Are you an aspiring author with an idea for a book? Have you written a book and now want to get it published by a publishing house?
If you intend to entice a publisher to take on your book, you need to know how to write a book proposal.
In fact, you should write your book proposal before you even write the entirety of your book. That may sound strange, but the proposal is a way to boil your idea down to its core, and it forces you to think not only about the structure and content of your book but whether it would be of commercial interest to a publisher.
In this guide, Sam Baldwin, author of For Fukui’s Sake; Two Years in rural Japan, contributor to the anthology Inaka, Portraits of Life In Rural Japan, and writer of hundreds of articles for magazines, newspapers, guidebooks, and websites, gives his advice on how to write a book proposal and includes a free book proposal template that he has personally created and used.
Note: this guide is specifically for a non-fiction book proposal, but similar principles apply to fiction book proposals too.
What is a Book Proposal?
A book proposal is an essential part of convincing a publishing house to accept and publish your book. In essence, it is a document that outlines your book, gives information on you as an author and why you’re the right person to write this book, and it looks at the competitive landscape of the book you’re proposing.
In terms of landing a publishing deal, the book proposal is the most influential (and only) document you need. It’s more important than the manuscript of the book itself because a publisher will never read that manuscript without first reading your proposal.
So, you need to put a lot of thought into your book proposal in order to catch the eye of a publisher and convince them to publish your book.
An effective book proposal does three vital things:
- Convinces a publisher that there is a sufficient market for your book
- Demonstrates you are a great writer
- Shows that you have the background and the knowledge to write and finish the book
What tool should you use to write a book proposal?
A brilliant book proposal does the following:
- Presents your book to a publisher or agent in a clear, easy-to-read way
- Is easy to navigate
- Looks good
Many authors still use software like Microsoft Word or Google Docs to write their book proposals. These tools are sufficient and will do the job. However, there are now better document tools that allow you to lay out and structure your book proposal in a clearer, more aesthetically pleasing way.
I personally use Craft because it enables me to create a concise, easy-to-navigate book proposal, that I can share via a link.
The handy analytics data also allows me to see if the publisher has looked at my proposal, see which pages have been viewed, and how long they have spent on each page. This gives me a good indication of whether my proposal has been thoroughly considered or not.
Note: some publishers specify the format they wish to receive book proposals in, so check what their requirements are before sending it off.
What Should Be Included in a Book Proposal?
Your book proposal is the only document a prospective publisher or agent will read. So it’s your only chance to convince them your book idea is great, that there’s a market for your book, and that you are the right person to write the book.
These are the 6 elements that I include when I'm writing my book proposals, which I’ll break down in more detail below:
- About your book
- Why this book needed
- About the author
- Sample chapters and outline
- Market and competing titles
- Marketing and promotion
How to Create a Book Proposal: The 6 Elements
1. About your book (~300 words)
A short synopsis that gives an enticing overview of what your book is about. This needs to immediately capture the attention. Think of it as a sales pitch to a reader so make it interesting and intriguing.
2. Why this book needed (~300 words)
A short argument for why there’s a need in the market for this book. Think from a commercial perspective; what is your book going to bring to the world of words that is currently underserved? A publisher needs to know that there’s a large enough audience for what you’re proposing, but also that you’re not just writing a ‘me too’ title.
You should seek to offer a new angle or a new perspective on the subject area so that you are adding to the available literature and offering readers something of genuine value that is not already out there.
3. About the author (~200 words)
This is where you convince the publisher that you are the right person to write your book. What experience, education or knowledge do you have that makes you an ideal author for this book?
You also want to demonstrate that you have the writing chops to complete your book, so include any previously published work - newspaper or magazine articles, awards for writing, blogging experience, public speaking etc.
4. Sample chapters and outline (three chapters or ~8000 words)
Depending on whether your book is fiction or non-fiction, you should include at least three chapters of your book. Obviously, these should already be in great shape, having been crafted, edited, re-edited, and proofread. These are what a publisher will judge your writing ability on, so make sure it's your best work.
Typically you would include the chapters from the start of the book, although depending on the genre, you may include chapters from the middle.
You should also include an outline of the rest of the book, with a title and short summary of each chapter planned. These may change as you continue writing your book, but providing a full outline shows a publisher you’ve really thought deeply about the whole project and are able to plan and structure your work.
5. Market and competing titles
There will almost certainly be some competing books already available. In this section, you must show that you've done your research into other books already on the market which sit in the same category and might compete with yours.
Ideally, you want to show that there is sufficient interest in the general topic by highlighting other popular books, but point out that yours offers a different or new angle where there's a gap in the market.
As part of your own research in writing your book, you should read similar books anyway. This allows you to give a summary of them in your proposal (and also enables you to position your book as different and know how it's different). Do not be disparaging about competing books; you just want to show why yours is different.
6. Promotion and marketing
Although publishers will do some marketing for your book, they will favor authors who make their job easier. So, if you have any outlets where you could help reach your audience, include them here.
Maybe you have your own podcast, Instagram account, blog, newsletter, Facebook group, etc. Include your followers/fans/subscribers/listeners, etc numbers and links to any channels you can use to help promote your book.
Next Steps After Creating a Book Proposal
So, you’ve written a terrific book proposal. Now what?
You need to find publishers or agents to send it to.
A good way to start is to re-visit your ‘competing titles’ section, and list all the publishers who publish similar work. Many publishers have a page on their website where they outline what they publish, what they are currently looking for, and even what they are not looking for.
A targeted approach here is far better than a shotgun approach. Build a short list of publishers who already publish the sort of book you have in mind, then contact them.
Templates for Creating a Book Proposal
At Craft, we have several document templates that you can use to write and organize your book proposal (coming soon!).