Don't overthink your book proposal

Meru Gokhale
8th Apr 2024

Perfectionism will paralyze your progress.

As a publisher with over 20 years of experience, I've seen countless aspiring authors get stuck obsessing over crafting the "perfect" proposal. The result? They never actually finish writing the book itself. 

Writing is the best way to clarify your ideas and refine your pitch.

When I review proposals, I'm looking for strong, well-developed concepts paired with a clean, formatted, professional proposal. But I know that getting to that polished proposal is a process. 

The best way to get over the paralysis of perfectionism is to accept that your first few drafts will be terrible. Embrace the messiness and incrementally improve with each new version. Putting words on the page, even if they're raw and rough, is what eventually leads to a great proposal.

Some think you should defer approaching publishers until you have an immaculate proposal. But perfecting every detail of the proposal too early can be counterproductive. Instead, I believe getting the core elements down is the priority: a compelling overview, 1-2 gripping sample chapters, and a clear vision of the book's angle and audience. Focus on making those sections as strong as possible. Then, go back and refine the proposal formatting and structure. 

Here's how I recommend approaching it:

  1. Free write your core thesis and key supporting points
  2. Flesh those out into a concise 1-2 page overview 
  3. Write 1-2 sample chapters that hook the reader
  4. Refine those elements, gathering feedback from 2-3 trusted readers
  5. Polish the proposal structure and formatting as the final step

If you want to start writing your proposal, aim for 20-60 well-organized pages, including sample chapters. Focus on conveying your book's unique perspective, why you're the ideal author for your chosen topic, and how it will connect with target readers. More importantly, infuse it with your authentic voice.

Remember, all good writing starts off bad. The magic happens in the revising and refining, draft after draft. Iterate until you get to a clean, compelling proposal. 

The most important thing is to start writing and keep improving, little by little. Trust the process and keep pushing forward, one terrible draft at a time. With persistence and polish, you'll get to a proposal that stands out from the slush pile. That's what publishers like me want to see.