How to write a book proposal that sells
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One of the smartest things I’ve heard anyone say about writing a book proposal is this:
“You have to make one real human being — who happens to read a lot of books — like your book.”
One real human being.
Most authors overthink, and therefore, overwhelm themselves with the proposal. Which makes it a massive task. Don’t do that.
When writing the proposal, authors are often thinking about getting lots of people to read their book. That is a mistake.
*Remember, getting published is all about winning over one person — one acquiring editor at a major publishing imprint. Not the masses.
I’m going to break down the five parts of a book proposal and make it as easy as possible for you to start writing right now. 1,000 words never came so easy.
Part 1: Synopsis
This is the first thing an acquiring editor is going to read. This is where you sell them on your vision for the book idea. This is where you put your true niche on display.
All publishers are looking for a ‘unique twist on a trendy topic’. Broad, general and oversaturated topics lose interest quickly.
Start by answering these questions:
- Can you sum up the book in one catchy sentence?
- What is the market or industry this topic appeals to?
- What problem or need does this book approach?
- What is the solution your book has for this problem?
- Why is the message of your book unique?
- What type of readers is your book going to connect with?
- How will readers use it? What are three clear takeaways?
- Why are you the one to write this book? What are your credentials?
Talk to the readers when you write this and refer to them as “you”. When you talk about yourself, refer to yourself in the third person.
If this is a fiction book, then this is where you explain the plot and the main characters.
Part 2: Outline
Lay out the chapters or sections of the book. All of them. Describe each one without giving away the good stuff.
You need to show how this book is structured. Never use all caps (unless you’re naming a fictional character).
For non-fiction, a couple of sentences per chapter is a good idea. Tip: describe what the chapter is about, not what the topic is about.
Now go ask a friend if they understand it.
For fiction, describe the plot in more detail and have a good character arc. Show the editors how they intertwine and their relevance to the story.
Part 3: Target Reader
Most acquiring editors will jump to this section next after deciding your Synopsis is good. This is where you make a compelling argument to back up your Synopsis.
This is your ‘Go-to-market’ section. How big is the reader market your book approaches? What is trending with them? And why is your book a perfect fit? Prove this with numbers, stats and studies out there.
Editors are not interested in how many people buy romance each year, or how big a certain non-fiction readership category is. They already have that data.
If you cannot tell the editor who your reader is, then they will not acquire your book.
Ask yourself, how big is this niche audience and what is the opportunity for this book with them? You should have already started this in your Synopsis answers.
Google keywords about your book or potential readers, and then click on articles with high search rankings. Those usually have research links backing up their content. Use those links and stats to help bring credible research and studies to your audience section.
Start by answering these questions:
- Who is the target reader? Why?
- What specific problems are they facing?
- What studies support this?
- How big is this audience? Stats?
- Why is your book or solution relevant to them?
- Why is this a good time to write a book for this reader?
- Why would they read it?
- What other stats and research help your case?
Describe your reader in detail. If your book has a primary and secondary audience, answer these questions for each one. Back the statistics up by describing how they are relevant to your reader and the book topic.
Fiction authors, please skip this section.
Part 4: Sales Arguments
Every proposal must explain how an author can and will market your book. This is where you show off your platform — however big.
Acquisitions editors take into account your previous success, earned influence and overall potential you give your book once acquired. This section is very much about the author.
You don’t need 100k email subscribers, but you need to show that you’re able to promote yourself to a relevant group of people.
You also don’t need a long and strategic marketing plan. You just need to show them how you are going to bring traction and awareness to your book idea, starting with your pre-orders. This is your job to figure out.
This section should have a combination of the following numbers:
- Email list size.
- Social media following.
- Video marketing views or subscribers.
- Professional website plus page views.
- Speaking engagements scheduled, past and future.
- Endorsers and corporate sponsors. Foreword?
- Previous book reviews and advanced praise.
- Links to regular publication, media contributions, or your blog.
- Community events you’re attending relevant to your book
- What is your video strategy? Videos 10x book sales because it’s personal.
List these points above and anything else you bring to the table.
Part 5: Similar Titles
Your book has competition. Be ambitious here, but also pragmatic.
If you say anything about it being the first of its kind publishers will know you haven’t done your homework. You should know how your book is different than others already published.
Show the editor you know where your book fits into the market. This is how they decide if your book will fit with their distribution — and that’s exactly what you want.
- List at least three competing or complementary books and one sentence each on how your book is different. Ideally, you’ve read these books and can act as research for your own.
- Search Google or Amazon for these and similar topics. Include publisher, publishing date, and author names to the list.
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