There are several reasons to write a book proposal, and even if you are not looking for an agent and publisher, it still remains a vital document for aspiring authors.
Writing a book is an incredible experience, but as I have said many times it has to be the right book.
By writing a book proposal and undertaking your market research, you will, without a doubt, have a better book.
And of course, the book proposal remains THE document for an agent to be able to make a decision about your book and its value to them. Agents are looking for something specific, and the format of this document helps them to quickly assess if your book is the one.
It can feel like going on a blind date, you write your book proposal, add on a cover letter and keep your fingers crossed that the agent or agents that you have been targeting wants your book.
Writing a good proposal does not and will not guarantee that you get a publishing contract, but without one, you definitely won’t.
What are agents looking for in a nonfiction book proposal?
- Who are you to be writing a book like this? What is your authority?
- Who can you reach to sell this book? Your ideal client and your reach for sales and publicity.
- What makes your book different?
- What will your book cover and why is that worth writing about?
- What other books are there in this area of work? How popular are they?
- Can you write to engage?
The agent will look at your book from not only their perspective, they are in the business of making money from your book, and this is their reputation but from the perspective of the ideal reader.
In effect, your proposal will go through each of these areas so that the agent can make a decision about taking on your book.
If you have ever written a marketing plan for investors or for your business, this is similar and requires a similar effort.
Layout for a nonfiction book proposal
- Title page
- Table of contents
- Introduction & Summary
- Target audience / your reader
- About the author
- Product – about the book
- Price / Book Length / Availability
- The Future
- Chapter outline – synopsis
- Marketing & promotion
- Sample chapters
Elements of a nonfiction book proposal
The author bio
Who are you? Think about the times when you have applied for a job, this is when you will have wanted to highlight why you are the best person for the job. If you are writing a book on personal branding, what are your credentials and what is it that you do in this area that makes you different? A book on a reversing a disease would be more interesting if this is something that you have tackled personally or if this is your specialist area.
Who do you know? We are always told that we need to have a platform for our book before submitting the proposal. What if you have an amazing idea and no platform? I’d say do not be put off. This is something that can be worked on. However, it always helps to have developed your platform and followers to demonstrate that there is an appetite for this subject. You will need to show that has an audience to market your book to.
Describe your book in two or three paragraphs (500 words or less). Make sure that the first sentence provides the hook so that your agent will want to read on.
This is your opportunity to quickly sell your book. I would start with a mind map, then record yourself talking it through, listen to the recording and write. Once you have the first draft, leave it and rewrite as succinctly as possible. Questions to ask yourself:-
- What are the title and subtitle?
- What is the category under which it would sell?
- What is the purpose of my book?
- What need does it fulfil?
- Why your book?
- Thinking about your ideal reader, what would make them what to read it?
- What does the reader get as an outcome of reading it?
- Where does it fit in the market and why?
You may wonder why you need to go through such a lengthy process for the introduction, but I feel that if you can do this, the rest will flow. This reminds me of trying to write the all-important elevator pitch, and in some ways it is.
When you have done this imagine if this was the back blurb of your book or the description on Amazon and rewrite it again. You want to make it really cry out to your audience and by this imagine there were no boundaries, and let your passion shine.
If you are stuck, go and read other blurbs from competitive titles and learn from them.
Write this last. It is the executive overview. Short, no more than one page, double-spaced.
Purpose: if the editor reads nothing else, they will know what you have in mind. Ideally, it will be sufficiently compelling to make the editor read the rest.
What would help you is to write yourself a manifesto and then cut it down. A manifesto is a written statement, which publicly declares your intentions, motives, or beliefs. It comes from the Latin manifestus – to manifest, clearly reveal, to make real.
Having a manifesto crystallises what you believe in and stand for, and it is from here that you can create your core message and in this case the core message of your book.
I see it as the foundation from which you can build a platform, community, tribe or movement. Where you can connect the pieces of who you are, what you do, why you do what you do, what you have to say and how you do it – values, passion, vision, purpose.
As the word suggests, you are using your manifesto to cement everything you want, the value you add and how you bring about a manifestation of what you want you to see and be in the world. Clearly, you would need to write it so that it was book-related…
Target Audience or ideal reader
This is not a book for everyone. Create your ideal reader profile. You can start with a matchstick person and brainstorm.
- What makes up your ideal reader/customer profile?
- What markets will your book appeal to?
- What questions are they asking you?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- What does your reader get as an outcome of reading this book?
- How will they be changed by your book?
Look at your reader archetype and summarise them. You need to not only think about what they get but where you find them and why they will buy this book.
I talk a lot about the ideal reader, and it’s important to not skip this or gloss over it. Having a detailed ideal reader profile will also help you to write a better book.
