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What is a Book Proposal?

By Chynna T. Laird
Updated May 16, 2024
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Every author has had to face the difficult task of creating a book proposal. Essentially, the book proposal is the way an author sells his or her book to a potential agent or publisher. It is a difficult task and one most writers wonder the purpose of. There are two different kinds of book proposals: one for nonfiction and one for fiction.

The advantage to the nonfiction book proposal is that an author doesn’t need to have a completed manuscript-—only an idea. But, then, this means they must be sure to create a book proposal that will make an agent or publisher be willing to wait for the final product. The following are the essential elements of the nonfiction book proposal:

Description/synopsis: 1-2 pages. Here is where you describe your project. Give a vivid description of what your book is about, what you’ll include in it, why it’s needed, your target audience and any experts,depending on the subject matter, that will be included.

Table of Contents: 1 page. This is important as your chapter titles summarize what will be in each chapter. Be certain to create catchy, creative titles that make your readers want to sit and read them.

Chapter Outline/Summaries: about 10 pages or more. First you’d list the titles of your chapters then you’d describe what will be included in each of those chapters. Be as descriptive as you can but also as concise.

Market Analysis: Here you have to address an editors four major concerns.

  • Cost: Including page count, special additions like pictures, research and advances;
  • Demographics: Is there a need or desire for the book you propose?
  • Competition: What are your major competitors and what do you have that they don’t?
  • Promotion: Who or what do you have to sell the book?

Author Qualifications: This is the author's biographical information, providing a focus on why they are qualified to write and publish this book. Include all pertinent information from articles you’ve written to people you know to any and all credentials you have that will help to sell the book.

Sample Chapters: Even though you do not have to be finished the book to sell nonfiction, you should have, at least, three sample chapters so the editor can grasp a concept of your writing style and your suitability for the subject matter you want to write about.

For fiction, you must be sure that your manuscript is complete before even thinking of selling the idea. The following are the essential elements you’ll need to sell your fiction book proposal:

Synopsis: This is a summary of the entire novel. It is usually about three or four pages. Editors do not want to be surprised so be sure to put every detail in this document. They want to know what happens, who does what to who and all the dirt and secrets. Don’t hold anything back.

The rest is the same as the nonfiction book proposal: chapter outline, chapter summary, marketing and author bio. With fiction, however, the synopsis is your sell so paying most attention to this will get your book sold. With nonfiction, the most important aspect is the chapter summary and your marketing proposal. In both cases, be sure to have a professional query letter to head your book proposal. This is the letter you’d use, with the synopsis for novels, to get an editor interested to see more. Following all of these steps won’t guarantee you get a sale but it will certainly steer you in the right direction.

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