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How to Write a Book Proposal to Send to a Publisher

Updated on December 7, 2020
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Carson is an avid list-maker who loves to travel and try new things.

So you have your book idea. You may even have written a first draft. And if you have made it to the editing stage, you are in the top ten percent! Congrats!

But, now what?

In order to get a publisher to buy your book, you have to send in a book proposal. Actually, you have to send in several book proposals, because the first publisher simply is not going to take it. Regardless of the master-ness of your piece, if you only send your book proposal to one publisher, you will be batting a zero.

So anyway, now that I have shot down your dreams, let's talk about the first step in the real world. Your book proposal is essentially your sales pitch, your 30-second elevator introduction, your handshake, so you need to make it good.

Before writing the proposal, consider a few things:

Is your book good enough?

1. A publisher hopes to sell 5,000 copies. Of your target audience, will 5,000 people buy your book?

2. The average non-fiction book has 200 pages. Is your book long enough? Are you using the right vessel to deliver the goods?

3. A publisher wants to know that your subject matter is worthy of publication. Are there other books that talk about your subject?

4. A publisher also wants to know that your book stands out from others published on that subject. Why does yours stand out?

Elements of a Book Proposal

Your book proposal also needs to contain several key elements. They do not necessarily have to be in this order, but you really should include each of these in some form in order to answer your potential publisher's initial questions.
  1. Title Page: Center the working title in the middle of the page. Include the author name and contact information.
  2. Overview: Your story in a nutshell. Stick to one paragraph.
  3. Narrative: This is an extension of your overview in narrative style. This should really only be about two paragraphs. Think back-of-book-synopsis when writing this and your overview.
  4. Publicity: Do you have plans for marketing and promoting your book? Do you have ideas about its marketability? Elaborate on that here. Include a description of your audience.
  5. Competition: What else has been written that is like your book? Write about it. Think your book is a total original? It's not. Do some research to find out about what else has been published that is like yours, whether it matches your style of writing or the characters are similar. Talk about how that book did and then say why yours is different. 
  6. Author's Biography: Tell the publisher about you. Do you have something that makes you stand out? What makes you the best writer of this book? You do not really even have to be published, although if you have been it may be helpful. Talk about what life experience made you write this book, but keep it short. If it doesn't seem relevant, don't force it.
  7. Table of Contents: List of chapters and subheadings.
  8. Chapter Summaries: Tell what each chapter is about. Keep each to about a half a page.
  9. Sample Chapters: Here you provide your potential publisher with a sample chapter or two from your book. This is your real chance to show them why your story is a diamond in the rough, so make it good.

There is not a tried and true formula for your book proposal. You can put these elements in a logical order which suits your book. Don't try to make it fancy, stick to a normal font. Don't include pictures. Check with the publishing companies you wish to send it to for specific guidelines and any other details they require, including font, layout, and form. Most publishing companies have websites with this information listed.

Also, you may want to try to get an agent instead of going straight to a publishing company. Literary agents have guidelines, too, and many specialize in particular types of writing, which may make them feel more inclined to like your story.

Have you published a book before? (If you have comments or specifications, please add to the comments at the bottom!)

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