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Step By Step Guide To The Ultimate Book Proposal

Updated on March 20, 2011

If You Are Serious About Selling Your Book You Have To Master The Proposal Format

So many writers pitch their full manuscripts around and keep getting sheaves of rejections without realizing that the last thing a publisher wants to see is a just that: a full manuscript. They have no time to wade through 300+ pages of the thousands of submissions they receive each year (or each week in the case of the majors). They want the crux of the manuscript in a quick, powerful presentation, and that is: The Book Proposal. Think of it as the Executive Summary of your book.

You don't even need to have your whole book written yet. A Book Proposal is a superb way to test the waters with a relatively minimal amount of work. However, be careful. Not only do you need to submit two Sample Chapters (the first two of the book are preferred), but you have to be ready in case the publisher contacts you, tells you that they love it, and that they want the full manuscript no later than next week. If you can write the whole thing in a week, then by all means use this process. If you can't you might be way better off in holding off releasing your Book Proposal until the manuscript is finished.

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I published this previous Book Proposal Hub to show a sample of a book proposal however it is important to not just copy the format I've shown and just fill in your own blanks, but to fully understand it. Therefore, here are the various elements for the Complete Book Proposal:

Title Page: If you don't have a working title that will really grab a publisher, then stop and get one right now. This is extremely critical as if you bore the publisher on the first page, they'll never get to the second page. Therefore at the top of the page type in: A Book Proposal, your book's Title on the second line "Jack, Jill & The Hill", the SubTitle on the third line "A True Story: From Water To Daughter", and today's date on the fourth line. Then go all the way to the bottom of the page and enter all, and I mean all, your contact info.

Proposal Overview

I. The Content: What is the book about? This is where you have your condensed, powerful, and overwhelmingly positive pitch.

A. Premise: Sum up the entire book in a couple of phrases. Sometimes this is called the logline or the elevator pitch. "This is a story of how Jack meets Jill, they go up the hill on the pretense of fetching a pail of water, but instead they come down with a new daughter." That's it. You might want to add a marketing pitch sentence though, something along the lines of: "The purpose of this book is to empower Jacks and Jills everywhere to overlook their traditional roles of water-fetchers and enjoy the glories of parenthood."

B. Unique Selling Proposition: What makes this book different and better than anything else on the market? What are the benefits and features that the reader will take away from this book? "When consumers read this book, they will benefit from Jack and Jill's experience since the book will examine in depth the emotional trauma of abandoning a lucrative career in water delivery, and the dramatic lifestyle changes brought by a new baby." If you can come up with several things the book benefits and several more things it examines, in point form, then that's even better.

C. Overview: What is the overall summary of the book? Not chapter by chapter, but three or four major sections indicating the salient points, plus an intro and conclusion. A sentence or two per section is just fine.

D. Manuscript: This is where you tell the publisher the nuts and bolts of what you've written.

1. Manuscript Status: Is it finished? How long until it is? I recommend never sending out a Book Proposal unless you're a week to ten days to finishing the manuscript. That way you can always say that the manuscript is finished. Publishers don't want to read the manuscripts necessarily, but they do want to know they exist!

2. Special Features: Are there any illustrations, photos, foldouts, free CDs, or miniature water pails that go with the book?

3. Anticipated Manuscript Length: If you don't know the length because you haven't finished it yet, type in 71,283 words, or any other random number between 65,000 and 75,000. You won't have to match the exact number, but that is the range that generally publishers want to see. If you're writing a War & Peace, then by all means extend that number range way upwards.

4. Anticipated Manuscript Completion Date: It better be now!

II. The Market: Who is going to buy this book? If your answer is everybody on the planet because it's such a great book you can now go back to your job of saying "would you like fries with that, sir?" Every book has a specific and clearly targeted market. Which one is yours?

A. Demographic Description: Age, gender, education, economic level, faith, geographical location... who is your typical reader? The publisher wants to know.

B. Psychographic Description: What are the motivations of the reader to buy your book? What is in your book that echoes what the reader has experienced or wants to experience?

C. Affinity Group: What are the specific types of people who would read your book? "Former water-fetchers, Aquarians, new parents, subscribers to Jack & Jill Magazine, habitual readers of adult nursery rhymes, people who have conceived at altitude."

D. Competition: Have other books been successful in this market, and why is your book different? "There have been recent bestsellers in the field, including The Old Lady Moved Into A Nike Air Jordan, This Little Piggy Went To Walmart, Peter Peter Obese Overeater, and Three Blind Mice (in Braille). This book is different as it examines the wrenching emotional transition between aqueous couriering and pregnancy."

III. The Author: Who are you? Why should you write this book?

A. Background: Don't give them a resume, only briefly list the experience that is directly relevant. Nobody cares if you worked at a tire shop. What is in your past which qualifies you to be an "expert" in this field?

B. Previous Writing: What relevant published writing have you done in the past? It doesn't have to be books, but could be magazine articles, major blogs, or even scientific journal writing.

C. Personal Marketing: What can you bring to the publicity table? Are you experienced in broadcast interviews or addressing conferences? Do you have a well read blog where you can promote the book?

IV. Chapter-by-Chapter Synopsis: Include section and chapter titles and at most a three sentence description of what will be covered in that chapter. "Section I, In The Shadow Of The Hill. Chapter I, The Fateful Meeting. Jack thought that he would have to spend the rest of his life in drudgery fetching pails until one day a new water courier was hired on his route, the lovely and fetching Jill. As luck would have it, their first fetch was to the top of the hill. On their long journey, they began to chat and both could immediately feel the powerful magnetic attraction building which would change their lives."

V. Two Sample Chapters: Each chapter should be between 10,000 and 15,000 words, double spaced, and make sure that there aren't any typos!

If you follow this simple plan your Book Proposal could be a success. If you ignore this plan, then you're guaranteeing that you'll just be piling up more rejection letters!


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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      You're very welcome and good luck!

    • profile image

      hannah 8 years ago


      This helped me so much!

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks Judy. I appreciate the compliments!

    • Judy Cullins profile image

      Judy Cullins 9 years ago from La Mesa, CA

      Even if you plan to self publish, you give the writer a great outline here of how to begin thinking about their audience and how to market their book!

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      Bruce, thanks! The Digg link is outdated and dead, but then again, Digg is pretty well outdated and dead so it all fits! :)

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hey Hal, I tried to Digg your article, using the link you provide up top, but it doesn't work. I The "share it" link worked, and I dugg it. Best!

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Great, concise summary of the basic proposal steps. I've written four proposals (for the same book, which I eventually self-published when my NY agent's part-time Columbia grad school assistant couldn't sell it a good sized publisher. The cool thing was, after all that proposal writing, when it came time to write the book , it was mostly done. And I've sold 3000 of them (or should I say half again as many books as there are centuries -- don't want to screw up the Google algorithm). Cheers!

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 9 years ago

      nicely done

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated. Now go out there and write the ultimate book proposal so you can get a multimillion $ contract... and credit me in the Acknowledgements! :)

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 9 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Great hub there thanks for that wealth of information.

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 9 years ago

      Well done keep up the good work.

    • profile image

      SC 10 years ago

      Thanks for the insight Hal. It is very helpful.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 10 years ago from Toronto

      Best of luck with your project, Cory. Please don't hesitate to let me know if there is any other information I can provide for you! :)

    • Guru-C profile image

      Cory Zacharia 10 years ago

      Thank you, Hal, for sharing this knowlege. It is of great interest to me!!! I really appreciate all of your insights. Best Regards, Cory