By Nancy Peske
To write a book proposal, start with a 3-5 page overview describing the book, why it fills a hole in the marketplace and is needed now, and why you’re the right person to write it. Describe the audience for the book and the benefits your book offers. When describing the audience for the book, you might offer some startling statistics that make the case that your book has a big audience. For example, you might say, as I did in my book proposal for Raising a Sensory Smart Child, “1 in 20 children has sensory processing disorder: That’s one in every classroom.” In general, statistics such as “Over 20 million people” or “Seventy million Americans” don’t grab people’s attention the way “1 in 20 people” does. Help your book proposal’s reader envision how many people are affected by the situation addressed in your book. If every hour, 3 people are diagnosed with a disease, or if “by the time you finish reading this sentence,” something will have happened, your reader will say, “Wow!” That startle effect is what you are going for.
Add an author biography. Include what you’ve done and what you’re doing right now to maintain and build your author platform. An author platform is your visibility and credibility that allows you to have a loyal following that will be eager to buy your book. Include information on your social media followers and activities. An agent or editor will be looking at your social media accounts and website to see not only whether you have online presence and how big your online following is but how engaged your followers are. Be sure you are easy to find on the internet, and provide links within your book proposal. Note any relevant writing experience you have, and any media experience including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and blogs that have feature reviews of your previous books, interviews with you, or quotes from you. Include in your bio where you reside. No, you don’t have to live in New York City to get a book deal, but it’s good for anyone reading your proposal to know what time zone you’re in. It’s a lot harder for a book publisher in New York or California to set up interviews with someone living in Japan or New Zealand than it is for them to set them up with an author living in the U.S.–that is just one example of why you want to include where you reside. Also, put a bit of your personality into the author bio, even if it’s just naming your fur babies. Be a little creative so you engage the reader.
Include a marketing statement. Tell the publisher what you are willing to do to get the word out about the book and to sell copies. Just as you would do in a business plan, here you have to convince a professional publisher that your book is a worthwhile investment. Do you have the ability to get your book announced to a quarter million people via your friends’ and colleagues’ and your email newsletters? Are you planning to do personal appearance you pay for, such demonstrations at wellness centers and speaking engagements at community centers, bookstores, and churches? Can you do social promotions? Give details. Offer suggestions for niche media outlets to approach, such as specific types of magazines or blogs. If your agent and publisher have worked with authors in your genre before, they know that a press release and a galley (a pre-publication version of the book) needs to be sent to Parents magazine, but they might not know to send these materials to Adoptive Families magazine. They might not be aware of some of the blogs that would let you guest blog or would interview you or run a Q&A. Specify your partners—anyone in your field who will happily announce your book on social media and in their newsletter and blog, and interview you or review your book. The idea is to give the publisher a wide range of ideas for promotion and show them what you are willing to do and to pay for. The marketing statement must include a comparative books list.
List the Contents for the book followed by an expanded chapter outline. Offer at least two paragraphs about what will be included in each chapter. Think bullet points and ideas. Don’t write hype or be vague about what will be in the chapter. For example, you instead of saying, “Exercises will be included,” or just naming an exercise and leaving the reader of your proposal wondering what that exercise entails, you might say, “In this chapter, readers will discover my Moxie Mama Self-Care Exercise, a guided visualization combined with journaling prompts that help aspiring Mixie Mamas to take better care of their own needs and release any anxiety they have,” or “In this chapter, readers will learn how about three keys to being a Moxie Mama when their child is struggling with making friends.” In the expanded chapter outline, you do not need to describe any chapters you’re actually including; that would be redundant. Instead, just note that the sample chapter is included in the proposal. You might put a short sample of material from the actual chapter here to clarify a point. For example, in my book proposal for Raising a Sensory Smart Child, I included a section of sample practical tips for toothbrushing to show what that section of the book would look like, since I knew it would read quite differently from other chapters in the book. I also knew that section of the book was extremely valuable on its own, and I wanted my agent and any editors reading the proposal to see that.
Provide a writing sample. The book proposal has to show what the writing in the actual book will look like. Some say you should include an introduction and chapter 1. I think that the overlap between the book’s actual introduction and all your descriptive material in the overview and expanded outline makes that feel like overkill. Include chapter 1, and again, consider including a section from another place in the book if it will read quite differently from chapter 1. I have seen this done with memoir book proposals that sold: The author took snippets from throughout the memoir and sprinkled them into the expanded chapter outline.
Specify the format, length, and delivery date, also known as the “specs,” of the book you’re proposing. Within the proposal, either in the overview or in a separate section, you must note when you can deliver the manuscript and how long the text will be as well as the format you’d like for the book (hardcover or paperback) if that’s very important to you and both are options. For example, many publishing houses are now publishing nonfiction books as trade paperback originals rather than hardcovers. (Trade paperbacks are the paperbacks that don’t fit into a metal spinning rack, and can vary in size, although there are a few standard sizes.) Publishers generally want the book delivered within six to nine months, maximum, although they understand that it will take longer if you’re writing a work requiring substantial research. As for length, you can specify your proposed book’s word count. To calculate the page count of your potential book, look at a book that’s about the size, shape, and length of the book you envision, count the words on a typical page, count the number of pages, and multiply. As an in-house editor, I was taught it’s best to specify word count in contracts so that’s what I do in book proposals as it’s much more accurate than citing page counts. Do a page count on several different books and you’ll see that the number of words that fit on the page depends on the page design (font, “leading” or space between lines, margins, design elements such as boxed texts and sidebars, etc.) Note that a typical length for a self-help book these days is around 65,000 words. You might quote a range of 60,000 to 65,000 words, or 65,000 to 70,000 words.
Include endorsements if you can, and even the promise of a foreword by someone with an impressive name. You might be surprised by who will commit to an endorsement or foreword at an early stage of the book!