Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


September 27, 2011

What to put into a book proposal from Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn

At Red Pencil in the Woods last weekend I heard a great talk on how to write an effective book proposal from Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn of The Business of Books. Some of the key points were:

Why do you need to write a proposal?

A book proposal is like a business plan. It tells the publisher:
  • What your idea is
  • Why this idea is interesting and marketable
  • Why you are the right person to write this book
  • How the book can be marketed
Even if you are going to self-publish, the proposal helps you to focus your concept and find your readers.

The key parts of a proposal

Jen and Kerry recommend that you set out these main points. You can tailor the format for each publisher or agent’s specifications.
  1. Introduction: Explain and sell the general concept. Some good ways to begin are with a startling statement or statistic (75% of Americans . . .) or a question (What would you do if . . .).
  2. About the book: State the genre or category, e.g., where it will be shelved in the bookstore, and the format (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback), dimensions, price range, etc.
  3. Competing titles: Get to know the section of the bookstore where your book will be shelved. Name four or five books in the same category and explain how your book is similar and where it is different. Focus on books that have been published in the last ten years, and any “category-killers.”
  4. About the author: What’s your connection to the material? What makes you easy to work with and marketable? Mention interesting achievements, past careers, and skills.
  5. Marketing: Present clippings and logs for any promotion you did for earlier books. Mention any events, seasonal tie-ins, or regional and historical connections that can be used to promote the book. Describe any social media platform that you can use to promote the book with giveaways, contests, etc.
  6. Outline: Show that you know what the structure of the book will be.
  7. Sample text: Depends what the publisher or agent requests, but usually the introduction and one chapter.
  8. Extra materials: Include material that supports your proposal. It might be clippings to illustrate trends that you described, more information about you, and even audio and video clips that show you giving interviews or doing demos from the book.

More information on writing proposals and query letters

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