Wondering how to write a book proposal for traditional publication?
If you want to publish your book, you are going to need a book proposal, and in this blog post, I am going to tell you exactly what to include in yours.
The Mini Version
A book proposal is kind of like a matching dollhouse.
Picture your manuscript as the real house, and your book proposal as the miniature version of it. Like a matching dollhouse.
A book proposal is necessary when a writer seeks traditional publication. It is not necessary for self-publishing.
Even so, the occasional self-published writer may want to create a book proposal in order to understand and plan for their book in an extensive way.
For the purpose of this post, let’s assume our writer Kaycie is seeking traditional publication for her book about Christlike leadership in public education.
She knows she will need a book proposal in order to go that route.
Should Kaycie write her book proposal before she writes the full manuscript or after? Well, it depends.
If she hired me as her book coach, on our next coaching call, I would tell Kaycie that a book proposal comes first when the writer has already shown proficiency. This may have occurred in multiple ways:
1) THE BOOK PROPOSAL WILL COME FIRST WHEN THE BOOK IS NONFICTION, AND THE WRITER IS A CELEBRITY.
In this case, the literary agent and publisher will probably accept the book proposal without a completed manuscript.
In the event that the celebrity does not have strong writing skills, they may hire a ghost writer or the publisher may assign one to the project.
A ghost writer is someone who writes a manuscript on someone else’s behalf.
Some ghost writers receive credit and their name on the cover of the book, in a smaller font, underneath the celebrity’s name.
Others may only be thanked in the acknowledgments section, foregoing a byline.
2) THE BOOK PROPOSAL WILL COME FIRST WHEN THE BOOK IS NONFICTION, AND THE WRITER IS A PROVEN WRITER WITH A PROVEN AUDIENCE.
There is a big difference between long-form content and short-form content.
Sometimes new writers think that because they have regularly written blog posts (1,500 words) or magazine articles (2,500 words), they would be able to write a book (50,000 words), but publishers know that this is not always the case.
So if a writer has shown proficiency because they already have written and published books, then they can submit a book proposal first.
The agent and publisher both believe that the writer will be able to deliver the manuscript on time.
If that writer also has a proven audience, meaning that they have a social media following or email list of people who are accustomed to buying (something, anything) from them, then they also can submit the book proposal first.
A proven audience of buyers will not be difficult to move toward purchasing again … namely, a new book.
In both cases, one of the reasons that publishers like the opportunity to receive a book proposal before the manuscript is written is because they like having some input, as far as content.
If you are reading this post, my guess is that it is because you do not fit into the two previous categories, or you would have already moved forward.
Therefore, you will likely need to write your book proposal after you finish the manuscript.
In the case of both of my traditionally published books, I wrote the book proposal after I finished the manuscript.
Let’s quickly make the decision that this is what you will do, too.
No need to spend precious time in deliberation. You will pattern the miniature after the original.
This will serve you well, no matter your path to publication.
Here are the components of a book proposal and why each component is necessary.
If you would like to access my book proposal walk-through video and template in order to follow along while you read, please go to www.nikamaples.com/bookproposal to download these resources.
1) COVER PAGE:
Like any cover page for a document, this page will have the basic information for your project and you.
This basic information includes: main title, subtitle, your name, your physical address, your email address, and your phone number.
Your header and footer will begin on the next page.
2) OVERVIEW SECTION:
This section provides everything a publisher needs to know if they only have time to glance at one page.
It includes basic information about your book, including the title and subtitle, your name and info, and genre.
Here is the manuscript status, including number of chapters, word count, and features, such as illustrations or photographs.
Also, this is where you will include content summaries: a one-sentence summary, a one-paragraph summary, and a half-page summary.
3) TARGET MARKET SECTION:
Your target market is the group most likely to purchase the book.
In the target market section, you will include a simple description of the audience (your ideal reader) for the book, as well as their characteristics.
An important part of this section is your audience’s motivations—why they would be looking for a book like this in the first place.
Then you will explain their affinity groups—the places they are gathering, either online or in-person.
The last item in this section is the reader takeaway. This is The Promise Bridge that you have worked so hard to create.
It is the result, what your reader will know or be able to do after they turn the final page.
You may experience some feelings of frustration while you complete this section because you think you can’t be sure about these details.
This is not absolute science. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s okay, just make your best guess.
4) THE TABLE OF CONTENTS SECTION:
The chapters of the book (with their titles, if they have them) should be listed here, including any parts or sections.
5) THE CHAPTER SUMMARIES SECTION:
This is where a book proposal’s beastly reputation comes from. It is challenging to write a summary for every chapter in your book.
These summaries should be less than 150 words, and should adequately describe the progression of the book and what differentiates each chapter from the next.
If you have 20 chapters in your book, you will need to write 20, 150-word chapter summaries.
That would be about 3,000 words. However, these 3,000 words will require tremendous focus so that you do not sound repetitive or boring.
The literary agent or publisher who reads your chapter summaries section should feel as if they have just read the entire book in 2x playback speed.
6) THE AUTHOR SECTION:
All of us are familiar with creating a social media profile. The author section of your book proposal is the closest thing to a profile.
It is also your resume, and should include some achievements and experience, as well as basic information and a professional photograph.
Beyond your applicable career and education details, add hyperlinks to speech samples and past or upcoming events, books, articles, blogs, or podcasts episodes—both from your own podcast or those on which you have been featured as a guest.
7) THE PLATFORM AND PROMOTION SECTION:
You will list several potential promotion ideas you have in the marketing plan area. This is not about the creative marketing ideas you can imagine, but those you are willing to pursue.
Then, you will include your numbers for podcast downloads, email subscribers, and followers of your various social media accounts.
Finally, list the people who might agree to endorse your book, and be sure to add their audience description and size beside their name.
If you do not have a big audience, it helps to know someone who does.
8) THE COMPARABLE WORKS SECTION:
Do some research to find five books that are similar to yours, and feature them here.
You will present front cover images of the books, as well as basic information about the books.
But most importantly, you will write a 150-word discussion on what makes your book the same and different from each one.
I’ve seen some writers become discouraged when they get to this point in the book proposal. They think it means that their book won’t have a chance if there are already five books that are similar out there in print.
This is not what the comparable works section proves; in fact, it is quite the opposite. When there are comparable works selling well, it is proof of concept.
It means that there is a proven market for that topic, and your book will likely sell well, too.
On the other hand, if you were not able to find a single book on the market that is anything like yours, that may or may not be a good thing.
It might mean that your topic is not salable, and a literary agent or publisher will not be interested.
9) THE WRITING SAMPLE SECTION:
The final section of a book proposal will contain three completely finished chapters from the book.
They do not have to be three consecutive chapters. It doesn’t matter if they come from the middle or end of the book. However, it is a good idea to include Chapter 1.
You will need to capture attention with your book proposal in the same way that you capture it in the book itself … with the very first chapter.
Whew! It is quite a task to write a book proposal, and after you are finished, you will know your book inside and out.
If you feel exhausted just thinking about this part of the process, encourage your soul with Colossians 3:23-24 which reminds us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
This book proposal is an act of worship that you are offering to the King. He sees your effort and is honored.
Please remember that agents and publishers read thousands of book proposals every year. So don’t skimp on any details.
A completed book proposal may be more than 60 pages, but it is truly the dollhouse version of your manuscript.
When industry professionals read through it, they will feel as if they have just been inside the real thing.
Do your best to make their visit delightful.