How to Write a Book Proposal

Heather Long
hand written note

If you can write a book, you can write a book proposal. However, as with any other kind of writing, knowing the quirks of the format are important for accomplishing your goals. Keep in mind that you don't have to have the book finished before you pitch it. You can pitch the book before you finish it, getting guidance from your publisher as you craft the book.

What Publishers Look For

Publishers are ultimately business people. They want to publish books that will make money. This isn't to say that a publisher's personal interest won't help you to get your book accepted; it absolutely will. However, their interest alone is not enough. Publishers also look for:

  • A topic that hasn't been covered or a new angle on an old topic
  • Topics that are timely and relevant
  • Your ability to write, as demonstrated in your proposal

Book Proposal

Proposals demonstrate your expertise and the marketability of your concept to an editor or agent, either to earn representation or to get a contract. Established authors use proposals to pitch new ideas to their editors. The benefit of a proposal is the author earns a contract and possible advance before they put the time in to create the work. It's a win-win.

There is a standard accepted format for book proposals, although non-fiction proposals vary from fiction in some areas.

Sample Proposal

Here are detailed explanations of each necessary section to help you write your own proposal. Start with a title page, including your name and contact information.

Hook

This is one sentence designed to entice the editor or agent to read the full proposal. The hook is traditionally a part of a fiction book proposal. The hook is a vital invitation to turn pages. For example, a hook for Stephanie Meyer's Twilight can be found right on the back of the book: About three things I was absolutely positive, first, Edward was a vampire, second, there was a part of him, and I didn't know how dominant that part might be, that thirsted for my blood, and third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

Overview

This is a summary of your proposal. This section expedites your proposal's process through an editorial board. Several people review a proposal including marketing directors, editorial directors, and cover art specialists. The overview gives them all the main features of the book.

At most, your overview shouldn't be more than a couple of pages. You want to talk about everything that's in the proposal itself. You need to include:

  • Description of your book, which may include the blurb or back cover copy
  • Manuscript details including targeted page count and how long it will take you to write
  • A bulleted list of what makes your book outstanding, for example, if your novel is the next Harry Potter or Twilight, list this here
  • Summary of the key markets for the book, sales channel, and identification of your key competition

Note: You will go into more detail on each of these throughout the proposal.

Chapter Outline

This section is primarily for a non-fiction proposal. For fiction, see the synopsis section below. You want a breakdown of every chapter with a one to two sentence description of what that chapter will cover. For example, if you wrote a book on relationship dynamics, a chapter description might read, "Exploring five of the most common relationship issues including interviews with experts to support the findings."

Synopsis

A synopsis is a three to five page description of your whole book. The synopsis should be well written, well-formatted, and well thought out. You need to include every major turning point in the book, the main characters, the conflicts, and most importantly, the resolutions. This is the reader's digest version of your work. If you haven't written the book yet, it's okay to know you may be changing minor details when you are writing, but think out each of the issues in the book and address them in the synopsis.

Target Market

Who is your audience? Who will buy this book? If you're writing YA, are you targeting the same audience that purchased the Hunger Games or Harry Potter? Are you a romance author planning to leverage the same audience as Lara Adrian or Eloise James? Different books have different markets; you need to demonstrate your awareness of this to the editorial board.

About the Author

This is the section where you market you as the author and answer several key questions. Why are you the best person to write this book? If you're an expert in any area whether it's specialty or an area of study, this is where you need to focus on it. Are you previously published in some area? What expertise do you bring to the table? For example, if you've been a middle school teacher for a decade, you have insight into the minds of these young readers.

Author Platform

This is where you prove you are ready to participate in the active marketing and sale of your book. Don't make up items here that you think the editor or agent wants to hear. Be direct and to the point. Do you have a blog? Do you have contacts in media? How much stumping can you do for your book? This demonstrates your commitment to contribute to your book's sales success.

Competition

You covered some of this information in your target market, but you want to list here what other books are out there that you will be competing against for sales. Be sure to answer how your book is different and better.

Details

This can be a one page summary of what you need to get the book done. The section is very important if you haven't written the book yet. If you need to reach out to experts, conduct interviews, or complete research, add a timeline and keep it realistic. This is the area where you are committing to how long it will take you to write your book.

For a fiction novel, detail how long it will take you to deliver a full draft to your editor.

Sample Chapter(s)

Sample chapters can be deal makers or breakers for your proposal. They demonstrate your writing ability and know how to deliver on everything else in your proposal. Standard fiction samples are three chapters while standard non-fiction proposals need at least one. Be sure to annotate the non-fiction chapter if you use sources or reference materials.

Example

The following is a sample proposal of a fictitious novel. It should only be used as a reference.

If this were a non-fiction proposal, you would use a chapter breakdown rather than synopsis and under the overview, you would list the interviews or expert subject matter you intended to reference. Fiction novels do not need those types of details unless dealing with an unfamiliar subject.

Hook

Jensen Turner loves his cushy new assignment to protect sexy, socio-political blogger Alanna Miles, until death threats are delivered to her house, her office is evacuated by a bomb threat and someone firebombs her car.

