Most nonfiction books are sold before they are written, based on book proposals. A book proposal is a document that shows a publisher why your book is a great idea and why you are the perfect person to write it. Your proposal says, in effect: “I have an idea for a book that lots of people will want to buy, and here is why I am qualified to write it. Do you want to publish it?”
A book proposal is not unlike the business proposals submitted by consultants and others when they are trying to get hired for a project. It is a sales document that demonstrates the worthiness of you and your idea.
Most book proposals follow a standard format. You may deviate from this to some extent, but keep in mind that it is the standard for a reason—it works.
Your nonfiction book proposal should contain:
- The title page with the title, subtitle, author name, estaimated word count of the completed book, and estimated time frame for completion. For example: “75,000 words, completion three months after contract.”
- An overview: a description of the book. This can be as short as a paragraph, or several pages long.
- Author bio. What makes you qualified to write this book?
- Competing titles. What similar books have already been published? How is your book different from those books? What need does your book fill that the others do not? That might mean that you are addressing the needs of a subset of the market that has been ignored (give numbers indicating the size of this untapped market) or that existing books are now out of date and there is a need for current information. Claiming that there is no competition makes it sound as though there either is no market for this type of book, or you do not understand the market.
- Marketing plan. What are you going to do to promote your book? The publisher expects that you know your market and the best way to reach it. Do not expect them to do all of the marketing. They will do very little. They will also want to know about your platform: Do you have a large following on your blog, YouTube channel or podcast? Do you regularly speak before large groups? Are you well-connected to opinion leaders and influencers?
- A chapter-by-chapter outline. List each chapter with a brief summary of what it will contain.
- One or two sample chapters. Most book proposals include the first chapter. You may also wish to include another chapter that is strong and represents your book idea well.always
- Optional materials. You may wish to include articles you have written, endorsements or blurbs you have received from celebrities or influential people in your industry, or other items that will show why they should publish your book.