Do you know that more than 50% of submitted manuscripts aren't read? Why? Because agents and acquisition editors wade through tons of submissions. They read the query letter and proposal to decide whether to pick up the manuscript.
Yes, your book proposal opens or closes the door to the publishing world. Thus, it's critical to get it right first time.
If you write non-fiction, most likely you'll need to include a book proposal together with the first three chapters of the manuscript when submitting to agents and publishers. For novels, it's not mandatory. However, some agents/editors might require a proposal, and it's usually a good idea to include one if there is no stated preference. Make sure to check the submission guidelines carefully. If in doubt, include the proposal.
In a nutshell, a book proposal is primarily a sales tool that serves as a business plan. It means that you must fervently argue why your book is in demand, highly marketable, and has a chance to sell big. The writing tone, however, must remain professional and polite, regardless of your level of enthusiasm.
In this article, we'll discuss how to write a killer book proposal. Of course, an impressive book proposal must be accompanied by well-prepared manuscript or sample chapters. After all, only with the four elements – query letter, book proposal, sample chapters, and manuscript – each must be the very best you can make it, complementing each other to earn you a well-deserved publishing offer.
Non-Fiction Book Proposals
A non-fiction book proposal must include the premise of the book, unique selling proposition, manuscript status (completed or in progress), word count, and anticipated completion date. In a sub-section, you must discuss the target market, the personas of each sub-market, affinity groups, and competing books.
What is a "premise"? It's a statement of the book's basic concept in a couple of sentences. The most common model is providing solution(s) to problem(s). If you have multiple problems, include the unifying primary problem so that you can tie in the secondary ones within a solid structure.
Unique Selling Proposition
Unique selling proposition covers the benefits of reading the book and how the features of the book would help the readers. Put it simply, the statement should read something like this: "When the consumers read this book, they will be able to be or do such and such (benefits), because it helps them with such and such (features)."
Include concrete applications of your proposed solutions. Provide anecdotes and real-life examples. Whenever possible, the examples will come from actual experiences, such as interviews with people who have implemented the solutions. This way, you'll be able to show readers what progress can be made and how they can emulate it.
Manuscript Status and Word Count
Generally, each non-fiction chapter runs between 5,000 to 8,000 words. Be realistic about it. Some chapters can be longer and others shorter. Add up the anticipated word count for each chapter to come up with the book's anticipated total number of words, and be honest about how much of the book has already been written.
Anticipated Completion Date
Every author has his or her optimized word count per day. Some writers can complete 2,000 to 3,000 unedited words per day without any problem, while others struggle to complete 1,000 words per day.
If your manuscript has six chapters and each chapter consists of approximately 7,500 words, you're talking about 45,000 to 50,000 words. If your speed is 1,000 words per day, we can safely assume that you can complete the book in 50 working days. That's 2.5 months just for the first draft. Allowing time for editing, we're talking four months for completion time. It's better to overestimate the completion time than to underestimate it.
Target Market and Reader Personas
Be clear about who the readers are. Include their so-called "personas." A persona is the fictionalized characteristics of the target market. For instance, if your book is about pregnancy, the "persona" of your target market (or the biggest section of it) is a pregnant woman.
Include the motivation of the "personas." It can be any problem that they encounter which requires an immediate solution. Usually, they will belong to specific affinity groups, such as subscribers of parenting magazines.
Place In the Market
At the end of the proposal, mention your background, including why you're an appropriate person to write the book, previously published works and available marketing platforms. By "platform," I mean any medium or forum that you can use to reach out to potential readers.
In this social media era, having a couple of million followers would increase your selling power considerably. The Kardashian-Jenners, for instance, have launched their products with ease thanks to their social media fame. Within minutes, Kylie Jenner's lip kits were sold in tens of thousands. Imagine how many copies of your book could be sold if you had three million social followers. This clearly explains why publishers are so interested in the number of your subscribers.
The proposal should follow the above guidelines, but it's not written in stone. If you have additional information that you think would be valuable, include it as well.
Of course, never praise yourself or humblebrag. Be your objective and confident self. And be realistic by not promising a "best-selling book" and not comparing it with other books of similar topics. The key is differentiating your book from others in the market in an objective tone.
Fiction Book Proposals
Not all agents/publishers will ask for a book proposal for novels or other works of fiction. However, when they do (or if you decide to include one voluntarily), prepare a well-crafted proposal that answers most of their questions.
In general, a fiction book proposal accomplishes these four things:
- Allows the author to gather thoughts on the manuscript and evaluate the book's selling points early on
- Enables the agent/editor to see the author's writing skills
- Allows the author to show the novel's plots, conflicts, and character development
- Enables the agent/editor to evaluate the marketability and market demand objectively
The proposal can be accompanied by the completed manuscript or several sample chapters, as required by the agent/editor's submission guidelines.
For novels, the book proposal must include information on the title, genre/sub-genre, word count, and author's bio.
Regardless of the genre or category, if you've won a related award or are a published author, mention it in your bio. If you teach as a literary professor or work as a journalist, definitely mention it. However, if your day job isn't related to writing, journalism, or art, you might want to omit it.
The most important part of your proposal is "the hook." It's a paragraph that conveys the premise of the novel. It can consist of several sentences, one of which summarizes the story in a single sentence.
Include a synopsis of the story. Mention the moral of the story, the main plots of the characters, and how readers will be able to enjoy or learn from it. End with a cliffhanger that entices the readers to read the whole book from cover to cover. It also raises curiosity for a possible sequel.
The same applies here as in the "Target Market and Reader Personas" and "Place In the Market" sections above. This is your chance to convince publishing professionals that your book will find its way into the hands of a waiting readership.
Whether you're submitting a fiction or a non-fiction book proposal, remember to proofread it thoroughly. Some first-time authors hire a professional editor for valuable input on overlooked areas.
The above tips and advice are the general practice, but every agent/publisher has their own guidelines and preferences. I recommended that you also read several books that they represent/publish, so you can have a feel of what they are looking for.
Writing a book is one thing, but writing a book proposal is another. It's not harder; it's just different. You need to see your work with a fresh pair of eyes and be objective on its marketing potential.
A successful writer is one who's both skilful in the craft of writing, and appreciated by the industry and readers alike. And it all starts with a strong book proposal.