In some ways, a book proposal is like applying for a job. And just as you wouldn’t show up to an interview unprepared, you wouldn’t send off a book proposal that isn’t well researched, well written, and polished. A book proposal is different from a query letter in that it is a long-form, substantive pitch for a nonfiction book (there are some exceptions for more narrative styles such as memoir), whereas you will use a query letter for fiction and should have the manuscript finished in its entirety to send upon request. Before sending a book proposal, be sure to check the submission guidelines for the publisher—some want to see a query letter first. Then keep the following tips in mind as you draft what you hope will be your ticket to a book deal. Dress for Success
First impressions hold a lot of weight. You want to pick appropriate, professional clothing to wear for an interview. And you want to use an appropriate, professional format for a book proposal. A quick Google search will pull up many templates and examples of this format. Book proposals vary in length and content, but you’ll want to include at least the following components: cover page, table of contents, overview, target market, competitive analysis, author bio, marketing/promotion plan, chapter outline, and sample chapters.
A firm handshake shows confidence. In a book proposal, the way to show confidence is through a thoughtful overview of the book. Show that you’ve done your homework and know that your book is a good fit for this publisher. Make sure the overview is polished and comprehensive; this is the first part of the proposal the publisher will read, so you want to provide a compelling hook and expand from there.
Your Competitive Edge
When you know you’re qualified for a job, you do your best to exhibit your standout qualities when applying. When writing a book proposal, you want to make sure to include a thorough analysis of why you think your book can be competitive in the marketplace. What comparisons can you make between your book and other books that have sold well? How will your book stand out from the rest? Are there other non-book platforms like websites and online resources that would compete for your target audience?
Remember to Smile
An employer wants someone who she knows is qualified for the position and will fit in with her workplace. Similarly, a publisher wants to offer a book deal to a writer who is qualified to write the proposed book and who will be pleasant to work with. When writing the author bio, include any awards or hobbies that are relevant to the book. Mention if you’re an expert in the subject matter. Why are you the perfect person to write this book?
Just as a résumé isn’t a complete, detailed account of your job history, a book proposal is not your actual book. But you’ll want to include a chapter outline or table of contents that identifies each section of the book so the publisher can visualize what the completed book will include.
Walk the Talk
Job interviewers will often ask questions that have you placing yourself in a hypothetical scenario and problem-solving your way through it. A prospective employer wants to know how well, if hired, you’ll handle the actual responsibilities of the job. Similarly, a prospective publisher wants to see how well you can actually write, so you’ll want to include sample chapters that showcase your writing style.
If you want a more in-depth, step-by-step guide, Jane Friedman has an excellent overview of the process on her blog.