Book Proposals

It was never easy for new authors to sell their manuscripts to a publisher — Chicken Soup for the Soul was reportedly rejected by 140 publishers (although they can’t feel any worse than the nine publishers who rejected the first Harry Potter book). Publishers can hardly be blamed for reticence — it was never easy to make money on a new author, and in today’s information age, it is almost impossible. As Steve Piersanti of Berrett Koehler Publishers explains: “The total book publishing pie is not growing, yet it is being divided among even more digital and print products.”

For a new author, the only route to a successful publishing contract is through an effective book proposal — one that convinces the immediately skeptical publisher that this author, and this book, addresses a need unfulfilled in the book market. Specifically, publishers are looking for manuscripts that feature innovative insight or methodologies from authors with extensive experience and, especially for the larger publishers, an impressive platform. A platform is the promotional base for the author, and is built on social media (including a blog), speeches, workshops, magazine and journal articles, podcasts and any other outreach to audiences who will eventually be interested in buying the book.

Book proposals are prepared before the book is finished. Unlike novels, publishers do not expect nor want to receive entire nonfiction manuscripts unsolicited. Instead, they want to receive well-crafted and convincing proposals that include:

  • a complete Table of Contents
  • a short summary of each chapter
  • two or three sample chapters

In addition, most publishers will expect to see the following elements in each proposal, presented here in the order in which they should appear:

  • Overview: The opening section of the proposal presents the theme of the book and makes a strong case that this theme and the supporting text around the theme will attract enough readers to make the book a worthwhile investment.
  • Audience of the Book: Who exactly will be reading the book? Is the target audience large enough to merit publication?
  • Competitive Books: This section identifies the books that have similar or related themes, then clearly shows how the proposed book offers ideas, insight or research on the topic that is important and unique.
  • Author Information: The emphasis in this section is on any experience and research that reinforces the author’s credibility in the field of knowledge covered by the book.
  • Promotion Plan: This section highlights in full detail the author's platform (described above), and shows how this platform can be leveraged into multiple sales. What speeches will the author be giving in the year following publication and are back-of-room sales possible at those venues? With which organizations is the author attached that will help promote the book at events, on their website, in their publications, and so forth? Which publications are likely to review the book, or better yet, interview the author about the book? How many readers subscribe to the author’s blog or e-newsletter, and how will the book be promoted to those readers? Given the economic challenge of a new book from a new author, the promotion plan is one of the key sections that can convince a publisher to take a chance on the title.
  • Book Length: The publisher will want an idea of the estimated length of the book.
  • Delivery Date: Likewise, the publisher will want to know when the author will deliver a finished manuscript.

Preparing a Book Proposal

Unless a manuscript is already completed, the most challenging portion of the book proposal will be the table of contents and chapter summaries. These two sections require that the entire book be structured, from the order of the chapters to the specific information that each chapter will include. Some authors will have a step-by-step methodology that they can expand into chapters. Most authors, however, will find that converting the wide-ranging knowledge and ideas accumulated over years of professional experience into the rigorous linear structure of a book can be daunting.

For more information on availability, time frame, and opportunities for publication, contact Chris today.

Chris Murray Editor