What You Need to Know about Book Proposals

by Loolwa Khazzoom • July 10, 2013 • Writing and Editing Tips

If you want to publish your book with a mainstream publishing company, you need to take the following steps, in this order:

  1. Write a book proposal
  2. Identify top literary agents with an interest in the topic of your book.
  3. Write a query letter to these agents.
  4. Send the book proposal to those who request it.

Let’s focus on the first step: writing a book proposal.

Book proposals are essentially business plans for books. Publishers almost do not care what you are writing about, as long as they know the book will sell. In a book proposal, you need to demonstrate not only that you have the expertise on the topic of your book and that you have the writing chops to make your manuscript sing, but also that you have the platform and access to marketing channels that will make book copies fly off the shelf.

If you do not yet have the platform and access, you want to take a preliminary step of building up both. Some ways to accomplish this goal is by speaking at local venues, establishing a strong online presence, and developing relationships with local media – inviting them to cover your upcoming events and/or offering to write for their hard copy or online publications. Keep in mind that the smaller and more local the venue and media outlet, the more likely they are to take a chance on someone just getting started.

Once you are ready to write your book proposal, be sure to flesh out these sections:

Grab the reader’s attention and make clear why you are writing the book, what the reader will find in it, and why the reader will want to read it. If you write the full introduction, this section can serve as your writing sample.

Author Bio
Gather into one or two paragraphs all your “bling” – your formal credentials (degrees, certifications, and university alumni/ae affiliations), along with the most prestigious of the following: awards you have received, venues where you have spoken, media outlets where you have published or been featured, VIPs with whom you have worked or studied, and so on.

Establish your corner on the market. Describe your unique approach to your field of work, plus details about all the bling you have collected to date. Whereas the Author Bio section lists a few examples, this section spells it all out. For example, the Author Bio section may indicate that you spoke at Barnard College. The Platform/Brand section, however, will list the title and date of your talk.

Establish who is going to buy your book. Get very specific, and draw on research studies. For example, a book on effective family caregiving will target the 65,000,000 Americans who are family caregivers. A book on natural pain relief will target the 76,000,000 Americans living with chronic pain. If there is a niche within your target audience, identify it. Saying that “everyone” will buy your book will indicate to the literary agent that you that you have not done your homework and that you do not know your target audience.

Lay out the road map for your book tour, traditional media campaign, social media campaign, speaking campaign, and collaboration with VIPs. Make sure that every item you list is realistic, based on your existing platform.

Describe the technical aspects about your book — pages, photos, illustrations, etc, as well as how long you will need to complete writing the full manuscript.

Competitive and Comparative Titles Analysis
Identify what similar titles are already in the market – ideally, bestsellers that indicate your book also will be a bestseller. Establish the similarity to your book, so that publishers know your book is not so “out there” that it is a terrible risk, then identify what distinguishes your book from those bestsellers, so publishers know you are not simply reinventing the wheel. Keep in mind that no matter how unique your book is, there are always other books that are in the same genre and therefore that have some common ground with your book.

Chapter Outline
List the chapters of your book, as one would do in the Table of Contents of a book.

Chapter Summaries
For each chapter, write about two paragraphs that jump into the writing and grab the reader’s attention, then about two paragraphs that summarize that chapter. In your summary, be sure to include details, such as what topics you will address and how; what sidebars may be included; and which VIPs you may interview.

Sample Chapter
Provide a sample of your writing, by writing out one full chapter. If you write a full introduction, you will not need to have a sample chapter.   

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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