Career Authors

How to Write a Book Proposal (and why you should read this whether you’re writing one or not)

Sooner or later, you may face the challenge of how to write a book proposal. If you’re writing nonfiction, it’s obligatory—book proposals are the documents used to sell nonfiction, whether you’ve finished the book or not. (This includes memoir; at a recent conference, I shared the stage with dozens of other agents, and more than half of us raised our hands when asked if we used book proposals to sell memoir.) If you write fiction, you may be asked to write a book proposal—for a short story anthology, a writing book, even a series.

Even if you never plan to write a book proposal, you should be familiar with what’s here, as it reveals the sort of data publishers analyze when deciding whether or not to publish a book.

Description of the work

This is the pitch for the book, the jacket copy if you will. You’ll need a couple of paragraphs, around 200 to 300 words. The first paragraph should communicate what the book is about, why it’s different, and the promise it makes to readers. Succeeding paragraphs should expound on the first: organizing principle, tips and techniques, your writing credentials and credits, etc.

Selling points

Here you identify the reasons your project will succeed in the marketplace, starting with the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). The USP is what differentiates your project from the competition, the reason readers will buy your book rather than similar titles.

You should also list additional factors related to the sales potential of your project, which may include:

Audience

This is where you identify who will buy your book:

Comparable titles

This is where you list six to ten successful books similar to yours, preferably published in the past three to five years, as follows:

Title: Subtitle

Author

Publisher, Date of Publication

Format, Page Count, Trim Size, Price Point

ISBN-10

Here you say in 50 to 100 words how this title is similar to yours, and how your project is better/different.

You should also list your previous titles here, along with sales history.

Chapter-by-chapter outline

Here you break your project down chapter by chapter:

 About the author

Sample chapters

You need to provide the first chapter of the book, along with at least one more sample chapter. If it’s a memoir, you’ll need to provide the first 50–100 pages.

For your own edification

No matter what you’re writing, ask yourself how you would approach each of the aforementioned elements if you were called upon to write a book proposal for your project. Do the research. The answers may surprise you.

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