Writing A Book Proposal

A writing a good book proposal can determine the difference between a published piece or a rejection.

Many would-be authors start the book writing process by writing the book, and then trying to sell it to a publisher. Is this the best approach?


Writers are advised to first write the proposal, then the book. The steps to writing a proposal are outlined below. Be advised that these steps are general, and may require some tailoring to your specific book or publisher's requirements.

1. The idea! The first step is to have a great idea for a book. Some good ideas can be turned into articles, but are too short to be written in book form. Make sure your idea can carry itself throughout a long manuscript.

2. Publisher or agent? Some writers work with agents who sell their proposals to publishers. Others work directly with publishers. If you are seeking an agent, find one who specializes in the type of book you are writing. For example, if you are writing a gardening book, you will not want an agent who specializes in murder mysteries. You can search for this information on the Internet, or in publications, such as "Writer's Market."

If you want to work directly with a publisher, writers' reference books will serve as a guide. Again, the Internet is another resource. And be sure that the publisher's specialty matches the topic of your book.

3. Proposal templates. An agent or publisher may have a preferred template for the proposal. Research this via the Internet or by contacting the publisher or agent. Some publishers place their templates on their web pages.

4. Submission. How does the agent or publisher want the proposal submitted? A hard copy via the mail? Is electronic submission okay? Or maybe they prefer a disk.

5. Research. Your proposal must include information on existing or proposed competitive books. Do an Internet or bookstore search for similar books. How long are they? Who is the author? What is the cost? Are any of the authors highly renowned in the field? Are the books current or out of print? When were they published and by whom?

You must make sure that your book can sell in the midst of competition. What is unique about it? What special qualifications do you have that set you apart as author?

6. Information about you. The proposal must contain some facts about yourself. Include your resume, publication list (of articles and books, if applicable), special achievements or recognition in the field you are writing about. Also include writing samples, called "clips."

7. Title. What is your proposed title? Why? (The publisher may want to change this.)

8. Time spent writing. How long will it take you to complete the manuscript? Provide a realistic deadline because, if a contract is negotiated, you will be held to that date!

9. Where are you located? If you are leaving to spend the summer in Europe, tell the publisher or agent. They may need to contact you while reviewing your proposal so be sure and include phone numbers, emails, address, etc.

10. Illustrations/Photographs. Some publishing houses have their own staff of illustrators so you may not need to provide this. If you plan to provide photos, be sure and indicate this.

11. Table of contents. This is essentially an outline of your book. List and name the chapters. You may even want to give a brief description of each chapter. This shows that you have thought through the project.

12. Manuscript length. How long will the finished manuscript be? The proposal needs to include this, and again your projection must be on target. Determine how much information should be contained in each chapter. That will help you arrive at the manuscript length.

13. Sample chapters. This is your chance to shine. Write a few chapters in the style that the book will take on. Take your time and check for grammar, spelling, style. These chapters are designed to intrigue and to make the reader want to read the rest (in other words, they'll have to give you the contract!).

14. Let the proposal sit a day or two and re-read and re-check before submitting.

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