How to Write a Book Proposal

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Many people dream of writing the next ''New York Times'' bestseller, but they don't stop to think about how to actually get their book published. This lesson explores the basics of writing a successful book proposal.

It's All About the Proposal

You have a great idea for a book. Not just great, it's FANTASTIC. There is no doubt in your mind that your book will rise to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in a matter of weeks. There's just one small detail you need to tackle before rising to overnight stardom as the world's most prolific up-and-coming writer… you need to get your book published first. But how do you make this happen?

The answer is seemingly very simple. You must write a book proposal. The book proposal is your preliminary pitch to publishers to convince them why they absolutely must print and circulate your book, and pay you handsomely for your work. Ideally, the book proposal comes before you've actually written your masterpiece; this way you don't waste your time or the publisher's.

Steps to Writing a Book Proposal

While writing your book proposal may seem like an overwhelming task, it's actually quite simple if you follow just a few steps!

Title Page

Before getting into the meat of your book proposal, you should include a title page with several key pieces of information:

  • Title, or working title, of your book
  • Your name and where the publisher can contact you
  • Estimated word count, or how long you expect the book to actually be

Make sure all of this is spelled correctly; this is the first thing that your publisher is going to see, so take it seriously! It's also important to use a simple and professional type font, like Times New Roman or Arial.

Hook 'Em and Reel 'Em In

First things first, your book proposal needs to start with a hook and a short description of what the book will be about. This is the first thing that a publisher is going to read, so it needs to grab their attention right from the start. Remember, publishers are very busy people who sift through countless proposals and manuscripts a day. That means if you're not engaging and to the point, your book proposal will wind up in the 'No' pile.

A catchy hook should be one, maybe two sentences long, while your description may be several paragraphs to provide a general overview of main points of the book. A catchy hook may read something like:

'For nearly 165 million years, dinosaurs ruled the planet Earth. This uncontested dominance came to a screeching halt within a matter of seconds.'

Notice how it draws the reader in and leaves them wanting more! After the hook, the description should fill in the gaps and give the publisher the big picture synopsis of your book.

Exploring the Market

After the publisher reads your hook and description, they're likely to ask one big question: 'So what?' It's your job to answer this in your book proposal! Your book proposal should include some market research by identifying the following:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • Why will people want or need to read your book?
  • How is this book related to works that have already been published?
  • What makes your book stand apart from similar works?

If you're unable to answer these questions, odds are the publisher won't be able to either! Nor will he have time to!

Your Biography

Publishers (and readers) are going to want to know what qualifies you to write your book. For example, if your book is about the extinction of dinosaurs, you should probably be some sort of a dinosaur expert. Otherwise, your writing and your book will not be taken seriously! In your author biography, this is your time to shine. Highlight any relevant information about your life, education, and professional career that make you the best person to be writing this book.

Outlining and Sampling Your Book

It's also important to create an outline, or general framework for your book. You should identify roughly how many chapters your book will include and provide a title for each. What is each chapter going to be about? What types of graphics (if any) do you plan to include? Do you have any charts or images in mind, and how are they relevant to the content of your book?

While it may not be a good idea to simply turn in a completed manuscript to a publisher without actually having a book deal, it is smart to include a sample chapter with your book proposal. This way, publishers can get a true feel for the type of information you plan to include, and your writing style.

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