Did you know it is possible to get a book deal even before you finish writing your non-fiction book?
If you’re ready to take the traditional path to fulfill your publishing dreams and become a published author, then you’re going to need a book proposal!
In today’s episode, Lauren goes into the nitty-gritty of how to write a book proposal. From the things agents look for in an executive summary to what goes into your marketing plan, to how many words your book should contain, this episode will give you all the information you need to write a winning book proposal that demonstrates your book is salable and ultimately that convinces your publisher to invest in your work!
Not ready to go the traditional route? No worries! Check out episode 9 where Lauren talks about The 3 Main Types of Book Publishing Explained.
Want to know all about literary agents and how to find and pick the right one for you? Then check out episode 8 where Lauren talks to literary agent Elise Capron about how they can help you thrive in your writing career, what makes them read a book, and so much more!
Thank you so much for tuning in today! We want to know who you are and where you’ve been! Come hang out with Lauren in the Writers Squad Facebook group and over on Instagram @laurenmariefleming. We can’t wait to chat with you there!
You can also stay tuned for new weekly episodes @schoolforwriters, and if you want to spread the love even further, consider following, rating, and reviewing!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
-Download the step-by-step process on how to write a book proposal HERE!
-Need help jumpstarting your writing routine? Check out the Write More Challenge. All it takes is 10 minutes a day for 10 days.
Book recommendation of the week:
Becoming by Michelle Obama
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Wondering why we don’t link to Amazon? Check out Episode 2 of the Business School for Writers Podcast to hear all about how supporting independent bookstores helps you see more stories like yours out in the world.
Did you know you can get paid to write your book? If you are writing non-fiction, it is possible to pre-sell your book to a publisher before you even write it. But to do that, you’re going to need a book proposal.
In today’s episode, I’m going to break down for you each part of the traditional book proposal and explain why it’s there and what needs to go into it.
If you’re writing fiction, sorry this isn’t for you. You’re going to have to write a query letter instead, so go check out that lesson.
But if you are writing non-fiction, keep listening, because I’m about to break down the often confusing topic of book proposals.
I remember when I first tried to get a book deal for my memoir based on the popular blog I was writing at the time, Queerie Bradshaw. I bought every book I could find on getting published, I read blog posts on book proposals, I attended conferences and talked to agents, and still, I became so completely overwhelmed by it all, that I did nothing.
Finally, I found myself a writing coach and signed up for one of her programs. Having someone with experience break down the publishing process for me made a world of difference. I went from a decade dreaming of being published, to having a book proposal that got me a big time agent (Barak Obama’s agent, actually) within six months.
Now, that book ended up not being published, mainly because publishers didn’t think the world was ready for a lesbian sex memoir, their loss, right? But since then, I’ve written or helped write dozens and dozens of book proposals and the one thing I know to be true is this: a good book proposal doesn’t guarantee you a publishing deal, but a BAD book proposal will ruin all of your chances of being published.
So what makes a book proposal good or bad? Well, grammar mistakes, spelling errors, and general lack or proper editing is a big one. But the biggest thing that makes or breaks a book proposal is whether you have all the sections a proposal needs and that you’ve given each of them the time and thought they deserve.
This isn’t just throw together something in a weekend, although I have put together a book proposal over a weekend for someone who went viral randomly and a publisher approached them wanting one. So it doesn’t have to be a year-long process compiling your proposal, but it does have to have intention and attention given to it.
It also has to focus on business over art.
Your book proposal has to convince an agent and then a publisher that your book will sell and then show them how.
So the first thing you need to do is put on your business hat. This isn’t about fancy words or beautiful imagery. It’s about dollars and sense.
Whether your book proposal is successful or not hinges on one single question: Will your book sell?
Harsh, I know, but publishing is a business and publishers only buy books they think will make them money.
Instead of focusing on what your book is about, or how beautifully written it is, for your proposal you need to focus on why audiences will pick it up, read it, and then tell their friends about it.
Since you need an agent to get book deal with most publishers, you’re going to send your book proposal to agents first, so tailor it to them. Each agent will want something different, so be sure to check their website for what they want and in what order.
Note, some agents will want a query letter on top of your book proposal, so again, it’s very important to check their website to see what they ask for. And if they want a query letter, go back and watch that lesson here in Path to Published.
Don’t worry, we’ve got lots of help for you on finding an agent later on in the course, for now, we’re going to go over the general idea of what goes into a proposal and you can tailor it for each agent later.
