Book Proposal Guidelines Non-Fiction
The goal of your proposal is to create a document that is persuasive, dynamic, and as fully representative of the book you want to write as it can be. The better our understanding of how the book will unfold here, the more enthusiastic publishers will be, and the easier the book will be for you to write.
The proposal should be double spaced, paginated, and include your name and the title of the book in the header or footer. Each section should start on a new page.
After a title page that includes your contact information, provide a table of contents of the proposal, outlining the names of the sections and the pages on which each section begins.
2. The Sales Handle
The sales handle is a one- to two-sentence statement that sums up the book’s uniqueness in a kind of “hook.” It may not end up appearing in the actual proposal, but in the pitch letter, and helps to crystallize the unique selling proposition of the book.
3. The Overview
The overview is probably the most important section of the proposal as it introduces your thesis, describes the concept behind the book and the approach you intend to take, and basically answers the deceivingly generic question: what is the book?
In writing this section, it may help to think about it as though you were writing the book’s jacket copy. This section should describe the content of the book in detail, highlighting its features, its selling points (who would buy it and why would they want it?), where the information will originate (five years of original data, twenty years of consulting, original case studies), and what perspective you as an author uniquely bring to the topic.
In writing your overview, let the following questions guide you:
- What is the concept of the book?
- What is your intended approach (Practical, how-to? Self-improvement? Historical? Reference?)?
- What is your thesis/point of view?
- Where will the information in the book come from?
- What unique perspective do you as an author bring to the subject?
- What’s the promise of the book? (What will the reader gain from reading it? Even if it is a narrative there needs to be something gained—even if it’s entertainment—in order for a reader to justify spending the money and the time.)
- What do you intend to accomplish with the book?
- Is there any special content that could be incorporated for an enhanced e-book?
It also helps to open the overview with a story or anecdote that illustrates the need for such a book as this.
4. Positioning and Market Potential
The positioning section must ground the idea for the book in the context of the marketplace or the world (for example: many businesses have been started during down economic cycles—provide historical statistics).
In writing this section, let the following questions guide you:
- How does the book you are writing fit into the world?
- What other books can it be compared to?
- Is there a successful model against which to measure it?
- How does it fit into the category/canon of literature on the subject?
- How big is the market?
- What are people currently saying on the subject (whether in your industry or via social and professional networks sites)?
- Is there anything about this idea that is the first, best, or only?
- What are other books in the marketplace being purchased by your intended audience?
5. Author Biography
The author biography is a few paragraphs about you, your current position, occupation, or vocation and experience. This helps to establish you as a qualified expert in the eyes of the publisher. While a copy of your C.V. or resume may be attached to the proposal materials, use the following questions to help you write this bio:
- What is your current profession/position?
- What is your background? How did you become the expert that you are?
- What are your academic and professional credentials?
- Have you authored any previous books or industry publications? If so, provide, titled, publishers, dates, sales figures, and copies of reviews and any endorsements.
- Do you have a website that is heavily trafficked? Do you mail or email a newsletter? How many people receive it? Do you blog? Twitter? What kind of metrics can you provide of your individual or professional digital presence?
- Do you have media experience—have you appeared on TV, on radio, in print? If so, where and when? Have there been any quotes about you in the press worth repeating?
- Have you written any by-lined articles? If so, where did they appear and when? (Also, please provide copies.)
- Are you ever called upon as an expert to provide quotes/commentary in newspaper and magazine articles? If so, in which publications, and when? (Please also provide copies.)
- Do you speak on your subject? How frequently? To whom, and how often? Events you will want to include here are major historical business events and events that occur on some sort of regular schedule. If you are involved in these events, include all of the details of your involvement. If you are not, describe how you intend to use these events to promote your book’s publication.
Personal information: This is optional, but if you’d like, tell us where you were born and raised, and whether you are married and have any children.
6. Marketing/Promotional Tie-Ins
This section details the ways in which you can maximize book sales from your end via the Web, media opportunities, and special tie-in events, which helps the publisher learn more about how it could best capitalize on your built-in audience. This section should include information regarding the following topics:
Professionals. Who is currently benefiting from the information you will reveal in your book? What kinds of individuals, groups, and/or organizations could benefit from the information given in your book? Have any individuals or organizations already employed the techniques or strategies your book covers? Have they been successful? Can that success be quantified?
Digital. What is the name of your website(s)? Who is linked to your site? How many unique visitors do you have? Page views? What kind of information is on your site? Do you blog? How will the information on your site be different from that found in the book? Do you have a newsletter? Are you capturing email addresses? Do visitors have to subscribe to access information? Will you update the site for your book’s launch? Do you sell anything on your site now? Do you Twitter? Do you have ideas for book applications or for videos that could be embedded in an e-book version of your title?
