If you are a nonfiction writer hoping to land a book deal with a traditional publishing house, you will need to write a book proposal as part of the query process. A book proposal’s purpose is to obtain an agent for your book project, much like how a business plan is designed to secure financing to seed a business idea. In both cases, you are pitching a product to an entity from which you hope to benefit.

If the prospect of writing something that amounts to a business plan for book publishing sends shivers up your spine, fear not! This handy guide breaks down the process into easy-to-digest chunks, explaining how to write a book proposal while simplifying the process for you. To learn all you need to know about writing a book proposal, continue on!

What is a Book Proposal (and Do I Need to Write One)?

So, what is a book proposal anyway? A book proposal is a carefully prepared and deeply researched document that explains to a literary agent why the world needs your book. Envision the book proposal as representing one side of a heated debate. During the “debate,” the agent is looking for every reason to reject your book, while your book proposal provides a persuasive argument convincing them to represent it.

Pitching a nonfiction book is a unique process, compared to pitching a fiction book. Instead of completing the manuscript and then querying agents or publishers, writers of nonfiction will first produce a book proposal with the intent to sell the idea of the book.

A book proposal breaks down your book idea into various elements, with each element providing essential information to the person contemplating whether your book will be a profitable investment. If your book proposal demonstrates a strong potential for profitability, along with your stellar writing skills, the agent is going to be interested.

As tempting as it is to bemoan the prospect of laboring over this added piece of work, it helps to consider the benefits a book proposal can offer. Writing a book proposal requires you to refine your book’s thesis, clarify who the audience is, and research the competition. While you are engaged in this effort, you are actually fine-tuning your project, which can only help you improve the manuscript and further hone future marketing plans.

As the author of a nonfiction work seeking the traditional publication path, you must write a book proposal. There is, unfortunately, no way to wiggle out of this important part of the process for obtaining a literary agent and, eventually, a publisher.

How to Write a Book Proposal: 8 Essential Elements

The length of your book proposal will depend on the genre, topic, and specific subject matter, but the typical range falls between 15-50 pages.

Never lose sight of the sheer importance of this document as the vehicle that will help convince someone to offer you a book deal. In other words, you not only need to learn how to write a book proposal, but how to write one well.

Book proposal specifications and elements can vary by agent, so be sure to follow their submission guidelines to a “t.”

Generally, a book proposal will include these eight elements:

1. Title Page

Your title page introduces your book. This page should include the book title, subtitle, author name, contact information, and word count (if the manuscript is finished).

2. Book Overview

The book overview section will contain both a short, concise synopsis, which is a one or two sentence description akin to an elevator pitch. Following the synopsis is the overview, which should not exceed 500 words. The overview provides critical information about your nonfiction work and should be refined — and then refined again — until it is a compelling representation of your book.

3. Target Market

Provide a detailed and descriptive list of the categories of readers your book will appeal to. Remember, you are presenting the agent or publisher with a marketing blueprint, describing who will benefit from reading your book and why.

4. Competitive Titles

Invest time in researching comparable titles to your book, as this information helps the agent picture which category your book will fit into. Compile a list of 5-10 competitors, and include the title, author, publication date, page count, and ISBN, and a brief summary of each book.

5. Table of Contents

Provide a chapter outline with a brief summary of about 100 words for each chapter. The chapter descriptions help to flesh out the book details for the agent, offering a more comprehensive picture of its contents.

6. Marketing Plan

The marketing element must be a top priority when compiling your book proposal. Publishers want to know, right up front, what efforts the author has already made to create a meaningful platform from which to promote their book. Are you thinking of going the traditional route or is hybrid publishing in your radar? Detailed, concrete marketing plans of action are expected in this section.

7. Author Bio

The author’s biography is critical in selling your nonfiction project to a publisher. They want to know what expertise, training, or education you possess that make you a qualified and credible source for the material contained in the book.

8. Sample Chapter

The sample chapter offers the agent a taste of your writing skills, as well as your ability to teach or communicate. Select the chapter that best shows off your writing chops.

For further guidance and inspiration, view sample book proposals and free book proposal templates online.

Book Proposal Dos and Don’ts

Your book proposal gets just one shot at wowing the agent or publisher, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with what will sink your proposal, or help it soar:

Book Proposal Best Practices

  • Spend ample time creating a compelling synopsis and book overview, so you can hook the agent in the first minute or two.
  • Create a well thought out and meaningful marketing plan.
  • Build an author platform and following before you pitch your book.

Book Proposal Mistakes

  • Not doing the research into comparable titles and then claiming there aren’t any.
  • Sending your query and proposal to the wrong agents. Search for agents that specialize in your nonfiction genre.
  • Not having a narrow enough focus for the book, so the proposal lacks a clear pathway.

Skip the Book Proposal Step and Self-Publish Your Book

Authors do have another avenue to consider that does not entail the query process at all, nor the need for a book proposal: self-publishing.

In choosing self-publishing, you call the shots instead of expending all that energy to try convincing someone to take a chance on your book. Even so, you will need to access professional services to help you design and polish your book. Know how to write a book proposal and create the best book product possible by partnering with the self-publishing experts at Gatekeeper Press today.

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