Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Write a Book Proposal

by Sandy Tritt

So you have to write a book proposal. Okay, the first thing you should do is panic. That’s right. Panic. After all, writing a book proposal is akin to stepping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and praying you’ll have enough wits to pull your parachute release at the right moment. Or standing in front of 15,000 professionals to give a sixty-minute presentation—without knowing the subject you’re to have prepared. Or taking your fifteen-year-old out to drive for the first time—in rush hour traffic. In downtown Rome. Fear Factor has nothing on book professionals. Eating bugs is easy. Writing a proposal? Yikes! If that doesn’t get your heart pumping hard enough and long enough to count as your daily aerobic exercise, you just might be dead.

Assuming you’ve survived the panic step, it’s time to move to the next stage: Avoidance. This usually starts by playing computer solitaire or scrubbing the garbage disposal. It can last for weeks or even months. Once your garage is alphabetized, your basement sanitized, and every item in your closet starched, pressed, and color-coordinated, it’s time to move on to the third step: Actually Doing Something.

Now what? Sit down at your computer, sign onto your word processing program, open a new document, and save it as “manuscript name Book Proposal,” replacing manuscript name with the name of your manuscript. If you’ve already chosen the agent or publisher to whom you’ll be submitting your proposal, review the suggested proposal contents. Most will provide a list of what to include, which may or may not include a cover page, table of contents, sell sheet, biographical sketch, book description, chapter outline, sample chapters, market analysis, competitive analysis, marketing plan, and manuscript history. If you haven’t selected the recipients or if you want to create an all-purpose proposal, that’s fine; just include all the items in the above list. You’ve already panicked and you’ve already avoided, so breathe slowly into a paper bag and stay with me. In your open document, put the first requirement at the top of the page. Insert a page break and type the second requirement. Insert a page break and type the third. And so on, until you have one page for each part of the book proposal. Now, you are ready to move on to the next stage: Writing Your Proposal.

Start with the Cover Page. Type the name of your book, your name, your mailing address, your email address, and the genre and word count of your manuscript. Center it on the page and make it look nice. Insert a page break and go to the next page, Table of Contents. This means the table of contents of your book proposal, not your manuscript. List each of the remaining items in your book proposal and leave a space to fill in the page number later. Wow. You’ve already knocked off two of those empty pages. Now, take a look at the pages that are left. Which one is the easiest for you? Perhaps you know exactly which chapter or chapters you want to include for the Sample Chapters. Copy and paste them into your book proposal. Another page done. Perhaps you’ve already written a synopsis of your work. Copy and paste it into your Sell Sheet. Now, again, look at what pages you have left and pick the easiest one. If you need to write a bio, remember the agent or editor is looking for why you are the best person to write this specific book, so unless having spent six months in the hospital when you were eight directly affects your ability to write this book, don’t mention it. Likewise, don’t mention your parents or your siblings or your first grade teacher unless they directly affect your book. Instead, choose your education, professional experience, and writing history—awards, publications, and completions. Type this on the Biographical Sketch page.

Look again at your remaining pages. The Competitive Analysis. This is the part that scared me the most, but turned out to be the easiest. I’d suggest making a trip to a large bookstore or your local library. Find the place on the bookshelf where your book should appear, and look at the books that surround this space. Select the best known ones and write their title, author, publisher, and a sentence or two to describe the book. Then write another sentence or two on what your book offers that this one doesn’t. You only need four or five books. And you’re done with another blank page.

Okay, what’s left? The Book Description. Describe your book, including its purpose, its intended audience, and what the reader will take away when he or she reads the book. Include what makes your book unique or compelling. The Market Analysis. Identify your book or novel's audience—the specific type of person who will read your book, such as parents of newborns or young people who are preparing to join the military, and then describe your ability, if any, to sell books at speaking engagements, conferences, book signings, and other events. The Marketing Plan is simply reassuring the agent or editor there is a market for your book and you are able and willing to help market it. List ways in which you will assist in the marketing of your book: perhaps you will set up a website, create promotional giveaways such as bookmarks or postcards, arrange your own book signing, or attend conferences where people will be interested in this subject. If a Manuscript History is requested, list any editors or publishers who’ve reviewed your manuscript and the ensuing result.

Now, we have only one area left: Chapter Summary. Although this may take a bit more time, it shouldn’t be a difficult task. First, list your chapters by number and/or by name. Then, look over the chapter and write a paragraph that summarizes that chapter. Many times, the chapter’s opening and closing paragraphs will give you this information. If not, list the most important topics or ideas covered in this chapter. Now, go back and enter the page numbers on your table of contents. And guess what? You’re finished. Yep. Done. DO NOT bind it unless the editor or agent has requested you do so. All you have to do is proof it, send it out, and pray.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Oh, and if you can’t get past steps one and two (Panic and Avoidance), shoot off an email to us at We offer a variety services to edit or write your submission package (which may include a query letter, synopsis, cover letter and/or book proposal). Do note that as a general rule, most agents or publishers will first request a query letter. For fiction, they will then often request a synopsis and the first three chapters. For nonfiction, they will often request a book proposal. Some will also request a book proposal for fiction. We do not usually recommend writing a book proposal for fiction queries unless requested by a specific agent or publisher. Regardless of what you need, we can take out the fear and add in some professionalism. Just give us a call!

For more great tips and expert advice, visit our website at

(c)Copyright 2010 by Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Thanks for the instructions on writing a proposal! I did exactly what you wrote andnow I have some idea of how to write one. Loved the comments and fear factors.

  2. I enjoyed reading these helpful instructions. I was amused and relieved to know that garbage disposal scrubbing or "sweat it out" as I call it, is a writer's syndrome of progression. Thank you for the great tips.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this post.