Audiences at speeches. Who are they? Provide a list of the associations, organizations, corporations, webinars and educational venues where you speak. Detail how often you speak per year. Estimate about how many people you speak to in a given year. Tell us how they found out about you.
Students. If so, what level: undergraduate, graduate, or professional certification programs? Approximately how many students have heard you speak over the lifetime of courses you’ve taught? Are there venues (conferences, speeches, symposia, your classes) through which you can sell the books?
Satisfied clients. Successful graduates of your classes. Friends in high places. The goal is to create a list of people who can attest to your expert status, your genius, and your influence on their lives. They don’t have to do so here, necessarily. We just want to know who they are—so please provide names and affiliations. And, as you might expect, the more famous, successful, or accomplished they are, the more impressed the publisher will be.
Associations. Are there any tie-in opportunities you can mention—associations, organizations, corporations who’ve expressed interest in buying books or supporting the book in some way? Volunteering to serve on national committees and speak at association conferences and conventions can help you both build your platform and market your book.
Media. Most business associations publish member magazines, newsletters, and online information. Where would your book fit? Do you have media contacts who will cover this book? Please provide the names of those editors, journalists, or producers.
7. Format. Word Count. Delivery.
- How will the book look? Will it be just straight text, or will there be boxes and sidebars, photos and line drawings throughout? Will there be quotes interspersed? Assessments? Exercises/lists? Charts? Illustrations? What is your anticipated budget for an illustrator or permissions if you envision including images or non-original materials in the book?
- How many pages or words do you anticipate the book will be? (Key: Multiply your estimated number of manuscript pages by 250 words per page.) Look at other titles in the market that are similar to yours and compare page count as well.
- How long will it take you to write this book? Please note that it can often take a couple of months from the time the book is sold until a fully executed agreement is in place. Will you need a professional writer? Also note that traditionally it takes 8-12 months from the delivery of a manuscript before the book is launched into the marketplace.
8. Competition/Comparison Titles
This section helps to educate the publisher on what other books are already in the marketplace that could be compared or contrasted with yours. The idea is to demonstrate that a book exactly like yours isn’t already on shelves, but also to show that there is a healthy market for this type of book. What already exists that directly competes with your book? Was it successful? How is your book going to be different? What is uniquely groundbreaking about it? What will the reader stand to gain from buying your book that isn’t found among the others?
While it may be tempting to criticize the competition, try to stick with the substantive ways that your book will be different (e.g. author point of view, target audience, format). Remember, your proposal may be submitted to the same editors who published some of those comparison titles, so you’ll want to steer clear of negativity.
Be sure to identify the titles, authors, publishers and year of publication for all works you cite. For example, ROAR!: Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle by Kevin Daum and Daniel A. Turner (Wiley, 2010).
Also keep in mind direct vs. indirect competition. Direct: books that cover the same subjects you plan to cover in your book. Indirect: books that cover related topics, or focus on one or a few of the topics you plan to address in your book. While it is important to address both, your proposal must emphasize those books that compete with yours directly. Again, focus on what will make your book stand-out rather than criticizing the competition.
Where to find competitive books and understand how they are being positioned: bookstores, libraries, online booksellers and publishers’ websites, professional and trade associations, college and university libraries, and reviews in business-related periodicals, author websites, popular publishing sites and blogs (Publishersmarketplace.com and Galleycat.com), and Twitter posts.
9. Outline/Annotated Table of Contents
The outline/annotated table of contents will detail, from the introduction to the conclusion, how many chapters will appear in the book, and what will (roughly) be contained in each of them. It should really be no more that a summary of how the book is going to shape up—a few paragraphs for each chapter will suffice. Using bullet points to reinforce that chapter summary is also an effective way of communicating the major topics of each a chapter. The final book will likely vary from the outline, but at this point, it demonstrates for the publisher that you’ve a solid sense of what the book is and what it will include.
10. Sample Chapter(s)
The sample chapter proves to the publisher that you can articulate your ideas into clear, coherent prose and provides a taste of your tone and approach. The sample chapter does not have to be the first chapter, but it should represent the voice and style you intend to take in the book. Please be sure that your chapter summary and sample chapter(s) include the same information.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS: The questions any proposal should answer (these overlap):
1 – What will the book read like?
2 – Who is the audience for this book?
3 – Why are YOU qualified to write this book (for example, how can the publisher
4 – What will make someone pay $26+ for this book?
5 – What is the reader’s “takeaway” (for example, what will they learn or feel as
if they’ve learned)?
6 – What other successful books can you compare your book to and what does your book bring to the table that others of its kind do not?
7 – In 25 words or less, what are you trying to do in this book?
8 – What makes your point in, say, chapter 3, different from the point you
make in chapter 5?
9 – What will keep a reader interested in your thesis from beginning to
10 – Why isn’t this just a magazine article?