When I put together my reader profile for Healing Osteoporosis Naturally, I knew that my ideal reader was newly diagnosed, in fear and looking for the root cause so they could heal naturally. I could not target long-standing complicated cases, I wanted to help people who were just like I was back then. I do remember getting in a tizzy because I wanted to share all that I had learned, but this was ridiculous. By having my profile in front of me, I was able to stay on point.
How many potential readers do you have?
What is important here is not only who they are but how many there are. If I look at the market for osteoporosis, I discovered that there are 200 million people worldwide. What I don’t and can’t know is how many of them would want to try a natural approach. I can find out some of these numbers by researching forums for natural healing.
My book on planning a nonfiction book is of no use to fiction writers, and I can see from book sales research how big the potential market for nonfiction books. The same applies to the dieting industry, the healing whatever disease industry, the business market, digital marketing, in fact, all markets.
What you can not know is the exact numbers, but you need to show that you understand your market and you can show some evidence to persuade your agent that it is worth investing in you.
Competitive Titles Analysis
It’s important to demonstrate that there is a need for your book and that you know how to position it. Look at six to eight titles and include four of the best.
List and summarise the major competitive titles and explain why yours is different from each. Don’t worry about sales because your agent has insider knowledge about the industry and you won’t be able to scratch the surface. They will look this data up.
This example is the long version. Write it out and then rewrite it
Book Title, Author, Publisher, Publication Date, Price, # of pages, Format, ISBN. Analysis of this book.
The Goddess Revolution Make Peace with Food, Love Your Body and Reclaim Your Life
- Author: Mel Wells (http://www.thegreengoddesslife.com/)
- Publisher: Hay House
- Published: 7 Jun 2016
- Price: paperback – £RRP not Amazon
- Number of pages: 288
- Format: paperback and ebook
- ISBN-13: 978-1781807125
Summary of who it’s for
This book is aimed at women in their 20’s, and 30’s who resonate with Mel’s young, healthy vibe. These will be women who already have a poor relationship with food and want what the author has – boundless energy and that ‘happening’ life. The author is a part of a new generation of younger more spiritual and conscious women who are bringing a message of self-love and why loving yourself first is the foundation for living a good life.
What it covers
This book covers:-
- The author’s journey
- All about food and dieting
- Changing your mindset
- Getting in touch with you and your feelings
- Learning self-love
What it does well
Laid out in sections that are easy to understand and consume, it takes the reader on a journey with their relationship for food and asks them to examine what they are really ‘hungry’ for. When they know what they hunger for they can begin to understand their relationship and feelings about food so that this opens the door to being able to change their mindset and begin to love themselves.
How my book is different
My book focuses on how to help the reader find their natural diet, nothing is prescribed and nor does it tell the reader what to do. Working also from a foundation of self-love, I introduce the notion that the body knows intuitively what it wants and needs. Using writing and meditation as the tools to get to know yourself better the reader is invited to learn how to listen to their body and to notice the clues and cues of what is causing the underlying stress. From there how to create a unique healing plan.
Make sure you are clear about why your book is different. Also, consider the age group at which you are pitching it. The book mentioned here is for a young market, what if your book is for the over 50’s woman. Make sure you are comparing like markets.
Constantly research for your book proposal
Constantly do your research. If you start your book proposal at the beginning of your journey, be sure to check in on any new releases before you submit.
I find that reading the book reviews and hanging out in forums and groups extremely helpful when undertaking this research. Keep the books you are reviewing to those that are under five years old as the market changes. I know there are some brilliant classics, and they may be worth mentioning, but this does depend on your book idea.
Never trash your competition, apart from being unprofessional, it could come back to haunt you. Every book gets negative reviews, and this is painful for the author, although you have no idea about someone’s motivation for doing so. Don’t be like that.
Also, never claim there isn’t any competition, there always is, and it makes sense to show that you understand your market.
Titles – The future
What other suggested titles do you have? How do they all fit together? Is this a one-off or do you have other books up your sleeve that could mean that the agent can build a longer-term relationship with you and that there are continuity and resilience in the plan?
If you are writing about an intuitive healing plan, might there be a journal and planner, a recipe book and a book on how to maintain your diet? Think about how you can build a business around your book.
Your book proposal other details
What price would you pitch it at and why? Remember that your publisher will set the price.
The number of words. This is a great time to consider how long it will take you to write and edit the book, now add 30% on. This should form part of your writing schedule.
- When will the following be ready?
- First draft
- Edited second draft
- Edited third draft
Marketing and Promotion
The marketability of your book is critical to an agent. Why would anyone take an on any product that could not be sold? Not only do you have to be clear on who will read it and why, but you also need to know your market will accept a book like this from you.
We talked about your bio earlier, this is another opportunity to consider your authority. Why would someone buy a book about dieting from someone who did not have any credentials?
Although I am not a nutritionist or a bone expert, which did concern me when writing my book, I knew that I had personal experience, had trained as a nutritionist, healer and had successfully found my root cause and use natural healing to gain stronger bones.
