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The 7-step recipe for writing a winning book proposal

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Updated on:
December 11, 2022
December 11, 2022
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For many writers, getting your own book published is the pinnacle of a successful literary career. It’s far from easy, as the publishing industry is a mysterious, unforgiving realm ready to shatter the hopes and dreams of any aspiring author. Knowing how to write a proposal template that stands out is essential if you are to get anywhere.

Of course, this may seem daunting. For sure, a book proposal template involves more than the average freelance proposals with Bonsai. However, this is a huge part of the journey to becoming a published author.

Writing a book proposal is just about convincing one person to like your book. You don’t need to concern yourself with impressing global audiences just yet.

Once you learn how to write a book proposal, you’ll soon realize the truth:

It’s not that scary.

Let’s show you how it’s done.

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The 7 must-haves of a successful book proposal

Yes, this is a little more than a simple creative brief. Some book proposals run 25 or 50 pages in length, if not longer. But here’s the good news:

You don’t have to write such a long proposal. In fact, it’s better that you don’t. After all, if you can’t captivate an editor or publisher within a few pages, why ramble on for another fifty?

Your job right now is not to write the book. Instead, you just need to persuade an editor to see that you have a great concept, one that they believe is worth pursuing.

Here’s how to write a book proposal in seven simple steps.

1. Synopsis

The introductory section of your proposal is the first thing an editor will read. Think of the synopsis as your 30-second elevator pitch.

How will you encapsulate all the brilliance of your book in just a few paragraphs?

Start off by answering the following questions:

  • How would you sum up your book in one catchy sentence?
  • What problem or need does your book address?
  • Why makes your book’s message unique?
  • What valuable takeaways will readers get from your book?

By brainstorming detailed answers to questions like these, you can weave a coherent, unified answer that truly encompasses the essence of your idea.

2. Outline

Any member of Bonsai will tell you how good structure and organization can impact your working life in a positive way. When it comes to writing a book proposal, a clear outline is crucial.

Ideally, your elevator pitch will grab the attention of your prospective editor. Next, you need to follow up by delving into the inner workings of your book.

Use this section to lay out all the chapters, describing each one with a sentence or two. You should provide enough detail to pique interest but not so much as to kill the suspense. Ultimately, your outline must demonstrate the solid, logical structure of your book, showing how one chapter builds upon the next.

Back all that up with a professional book proposal - create yours in just a few minutes with Bonsai. Sign up for your free trial today and check out our proposal templates, together with plenty of other features for invoicing, contracts, and time tracking.


3. Audience

Marketing 101: know your audience.

By doing your homework on the people you are trying to reach, you’ll produce a much better end product. If editors don’t see the marketing potential of your idea, it will never get published. Only by backing up your idea with in-depth research on your market can you hope to strike a deal.

Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer:

  • Who is the target reader?
  • What specific problems do they have?
  • How big is your target audience?
  • What relevant statistics and current studies support this?
  • Why is your book relevant?

Your book needs focus, and the best way to accomplish that is by creating detailed buyer personas of the people you envisage buying your book. Research indicates you can increase conversions by more than 70% with this technique.

4. Promotion

The toughest part of learning how to write a book proposal is to master showing how you can promote it.

We’re not talking about popping out a few tweets or sharing your idea with friends and family on Facebook. In your proposal, you need to reveal just how you plan to drive sales.

Do you have some past success? Have you got an existing platform or fan-base and considerable influence within the target market?

At this point, you may consider current trends in publishing. For example, the alternative writing platform Wattpad has surged north of 65 million active users in recent years. It’s important that you think about modern marketing methods, and also include useful stats in your proposal.

This could include:

  • Your portfolio website traffic
  • Email subscriber list size
  • Social media channel following
  • Video marketing views
  • Previous book reviews

5. Competition

Bowker reports that self-publishing breached 1 million titles in 2017, and it will continue to rise in the digital age.

Therefore, your book will face some competition. You can bet your bottom dollar that you will have to compete with similar concepts and an already congested market space.

That’s no reason to be deterred though. You should be ambitious but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by acting as if your book is some never-been-seen-before unicorn. It should be unique, but not so much so that nobody will be interested in it.

Your book proposal should detail how yours will fit into an existing market. To prove this, do your research to find competing books that fare well on Amazon or Google reviews.

Take note of their successes, and highlight their flaws. How does your book compare? How will yours do better?

6. Sample chapters

Writing a book is a slow, and often arduous process. For many writers, it is an all-consuming project that may become the sole source of income until it is completed. Pitching your book proposal with the first few chapters is a good idea as it lets you know it is a financially viable project before you commit too much time or effort into writing.

Not every book proposal requires sample chapters. However, it will really give your proposal an edge if you have some work to show. Many editors and publishing houses will want to be sure that you have the skills for the job, especially if there is a lot of money involved. A few fantastic chapters that really hooks their interest can seal the deal.

Going forward, if you are relying heavily on a book project to stay afloat, the smart advice from Bonsai would be to arrange a retainer agreement that ensures you get timely invoice payments for delivering a chapter or two each month.

7. About the author

Learning how to write a book proposal isn’t just about pitching your book idea – it’s also about selling yourself.

In the final section, you need to put your inhibitions aside and let your character and confidence shine through. This doesn’t need to be a rambling resume or boring fact sheet.

A short n’ sweet rundown of your writing background and big achievements in the industry will suffice, alongside some quirky tidbits to reveal why you are the perfect author for this book. Your proposal may already have convinced editors that you have a great book idea – now you need to show them that you are the right person to write it.

Knowing how to write a book proposal is just the start

Now, it’s time to get to work. Your book proposal is the first major step to becoming a published author, and it’s not a step you can skip out on.

By following the tips in this article, you’ll soon have a solid pitch to convince editors that your idea is worth backing. Sure, it will be easier said than done, but a great plan that considers your audience, competition, and marketing plan will put you in a strong position to succeed. The rest comes down to your ability to write a great book.

When you have everything else organized, you can focus on the job that really matters. Join Bonsai's free trial today and let us help you with keeping track of everything.

Create professional proposals and contracts for your book deal with Bonsai.
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