What is a book proposal?

Meru Gokhale
21st Mar 2024

Imagine this: You're a writer with a great book idea, but you know publishers and literary agents are inundated by stacks of unsolicited manuscripts—the infamous "the slush pile." Your brilliant idea could easily get lost in that avalanche of submissions. This is where a killer book proposal can make the difference between your book idea being accepted or rejected, even before you've written out the full manuscript.

What is a book proposal? 

A book proposal is a comprehensive sales pitch that aims to convince publishers your book idea is unique, well-researched, and financially viable for them to invest in and bring to market. It outlines your concept, expertise, analysis of the audience and competitive landscape, marketing plans, chapter summaries, and more. Getting the proposal right is crucial—it's your make-or-break chance to hook publishers on your fresh perspective and book's potential. 

In this series, I’m going to teach you how to write the perfect book proposal. Our first instalment will familiarise you with the building blocks that a complete book proposal must include: 

  1. Title & Subtitle: Your book's name and its accompanying subtitle serve as the headline that captivates potential readers. They must intrigue, inform, and invite readers into the essence of your story or argument.

  2. Author's Name

  3. Expected Word Length. I’ve seen that most authors forget to include this. Always give an estimate of how many words you complete manuscript is likely to be, as publishers need this for their internal costings and to calculate author advances.

  4. Hook: A compelling opening or idea that grabs the reader's attention from the start. 

  5. Short Synopsis: A brief overview of your book that gives readers a sense of the journey they're about to embark on without giving away key plot details.

  6. Introduction: The opening section where you set the context for your work, provide background information, and establish your qualifications and passion for the topic.

  7. Chapter Breakdown & Synopsis: A detailed outline of each chapter with short summaries, providing a glimpse into the structure of the book and what each section entails.

  8. Author Bio: A concise biography of the author that includes relevant personal history, professional credentials, and any information that adds to your authority on the topic.

  9. Sample Chapter(s): An excerpt or complete chapter from the book provided as a representation of the writing style and content that readers can expect from the complete work.

  10. Table of Contents: An organised listing of your book's chapters and major sections, outlining the journey through the book and guiding the reader on what to anticipate in each part.

  11. Characters: Detailed representations of the personalities that populate your narrative, their unique traits, their evolution, and their role in the story's progress.

  12. Book Blurb: A succinct and alluring description of the book typically found on the back cover or online listings, designed to pique interest and entice the reader to dive into the story.

  13. Marketing Plan: Your strategy for promoting the book, detailing how you plan to reach your target audience, the platforms you'll utilise, and how you'll raise awareness and generate interest.

  14. Pitch Letter: A cover letter sent to agents and publishers that introduces your book and why it should be considered for publication, ideally capturing the essence of your work in a concise and engaging manner.

There are two factors that are often overlooked when writing a book proposal, but they’re of the utmost importance, so I’m listing them out as well: 

  1. Writer's Voice: This is your unique way of writing that sets you apart from others and gives your narrative a recognizable and distinct style that readers can identify as your own.

  2. Formatting: The way your manuscript is organised and presented, which should look neat and professional, showing that you value the reader's comfort and the formal standards of publishing. Never, ever use fancy, wacky fonts if you want publishers to take you seriously!

In the next instalment, we’ll explore how you can craft a captivating hook for your proposal—the opening that grabs readers' attention and compels them to dive further into your writing.