What is a Book Proposal?
A book proposal is a document freelance writers use to convince a publishing house to publish their book. Rather than including the entire book, freelancers use the proposal to paint a summary of the overall idea. A book proposal is used in either fiction or nonfiction writings, but it is a crucial part of operating your business in any case.
Note: You can sign up to Bonsai for free to start writing a professional book proposal. Our template includes all of the elements you need to set your proposal apart from others piling up on publisher desks.
What to Include in the Book Proposal
To be successful with your book proposal, you need to include all of the critical elements. Though it is ultimately up to you to decide what to include in your fiction or nonfiction book proposal, we recommend that you at least have the following segments.
Some people refer to a cover page as a title page, but its purpose remains the same no matter what you call it. It’s the first page, and it declares your intent to propose a book idea.
Your cover page should begin by stating that it is a book proposal for your writing. Not only does it include the working title, but it should also list:
- Author’s Name
- Contact Information
- Copyright Notice
- Submission Date
Once you move past the introduction, it’s time to provide publishers with a brief description of your book. It’s vital that you keep the overview concise. You’ll want to leave out the fluff and anything that distracts from the main theme.
It may require some time as you slowly work on narrowing down the theme of your fiction or nonfiction book. However, your agent or publisher should leave your proposal with a clear understanding of your idea.
Though you might have other ideas and concepts that you want to include, you should remain focused on the core of your book. The process of writing your summary would be similar to writing back cover copy, so keep that in mind as you go along.
In this next section, it’s time to go into more detail about yourself. Most often, this section is referred to as an author bio. As a freelance writer, you must be able to explain any of your past experiences or if you have a book published. The “about” section of your book proposal should prioritize the qualities that make you the right person to write the book.
You don’t need to have every chapter figured out right away, but a good book proposal should include a general chapter overview. The chapter list gives the publisher a better idea of what they can expect the book to cover.
How should you organize your chapter outline?
We suggest that you use bullet points listing the titles of each chapter. You should also include a brief description, and each chapter description should be no longer than a few sentences.
Instead of including a complete book, a proposal only requires a sample chapter. The chapter should be as close to finished as possible. It will give literary agents and publishers an idea of your writing style.
If you don’t have any previously published books, a sample chapter is all the more important. This section of your book proposal shows publishers that you deserve a book deal.
Competitive Titles Analysis
Since you cannot provide the final manuscript, a list of comparable titles can continue to paint a complete picture of your book idea. It’s critical that you carefully select a list of five to ten competing books that cover similar subject matter. This will help to establish your target audience and ideal reader.
To make the connection clear, we recommend that you follow each book with a few sentences to explain your selection. Your competitive title analysis should explain how your manuscript appeals to the competing book’s audience.
You also need to explain what factors set your particular book apart from your competition. Is it your writing style? Does your plot take a unique twist? If so, this is the area of your proposal where you would communicate that.
We strongly urge all freelancers to include specific information to avoid confusion with the titles on your list. That means you need to list each book’s:
- Year of Publication
- Number of Pages
- Retail Price
Note: You don’t need to worry about sales history for any of these books. It’s something that most authors wouldn’t be able to look up without the help of an agent. If your publisher is curious, they will look it up for themselves.
How to Write a Book Proposal
Now that you know more about what to include, you need to know how to write a killer book proposal. While you can find a basic template online, you need to understand what details make your own book proposal different.
Traditional publishing houses get countless book proposals every day. More often than not, they’ll even come across many that have the same book idea.
In order to get a publisher’s attention, you need to write a nonfiction book proposal that shows commercial potential. You can do so by following these tips.
Think of Book Proposals as a Business Plan
While we would all love to think that publishing is all about the art of writing, the truth is that it is all a business. A publisher invests time and money into a manuscript, so they don’t want to choose a book that will fail.
Your book proposal should include elements that you would often find in a business plan. These include focusing on the market and target audience as much as your writing skills.
When you treat your writing as a business, it also shows publishers that you take your work seriously. Why does that matter? Plain and simple: Serious authors are more likely to get a book deal.
Find out Exactly What the Client Wants
Every publisher is looking for something different in a manuscript and a writer. Though they all want to make sure that the book is successful, they all have unique wants and needs.
For that reason, you need to do your research to understand exactly what your client wants. Once you’ve identified those wants, you should write a book proposal that shows your ability to meet those wants and needs.
However, that doesn’t mean you should lie about who you are and what you can do. It’s more important to show you can achieve their goals by writing as yourself. Doing so will ensure you match with the right publisher.
Highlight What Sets You Apart
As we mentioned, there is a lot of competition in the writing world, and they each have a great idea. Therefore, it makes sense that you would need to set yourself apart from other authors with an outstanding proposal.
Fortunately, there is only one you, so it should be easy to differentiate yourself if you focus on your specific strengths. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend a lot of time focusing on your personal experience with a subject.
Instead, you should prioritize your unique writing style or describe the audience you’ve already built. While highlighting your advantages, your proposal should show how those strengths stand to benefit your publisher specifically.
