing plan that shows step-to-step on how to market your book. It should also include past speaking engagements or media appearances that can increase your audience once the book is published. If you are a new writer, you can include your website, blogs, or articles that have attracted audiences. The main aim of this is to show that your book being published will gain access to your already established platforms, which stands a chance of increasing your book’s success.

Make your plan detailed, realistic, concrete, with numbers or figures attached.

Your marketing strategy simply means;

  • I have spoken as an expert at conferences, therefore, I can get those conferences to speak again
  • 6,000 subscribers and above follow my newsletter and I can use that in-built audience to sell the book
  • The VIPs I know who are writers can write blurbs for me, and that can spike sales
  • Hey, I used to write articles for magazines, I can get that slot again
  • Extra information: If there are any other detailsthat you wish to include in your book proposal like sales figures for previously sold books, word count, and any other relevant stats, then add them.

Tips for writing a book proposal

To set your book proposal apart and make it distinct from the several book proposals publishing firms get, be certain to research it thoroughly, and keep it exciting to read. Below are some tips that will give you a great book proposal.

  • Be specific. When you are writing your book proposal, it should feel like writing the most successful unique story that only you can write. Make sure you avoid expansive or broad subjects, concentrate on relaying the specific subject matter of your book and its expertise.
  • Be cautious in book comparisons: Be careful and cautious about comparing book titles with your proposed book. Avoid including bestselling authors if you want to be realistic about the prospect of your book.
  • Build your audience. Having an author’s platform may feel like a disadvantage if you are a first time author. However, if you take the right steps like reaching out to other authors, staying social media active, periodical blogging, you can build an audience.
  • Stay upfront and true. Do not try to be self-effacing or modest when it comes to writing your book proposal. State your skills, past accomplishments, and expertise because what you are trying to do is to convince the publisher of the need to fund and publish your book.
  • Follow submission guidelines. A lot of writers either browse through those submission guidelines provided or they don’t bother to read through. Well, there are called guidelines for a reason. Read them to get directions on what the publisher needs in your book proposal.
  • Write in the third person language.
  • Format your proposal document properly. The usual specification is a white background, 12-point type, black ink, Times New Roman font, standard margins, number the pages, include a header and footer, and an author’s name and title page.

Someone usually format book proposals on PDF or Microsoft Word.

Common problems with writing a book proposal

Just like everything else, if not done correctly, your book proposal might end up doing the opposite of its intended aim. The following problems should be avoided with a book proposal.

  • Concentrating solely on the book’s content and self-experience rather than on the hook, benefit, and appeal of the book to the market
  • Lack of a unique angle, with a general or broad concept
  • No distinction in the book proposal from several other proposed ideas
  • Unclear definition of market or need, or an unachievable market describing what the publisher cannot pursue
  • The book proposal is submitted to the wrong editor, publisher, or agent

Avoid focusing on the content of your book when writing a book proposal, your focus should be on why the content is beneficial to the reader, why this book? Why does this book matter? What need does it fulfill and how?

Now that you have your book proposal done with, don’t think it ends there. You need to get a literary agent who stands as the liaison between you and the publishing firm. The agent will pitch your book to the publishing firm and negotiate a book deal. This is because most publishing firms do not accept unsolicited submissions unless it comes from an agent.

Awe Ogon

Awe Ogon

Awe Ogon is a lawyer, an L.L.B and a B.L. holder with over 9 (Nine) years writing experience, a Nigerian who resides in Accra, Ghana. She is a Christian, an ardent reader, a prolific writer, and published author of Misnomer (a collection of poems), and a non-fiction book, Conversations with God, and two fiction novels in view. Writing has always been her edge over life; her work is outstanding and captivating. Her goal in life is to become a great writer that inspires others through her work.

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