How to Write a Book Proposal That Sells

Acquiring editors at major publishing imprints want 5 things

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. I suggest you use this to help. 1,000 words never came so easy.

Part 1: Synopsis

(max. 3 paragraphs)

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?
  • Why is the message of your book unique?
  • How will readers use it; add three clear takeaways?
  • What type of readers is your book going to connect with?

Write as much as you can with each of these answers and then put the paragraphs together. Now edit to make the idea unified.

Here is a great nonfiction example. If this is a fiction book, then this is where you explain the plot and the main characters.

Part 2: Outline

(about 150 words)

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. It should be very clear and organized. Never use all caps (unless you’re naming a fictional character).

For non-fiction, a couple 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: Audience

(about 250 words)

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.

If you can’t 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? Do this:

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 and endorsements to your audience section.

Start by answering these questions:

  • Who is the target reader? Why?
  • What specific problems are they facing?
  • What stats and studies support this?
  • How big is this audience?
  • Why is your book or solution relevant to them?
  • Why is this a good time to write a book for this reader?
  • Where are they at in life?
  • What are their habits, lifestyle and beliefs?
  • What solutions does your book offer for them?
  • 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 skip this section.

Part 4: Promotion

(about 250 words)

Every proposal must explain how an author can and will market your book. This is where you show off your platform.

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 emails, 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 preorders. 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 pageviews.
  • Speaking engagements scheduled; past and future
  • Endorsers and corporate sponsors; Foreword?
  • Previous book reviews
  • 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: Competition

(about 250 words)

Your book has competition. Be ambitious here, but also pragmatic.

If you say anything about it being the first of it’s kind publishers will know you haven’t done your homework. You should know how book is different than others already published.

Show the editor you know where your book fits in 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 5 competing or complementary books and 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 if you can’t think of any. Include publisher, publishing date, author, and synopsis.
  • Copy and paste these into your proposal, then compare to your book in a few sentences.

You must do these three bullet points^

*Here is a good example of a non-fiction book proposal. Here is a good fiction book proposal.

Bonus: Sample Chapter

(about 1,000 words)

If you don’t have these yet don’t worry. You don’t always need any of the book written to get interest.

It will be good to have 1–3 sample chapters written at some point. (Check out day 1). Many acquiring editors and agents would like some assurance you have sufficient writing quality to pull off the project. You can start this after the proposal.


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