Create a Marketing Plan
Publishers want to work with freelancers who understand the writing business and how it works. If you don’t know where to start with a marketing plan, they will pass over you for the next author.
Do you know how media appearances can help increase book sales? Do you have a plan to get social media attention before the book is released? If so, you want to make sure you work that information into your proposal to show your book’s commercial appeal.
You don’t have to be a marketing major or one of those famous people with a million social media followers to have commercial appeal. Publishing companies simply want your proposal to show your understanding of the industry’s unique market.
Demonstrate Your Storytelling Abilities
While publishing focuses a lot on the business side of things, you still need to be a good writer. More specifically, you need to be a storyteller.
As you finetune your chapter sample, you should make sure your proposal demonstrates your wordsmith skills. Your publisher should be able to see how you keep the reader entertained and invested in the subject–regardless of whether you write for a fiction or nonfiction audience.
That’s not all.
Publishers want to find someone who can tell an interesting story about their subject. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a professional background in that subject, however. You simply must be able to write about it with authority.
Focus on Why Your Book Matters
Lastly, you will want to make sure that your book proposal shows why your book matters. If there are thousands of other books written on the same topic, then explaining your idea won’t get you anywhere with a publisher. Instead, they want to know how your book is going to make a difference.
As you write your book proposal, you should ask:
- Does My Book Address an Urgent Need?
- Does it Matter Right Now?
- What Will Make it Resonate with the Reader?
- How is it Different from Similar Books?
Answering these questions will help you to write better book proposals. Not only will you be able to discuss how your book meets the audience’s needs, but you’ll also be able to write about why it matters at this time.
While some topics may trend for a while, some maintain relevancy over longer periods of time. In this case, you will really want publishers to see that your book still has market relevance. That means focusing on how your topic interest’s today’s audience rather than readers from 50 years ago.
Creating a Nonfiction Book Proposal is Simple with Bonsai
Are you starting to feel overwhelmed by the idea of writing a book proposal? At Bonsai, we know how difficult it can be especially when it’s your first time submitting to a publisher.
That’s precisely why we have created a sample book proposal that you can customize with details of your very own book idea. In fact, a Bonsai sample proposal makes the process simple and efficient with the following benefits:
Read Receipt Notifications
After you’ve sent out your book proposals, you won’t have to wonder if any publishers have read them. Instead, we will send you a read receipt notification to let you know that they opened it.
You no longer have to send a physical copy of your actual proposal or publishing contracts to sign them. With our e-approval function, you and your clients can sign everything virtually to expedite the process.
Publishers love working with writers who treat themselves as a business. When you use branding elements to customize your example book proposal, you can give yourself a more professional appearance.
Book Proposal FAQs
It takes more than good luck to be a successful writer, so we know that you have more questions about proposals. To learn more about submitting proposals, read on to and you’ll find answers to some commonly asked questions.
What makes a book proposal different from a query letter?
A query letter is typically sent out to attract attention from a literary agent after a book has already been written. You can also send it to publishers to see if they are interested in your work. On the other hand, book proposals are usually written before working on your idea.
Do I Need a Literary Agent to Publish?
If you plan to submit your fiction or nonfiction book to one of the big publishing houses in New York, the answer is yes. However, most authors can bypass a literary agent if they only seek to be published by an independent or regional publishing company.
Those aren’t the only exceptions. You don’t need an agent to reach a publisher if you work on a niche title with limited commercial appeal. Writers can also avoid working with an agent if they are publishing scholarly work through a university.
How Do I Identify Potential Publishers?
Before you can personalize your proposal, you need to research publishers. Not all publishing houses will be a good fit for you. Instead, you should look into similar books and see who published them. If you already have a favorite publisher, you’ll want to make sure they align with your genre and style.
That’s not the only way to find publishers for your book. When you have an agent, they can take care of the leg work. It’s their job to help you identify which companies would be best suited for your book and audience.
Once you have made a list of a few potential publishers, you’ll want to find a way to connect. If you happen to have an agent, they can take care of this for you with their industry connections. Without an agent, you’ll have to do more research to see if you can connect personally with someone at the company.
Social media, colleagues, and friends can all be valuable assets to help get your proposal into the right hands. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a deal, but it can certainly improve your chances.
How Does a Self Publish Project Differ from Traditional Publishing?
In recent years, self-publishing has become more and more popular. A quick google search will provide you with a blog post that walks you through the process. While publishing tools have become more accessible, it isn’t always the best option to reach your readers.
The biggest distinction between a book traditionally published or self-published is the royalties. In the case of self-published books, the book's author retains all of the rights and royalties. Therefore, you get all of the earnings on whatever you write.
If you choose to go through a traditional publishing house, it is much harder to get your book published. If you manage to get your book published, your deal typically gives the rights and royalties to the publishing house. The royalties help cover the cost of bringing your book to market.
While you may make a larger percentage with self-publishing, you should consider that you may not have a large market. Since publishing houses have better promotion and marketing tools, they can often get your book to more readers.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to self-publish or submit a proposal to a publisher.