1 of 8

Slide Notes

Students who learn about business proposals and grant proposals may want to know more about book proposals. Many proposal writers are also writers on their own time, and they may want to know how a book proposal resembles and differs from other kinds of proposals. That this the subject of this presentation.
DownloadGo Live

The Book Proposal

Published on Nov 18, 2015

No Description


The Book Proposal

Students who learn about business proposals and grant proposals may want to know more about book proposals. Many proposal writers are also writers on their own time, and they may want to know how a book proposal resembles and differs from other kinds of proposals. That this the subject of this presentation.
Photo by zimpenfish

Ordinary Proposal Parts

  • Current situation
  • Project Plan
  • Qualification
  • Cost and Benefits
Business proposals differ from grant proposals in some ways, but as writers such as Richard Johnson-Sheehan have shown, their commonalities outweigh their differences. As Johnson-Sheehan explains in his book Writing Proposals (second edition, 2008), most proposals of whatever type contain, in addition to an introduction and conclusion, the following key parts:

A description of the current situation, in which the problem that created the proposal opportunity is detailed;

A project plan, in which the proposal writer(s) describe the steps they will take to fix the problem or realize the opportunity;

A section listing the qualifications of the applicant, including the skills and experience that makes the applicant the right person or organization to receive funding;

A discussion of costs, including budget, and benefits to the funding organization and its mission.
Photo by susansimon

Book Proposal Parts

  • Description
  • Competition
  • Qualification
  • Completion
  • Conclusion
A book proposal represents an unusual, not to say unique, kind of sales proposal. In a book proposal, you are writing one text (the proposal) to sell the quality and marketability of another text (the book, sometimes yet to be written). Thus, a book proposal must exemplify the qualities of the product it is proposing.

Like other proposals, book proposals all tend to contain a few key parts. Typically they include a Description, an overview of Competition, a section on the author's Qualification, a timeline to Completion, and an invitational Conclusion.
Photo by B_Zedan


The introduction to a book proposal is also a description of the book itself. More than that, it is an elevator pitch about the book in language appropriate to the book. It should be short (just a few pages), and it should begin with a powerful opening "hook" paragraph.
Photo by Gulfu


A key fact of book publishing today is the saturated market and the dwindling readership, at least for printed books. Except for a few categories, such as cookbooks and children's books, and a few runaway bestsellers, books are a very hard sell. The "mid-list" novel, especially, which may be higher quality than the bestseller but has by definition a narrower market, is extremely tough -- especially for the unpublished writer. This is why a book proposal is often sent not to a publisher but to an agent, who will then work to land a publishing contract (and will take a cut of whatever you get as payment).

And so a key part of any book proposal is the market analysis. What similar books have been published? Name them. Have they done well? Are they still doing well? If so, why is your book needed? Has something like your book been tried before? Did it succeed? DId it fail? You must scour the present and recent past of book publication to see where your book falls in the market.

Along these same lines, you need to know who your potential readers are. Key point: there is no such thing as a general reader. There are only specific audiences -=increasingly specific, even "niche" audiences. Don't kid yourelf. If you say your book is going to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no-one.
Photo by Kake Pugh


What makes you the person who should write (or has written) this book? Why should an agent or a publisher take you seriously? If you have published anything else, now is the time to talk about it. If you have the right kind of experience for your book (especially for nonfiction), talk about it now.

If you have not published anything before, don't despair. But have a reason for being the right author. Better yet, have several reasons. And make sure that one of the reasons you're the right author is that you have crafted a brilliantly written book proposal. The writing you exhibit in your proposal itself is your best recommendation.
Photo by jambe


Have you completed the book? Great! Let the audience know. If not, how long will it take? Be reasonable about this: don't oversell your ability to get things done. Use an old rule of thumb in project management: privately estimate the time it will take you to complete the work, then multiply that number by one and a half. That's the number of days or weeks you offer.

Note: if you are proposing a children's book, DO NOT suggest an illustrator. An agent or publisher does not care who you think should illustrate your book. Unless you're the artist, it's not your decision. If you get a contract, they will decide who should do the illustrations. Deal with it.
Photo by tim geers


Be sure to conclude by noting how valuable this book acquisition will be. And provide multiple ways to be contacted, including email, phone number, and physical address.

A good book proposal shows how a book will add value for the publisher (or agent). If it adds value to your life, fine. But be sure to mention, somewhere in your conclusion, why it would be valuable for them as well. (Hint: if you are writing to a publisher, and you don't know everything you can about the publisher's mission, values, and agenda, your proposal is unlikely to succeed.)

Be courteous and patient, but persistent. And when your proposal is, as it probably will be, rejected (at least the first time), don't mope: learn. What does the publisher or agent know about your book market that you don't? (Probably a lot.) How can you change the book proposal -- and the book itself -- to resolve that problem?

Good luck, and happy proposing!