What’s a Book Proposal (and why do I need one)?
If you’re trying to land an agent and eventually a contract with a publisher, you can’t get around it: you need to craft a compelling proposal to pitch your nonfiction book.
This may be the first time you’ve heard about this and you’re reeling from the thought that you can’t just send your manuscript directly to a publisher or agent.
I’ll fill you in. Let’s look at what a book proposal is and why you need one to pursue traditional publishing.
A Book Proposal Is a Business Document
Simply put: a book proposal is a business document used industry-wide to persuade publishers to partner with you to publish your book.
It’s a business document, yes. It’s a document that industry gatekeepers like agents, editors, and publishers use to discuss your concept, consider your author brand and platform, study your sample chapters, and make their final decision whether or not to partner with you on this project.
As you can see, there’s a lot riding on this one document.
And business documents can feel foreign to creative writers who are unaccustomed to the business world and business documents. That’s why it’s nice to have some input and guidance.
Some people think they can pitch their idea to an agent without a proposal, and they think the agent will love the idea and proceed to sign this writer and work with the writer to craft the proposal.
But that’s not quite how it works. Because even an agent will expect you to produce for them a proposal that they’ll use to decide whether or not to sign you.
Let’s say you queried an agent or you met an agent, they ask for your proposal, you send it, and they like what they see. They chat with you and decide to offer to represent you. They use the proposal to make their decision whether or not to move forward.
At that point, they’ll help you refine—and in some cases revise—your original proposal. At the very least, they’ll supply you with their agency’s template and have you drop your proposal content into their format with the brand at the top. And they’ll use that version of the proposal to shop it around.
But the process starts with a query or conversation with an agent in hopes that they request your proposal.
So you need to craft the best proposal possible for your project even to land an agent and certainly to land a publishing contract.
The Proposal Forces Clarity
But don’t view the book proposal as a burden. And don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of writing one.
Instead, see it as a chance to gain clarity and build confidence as you craft this document, because the process of developing a book proposal forces you to think through all aspects of your book and yourself as its author.
You’ll identify your target audience, determine the purpose and scope of this project, and generate a plan for how to help market the book.
The book proposal will serve you well.
What’s in the Proposal Itself
The document itself is super basic in the way it looks. I advise clients to keep the design simple, with minimal flourishes and no fancy fonts—in fact, I recommend using universally recognized fonts so the agent or acquisitions editor who opens the file can view it without needing to access a custom font.
Inside the document, the proposal covers a variety of elements that provide information about you and the book, like:
an overview of the project
a marketing plan
comps (competitive or comparative titles)
a Table of Contents (or TOC)
an annotated Table of Contents (chapter summaries)
The template I use with clients includes these elements and others that are generally expected no matter who you’re querying. I’ve built it based on my own experience as an author crafting my own proposals, but I’ve added changes to reflect industry shifts over the years.
I adapted and modified my template to help a writer think through all aspects of the book,