Overview

A 55,000 to 60,000 word romantic suspense story, Bodyguard of Lies focuses on former Army Ranger turned bodyguard Jensen Turner and blogger Alanna Miles. What seems like a cushy assignment turns into a life-and-death struggle as Jensen must fend off attackers from all angles. On the run and out of time, Alanna convinces Jensen that she must be on to something, or why would anyone be trying to kill her? Inspired by her idealism and conviction, Jensen swears to protect her-with his life if he has to.

The novel is thirty percent complete and the final draft will be ready for your review within ninety days.

Targeted for the category romantic suspense line, this book will find an eager audience in fans of J.D. Robb, Kay Hooper, Iris Johansson and more.

Synopsis

Retired Army Ranger, Jensen Turner works as a bodyguard through a private security agency. Most of his days are dull, spent in threat assessment and chaperoning. When he's handed a briefing jacket for Alanna Miles, a socio-political blogger, he's not expecting much. Miles is a stubborn woman, not interested in protection, and throws him out the first day they meet.

Alanna Miles grew up amidst a political dynasty, including a senator for a grandfather and a state governor for a father. She has no interest in bodyguards or security. But the death threats she's been receiving are different from others. When the FBI suggests she go into protective custody, she relents on blocking Jensen.

He moves into her guest bedroom and while he should be invisible, she can't help but be aware of his every move. When bomb threats start coming into the news office where she works, Jensen and her boss agree she should limit her exposure and stay home.

A firebomb thrown at her car the next day ends her argument on that one. Now barricaded at home, Alanna chafes over the feeling of being under siege, but Jensen entertains her with stories and confidence. When armed man charges into her house, Jensen easily disarms him and Alanna hopes the threats are over.

Jensen begins to experience a conflict; he wants to reassure his client that everything will be okay, but his gut isn't so sure. When Alanna begs to get out of the house for dinner, he relents. During their meal at a local restaurant, someone takes shots at her and Jensen blames himself. Treated and released for a surface wound, Alanna finally confides in Jensen that she thinks she knows what all of this is about; she has evidence of a high-level security breach due to an affair a White House staffer has been engaged in.

Certain the only way to stop the threats is to blow the whistle on the security breach, Alanna wants to finish her investigation. She needs confirmation. Unwilling to put her in any further danger, Jensen argues against the crazy scheme. The two argue, but Alanna is going to go through with it whether Jensen agrees or not-he's her bodyguard, not her father.

Annoyed that she doesn't see him as anything more, Jensen kisses her and discovers that Alanna shares his attraction. He can't walk away from her, so he agrees to help. The two put their lives on the line to find confirmation of the affair and the security leak. They narrowly avoid two more attempts on Alanna's life.

With the evidence in hand, they prepare to meet with the FBI and turn it in. But the White House staffer appears and gun in hand, takes aim at Alanna. Jensen takes the bullet meant for her. The FBI swarm the staffer, having been alerted earlier to the continued threats and Alanna turns over the evidence. Jensen is rushed to the hospital and she stays throughout the night, waiting for word that he will be okay.

When Jensen wakes up, Alanna is by his side and they declare their love for each other.

Target Market

Romantic suspense lovers enjoy mystery and intrigue. Fans of ABC's Scandal will enjoy the Washington politics and cover-up included in the novel.

About the Author

Wanda Writes-a-Novel grew up with one piece of technology, a fuzzy black-and-white television that required you walk over to it and turn the dial. Identifying herself as tech-illiterate for years, she finally overcame her lack of interest to invest in social media. An admitted techno-newbie, she enjoys reading blogs, web pages and Facebook in her downtime from writing books.

Author Platform

Writes-a-Novel launched a blog in 2006 detailing her own misadventures in trying to become Internet Savvy. The blog's current readership includes over 2,800 unique members, and nearly a 100,000 page views for month. In addition to blog tours, Writes-a-Novel travels four times a year to attend reader conventions, developing relationships with readers, staff, and visiting authors.

Competition

As a category romantic suspense, Bodyguard of Lies benefits from multiple novels written in the same genre. Genre readers will enjoy the twists and turns of a standard romantic suspense, while new readers will be intrigued by the politics and the use of the Internet as information delivery.

Details

The majority of the research on this novel is complete. Writing, revision, critique and review will take approximately ninety days from first draft to ready to deliver copy.

Sample Chapter(s)

Please find the first three chapters attached.

Review, Edit, and Proofread

When sending the proposal electronically, it can be useful to send the proposal as one file and the sample chapters as another.

Never send the first draft to anyone. You want to make your proposal shine the best. This is what an editor or agent will base their decision to contract your book on.

  1. Write your first draft of the book proposal.
  2. Read your book proposal carefully, looking for any typos or other problems.
  3. Make your first edit, paying special attention to style.
  4. Show your proposal to someone else, preferably another writer who can give you professional advice.
  5. Make changes based on the other person's notes.
  6. Make one final edit, paying special attention to typos, misspelled words and grammar.
  7. Print your proposal and send it off. Make sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Remember: a well-written proposal can sell your book. Spend time perfecting your proposal before you send it out.

How to Write a Book Proposal