It often seems bizarre to me that as a business coach I would write a book on osteoporosis, but I knew that there are a lot of people that could benefit from my experience and that is what drove me on.
Unlike other books, I have chosen to not publish this book for two years as I believe that I need to demonstrate that I have full health and this is not a quick fix solution.
The market for osteoporosis is massive with over200 million sufferers worldwide, and the forums are full of people in fear and not knowing what to do.
Why would someone buy a book from someone about building a large profitable following on LinkedIn unless they had done so themselves?
Remember you are here to share useful information and knowledge to your readers and there need to be lots of those readers who want to learn what you have to impart.
It’s worth reminding you that you don’t have to be the worlds best writer because your writing can be honed and you can get help with this.
Your book and the marketing needs to reach people who care enough about your message to want to buy your book. Stay focused on needs and what questions your book answers.
Also, think around your subject. Can your readers easily access what you have to share elsewhere? Is yours a declining market?
I am often asked by people who blog or video blog their book if there is any point in writing a book. My answer is yes. Although someone can access lots of information on the internet, a book is your process conveniently packaged.
For example, there is lots of travel and tourism information available, but people still like to have a book in their hands when visiting new places, and the internet is not always available.
Numbers, numbers, numbers…
Then it is about your numbers and platform. This can be tough for a writer. You now have to learn a whole new skill set. Although we tend to think that most people already have a website and social media presence that does not mean that yours is already clear. Spend some time auditing what you have and then researching what you need (if anything).
- Statistics and analytics for your online following. Include your social media sites, websites and blogs. Also include places like YouTube, online courses and podcasts.
- Include speaking engagements, the potential reach for any organisations you belong to.
- Any following you may have in traditional media – e.g. you have a column in a magazine or newspaper.
- Sales of past books and publications.
Your potential agent and publisher want to know that there is a large platform full of influencers waiting to buy this book.
This is a great opportunity to look at your personal brand and current marketing plan.
- Do you have a website for yourself and your books?
- Do you blog?
- What about Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, email?
Speaking and presentations
- Where can you speak? What speaker’s networks could you access?
- What other networks do you belong to?
- Could you tour and give talks? What cost, if any? When could these happen? Who will arrange them?
- What PR could you generate? Will you do it yourself or use a professional? What is the cost?
- Where should your publicity be focused?
- Do you have publicity photos?
- What are the magazines and media that your target audience pays attention to?
- Who will review your book?
- Who will write the foreword?
- Where and how will you launch your book?
- Testimonials, who could provide a testimonial that you can use in the book and on your promotions? Can you use these in your book?
- Expert pieces, opinions, blogs, how to’s – which parts of your book can be used for this and where could they appear? These are your teasers.
- What parts of your book could be used for ongoing promotion? E.g. blogs, magazine articles and videos.
- Will you self-publish and self-promote, even though you have this proposal? If this proposal is for publishers, then they will still want to know how you intend to promote your book.
- What is your budget for promotion?
Include the first one or two chapters – not the introduction, chapters that provide a sense of the style, voice, expertise and structure of the book. When you look at the agent’s submissions process, they will tell you how many chapters.
Make sure that these are well polished and use a tool like Grammarly to check and double-check everything. Read your chapter aloud so that it makes sense to you. I’d also suggest that you read it to a friend who has permission to critique it and ask you good questions.
List each of the intended chapters and what each is about. Stay focused on the core message of the book and what need it fulfils in your reader. Do not be super clever and use silly chapter titles that make no sense. Try to take your agent on a journey that demonstrates the path that the reader will take and why.
I find writing a chapter synopsis in the what, why how and what if format helps me to focus on the outline and reader journey.
How long does it take to write a book proposal?
As you can imagine this is an important document that is worthy of your time and effort. I would work on it over approx. two to three weeks as you are planning your book. Putting in time and resources for book planning means that you get a better book, one that is easier to write and one which will sell better.
How long should my book proposal be?
I’d write a master proposal which could be anything from20 – 40 pages and then when you have found the agent that you want to submit to follow their submission guidelines. You may read no more than 10 pages, in which case you have to take the best parts of what you have and make sure that it contains the vital information that they ask for.
Should I write my book first?
I think that this depends, if you are a new writer, I would definitely go through the book planning stage and write most of my book before I started submitting proposals. A lot could change as you write and you may decide partway through that you would prefer to self-publish as you have the audience, who you are already marketing too. You may also want to get to market quicker and not have to deal with rejections.
Also by writing the book first, you get more clarity of your book and what the ideal reader wants. I often suggest that writers blog their books so that they get feedback as they write.
Does it seem like that is a lot of work to write a book proposal? Yes of course, but it is worth doing and is often an area neglected by writers in their rush to write and publish a book. However, if you want an agent and publisher, you have no choice. For everyone, else I’d recommend that you do it as you will have a better book.