Remember, each section answers a question the agent and eventually publisher will have about if they should invest in your book, so don’t be afraid to sell yourself and your book! You’re like an entrepreneur taking her business plan into a bank. Trust that you’ve got such a great idea that they will be super excited to invest in it.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the different sections of a book proposal.
I’ve seen this described as an Executive Summary or an Introduction. It’s a couple pages explaining what’s inside of the book proposal, an overview of all of the parts. This will make or break whether the agent reads on, so make sure it is as polished as possible.
What agents want in this can vary, but in general it includes:
- Brief intro or dramatic anecdote that will pull the agent/publisher in and make them interested in the material.
- A sentence or two about what your book is about (5-7 key takeaways was one agent’s suggestion), followed by a paragraph about why it’s being written and why you’re qualified to write it.
- An overview of the book’s audience and how you’re going to reach them (you’ll go in deeper on these later).
- The expected length (FYI traditional books are 70,000-90,000 words, so try to keep it in that range) and the date you expect it to be finished.
- If it is a part of a series, include that at the end of this and briefly explain what else comes in the series.
This answers a few questions: Who are you? Why are you uniquely qualified to write this book? What is different about your approach to the subject matter?
This is your place to brag and it’s your place to show that you have contacts that will help you sell this book. Speak at conferences already? Put that in there. Got a decent social media following? Put that in there. Part of a writers group or collective of writers? Put it in there.
You don’t this to be too long, but you also want to make sure you let them know that people already think you’re an authority on this subject.
This is followed by links that serve as Support Material—reviews of previous books, recent articles by and about you from national publications, a schedule of speaking appearances, any national media appearances, etc.
3. Competitive Title Analysis
This section answers the question: Where would your book be in a store and what be on the shelves next to it? No, this isn’t the time to joke about being on the New York Times Bestseller table, although I fully believe your book could get there. This is to show the agent and eventually the publisher that books like yours sell.
The goal here is to analyze 5-8 comparable books that have been published in the past 10 years, with 1-3 sentences on why that book was successful and what that book did NOT cover, which yours will.
4. Target Market or Target Audience
This answers the question: Who would read your book? It may be tempting to say “everybody” here, but you want to be as specific as possible. Niches mean riches. You want to show them *exactly* who is going to pick up your book and share it with people like them.
For help choosing a market and talking about it, I suggest checking out Idea Client Avatars that marketing agencies created. There’s a lot of helpful resources out there for that.
5. Marketing Plan
This is the biggest question of all: How are you going to sell this book? Yes, publishers will help you market your book, but you’re going to have to do most of the leg work. The more specific, the better here. Don’t say I plan to post about it on social media. Explain exactly how often and in what way and on what platforms.
Don’t say, I’m going to have some friends tell their friends. Explain exactly how many followers those friends have and how their influence will help sell your book. Show solid connections you already have and are already working with.
This is probably the most important part of your book proposal, so be sure to give it the time and research it deserves.
LET’S TAKE A QUICK BREAK HERE TO POINT OUT thatwe are multiple pages into your book proposal and we are just now getting to the actual content of the book you are writing. We haven’t even gotten to your style or quality of writing yet. They want to see that you will sell this even before they see what you’re selling. It’s a hard fact for an artist to absorb, so if it’s too hard for you to put business first and you want to just get your book out in the world, then go back and listen to my episodes about self-publishing.
But if you want a traditional publisher, then keep going, because we only have two more sections left.
6. Chapter Outline
This is simply an outline of the chapters you plan to have in your book. It answers the question of: “what’s in the darn thing?” Each chapter should have a title or number and a brief 2-3 sentence overview of what’s in that chapter. You want the whole thing to flow together and be easy to read as well. So it’s like the Cliff Notes of your book.
7. Sample Chapters
Finally, here you are, able to show off your actual written content for the book. This, obviously, answers the question of whether or not you can write legibly and in a way that makes people want to read it. This should be the first 2-3 chapters of your book, not some randomly picked chapter from the middle. So make sure those first chapters are engaging and entertaining.
Each agent is going to have a different suggestion for what kind of sample chapters they want, so, as always, check their website first.
That’s it! That’s your book proposal.
My proposals and the proposals I’ve helped with have been anywhere from 30-45 pages. It’s an endeavor, for sure, but little old confused me back in the day can figure it out without this podcast, you can 100% for sure figure it out with it.
Because the world needs your story now more than ever.
Good luck with your book proposal, and I cannot wait to read your book!