The Killer Book Proposal

The most common question I get from first time (0r even second time) authors  focuses on how the publishing process works:  How do I get started? How do we make sure that publishers will be interested in my book ideas? How do I set my work apart from the pack? These are good questions, and the answer to them are all the same.

It all starts with a killer book proposal.

business-puzzleMuch to many authors’ surprise, it is a rare event that a publisher gets an entire manuscript in the mail. Instead, publishers get book proposals to review.  And while no two proposals are constructed exactly the same way, the best of them contain the same elements—those key segments that all editors look for. The purpose of this posting is to give you an idea of exactly what needs to be included in every business book proposal.  For those “big” books—one that you feel could break out and make a bestseller list—your proposal should run about 50 pages in length. That’s what is required to give editors and publishers a complete, three-dimensional picture of your book. As to what should be included, consider the following:

* A synopsis of the book, describing the book as vividly as possible. Make it sound compelling. Draw a picture of what the final book—the finish line—will look like. This overview of the book should not only paint a vivid picture of your book, it should also be written to draw readers in. This first critical section of the proposal should run about four to six pages but could be longer or shorter depending on the book topic, what you intend to write in other parts of the proposal, etc.  

* The primary benefit of the book: also known as the USP, or unique selling proposition; what will readers get out of your book that they can’t get elsewhere? This could be part of the synopsis of the book or could be written as a separate—albeit brief—section of the proposal. The key here is to make your book sound like a “must have,” rather than a “nice to have.”  

* A quick description of the target audience: this is important, since it will tell us who you are trying to reach. Is it a general Wall Street Journal audience, or higher level, such as financial professionals? If it is a leadership book, is it for “C suite” executives? Or is it for most anyone who sits in a cubicle? This section can be written in a couple of paragraphs, but is nonetheless important.

* Competing books:tell us what books are closest in content to your book. However, this is a bit tricky. The key is to include books that are not only similar to yours, but have also sold well. You may not know which books are successful, so this is one key area for your literary agent to step in and help. Most agents subscribe to a service which includes the sales records of all books published in the U.S.  One additional note of caution: you should not include books that have sold hundreds of thousands of books, especially if you are a first time author or someone with anything less than a spectacular track record. Including blockbusters as competitors will make editors think you have unrealistic expectations or even a bit delusional.   

* Books specifications: all relevant specs—the length of the book, number of tables, graphs or other pieces of art, and how long it will take you to write the book should be included. Is this a 150-page book or a 350-page book? This is the section that gives editors real insight into the length and level of the book you intend to write.  

* A chapter-by-chapter summary: These are crucial, and should run one-to-two pages in length. This is where you put the meat on the bone and give editors real detail on the content of the book. Make sure you include a table of contents first, and then list every chapter title followed by a detailed description of all of the key topics to be included in the book. This is the longest part of the proposal. If you have, say, a fifteen chapter book, then this section should run about 20-30 pages.

* One complete chapter: This is particularly important, especially if you are a first-time author. This shows publishers how talented you are as a writer, while also providing the most amount of detail on one particular topic in the book. Make sure you select a chapter that really is pivotal to the book, and one that you know very well. It should also be one of the most interesting chapters in the book.

* Your bio and platform: This is yet another critical—and usually the final—part of the book proposal. However, your platform—those things that you do that will help sell copies of the book, re:  seminars, speeches, TV appearances, social networking presence, etc.—is so important that I usually ask authors to include aspects of the author platform throughout the proposal. For example, if you are an author that appears three times a week on a cable news channel, then you might even lead with that way back in beginning, in the synopsis of the book. The key here is to use your judgment, and remember that the author platform is one of the most important determinants of whether or not a publisher (or multiple publishers) will make an offer on your book.


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