How to Write a Book Proposal That Will Keep You Out of the Reject Pile
If you want to publish a book, the first thing you’ll need to do is to put together a book proposal. Follow these 4 steps to craft one publishers will love.
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When Steve Jobs wrote a book, it was to create a historical record. Howard Schultz had unique insights into management he wanted to share. Those who are draped in controversy may write a book to set the record straight. My first book was written to help tell the story of how two first time entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the "great recession."
Most executives, however, are hoping to advance their careers through basic self-promotion. A book can be shared with your boss or investors, and it can give you a strategy for earning speaking gigs by demonstrating distinct insights with widespread applicability.
The good news is that you don't have to write an entire book only to get rejected. What you need is a book proposal, which you send to publishers in hopes that they'll accept your idea and platform. If a publisher likes what he or she sees, you'll be commissioned to write a full manuscript.
So, how do you make that happen?
Anatomy of a Book Proposal
The basics of a book proposal are an introduction that explains why the book would be worth reading plus a table of contents, including chapter titles and a description or outline for each chapter.
You should also include an author's statement that communicates how you intend to promote the book, whether that's through media appearances, speeches, or some other means. For example, Walmart founder Sam Walton was able to add his book to his own shelves. While you may not have Sam Walton's resources, many small or medium-sized companies may have a decent blog or social media following, or you may be able to promote your book to business schools. Publishers need to print books that make money, so they love concrete ideas for boosting sales.
In addition to being a necessary step in getting your idea to print, creating a proposal is an excellent starting place for you as an author. It helps you flesh out your ideas to see if they're really book-worthy, and you will find out whether you actually enjoy the process of writing. If the proposal process is too painful, you may want to reconsider committing to writing 50,000 more words.
Within this larger framework, there are several strategies you can implement to maximize your proposal's chances of becoming a real book.
1. Zero in on your target audience.
Show publishers you're knowledgeable about a precise target audience. As Natasa Lekic at New York Book Editors advises, "Resist the urge to be universal. 'My target audience is everyone in the world who's ever lived' is not a good answer. If your book is about home-schooling as a single parent, the first thing you should do is find out how many single parents home-school in America."
Beef up your proposal with a profile of your target audience, as clean and well-articulated as you can manage. You can start with a simple Google search for statistics to gather basic demographics, then build it up with pain points and buying behavior.
2. Include a competitive title analysis.
Compare your book with five to 10 other books with similar content or target audiences. For each book, include the title, author(s), publisher, publication date, ISBN number, number of pages, retail price, and a brief description.
Compare and contrast each book with yours in about 100-200 words. Focus on analyzing what the books do right, any gaps in their information, and how your book can fill those gaps. Publishers don't care if you liked the book or not -- they want a market analysis.
Peruse your library or search Amazon by genre to find similar titles. Get as subgenre-specific as possible, but find enough competitors to demonstrate the existence of a market.
3. Showcase your credentials.
Your goal is to convince a publisher that your book is marketable nonfiction, not a best-selling novel. Literary skills take a backseat to credentials. Dedicate one page of your proposal to an introduction, and establish yourself as a qualified person to write the book. "To learn how to lose weight, readers don't need a poet; they need a clear communicator who can deliver her ideas and methods in a way that will help readers achieve their goals," says publishing expert Jane Friedman. "If your book's purpose is to impart useful information or to benefit readers' lives, then you're selling it based on the marketability of your expertise, your platform, and your concept."
Relevant credentials can be professional, personal, or educational. Be sure to highlight anything that shows visibility among your target audience. If you were a guest on a podcast, have a decent social media following, or frequently accept speaking gigs in the industry, be sure to include that information.
4. Show them what you can do.
While marketability may take center stage, it's always helpful to include a couple sample chapters as well. These can be from any section of the book, not just the beginning. Choose the most important parts of your message. This lets publishers see that you truly do have fully developed ideas and that you're capable of communicating them clearly.
If you have a great idea for a book, don't waste time writing out an entire manuscript before you get it in front of a publisher. Focus first on getting your main ideas and marketing strategy laid out clearly in a book proposal. With these strategies, you can craft a proposal that will get any publisher excited.