Guest Blogger: Diana Rosen

Writing a book proposal is a terrific idea if you want to write a non-fiction book, even if you intend to self-publish. It’s a way to carve a clear path for the road ahead in writing, publishing, and promoting your book.

Expertise in a topic, however, is not enough. Great writing skill is not enough. Enthusiasm means nothing. What is important is writing a proposal that sells your idea to a publisher. It must show, clearly and in an organized way:

You are an expert

You can write

You know who your audience is

You are willing to do what it takes to promote the book by participating in book signings, providing marketing and sales suggestions, based on your knowledge of your industry, and making yourself available for interviews, and more.

The proposal does not need to be long. Remember, acquisition editors are reading proposals all day long so they want to be excited, interested, and intrigued. Here’s what to include:

Your Cover Letter is a Sales Pitch: Make this particularly to-the-point. Some questions to ask yourself before writing :

  What is the hook or news angle of your book? This is your time to sell. Make the copy sparkle.

Is it really unusual or are there already published books on your topic?  How would yours be different?

List others in this subject matter and make the case for why your POV stands out.

Be specific about the competition, from the last five years, about title, author, publisher, ISBN number, page count, retail price. (You can use this data to determine which  publishers to whom you should submit your proposal.)

Why are you the person to write this book?

Who is the market for the book? If you have experience in marketing, let the publisher know in a paragraph or less how experienced, and successful, you have been and how that will help sell books.

What else have you written? This can include books, articles or blogs of national exposure.  

The heart and soul of the Book Proposal:

Table of Contents: This shows them how you think, how you will break down a large topic into useable, understandable, smaller parts. Include one or two sentences about each. chapter. Be creative about chapter names but always keep them on track with your book title.

Sample Chapter, or two which clearly demonstrates both your knowledge of the topic and your best writing style. Work on these! No first drafts. These must be polished examples of your thought process, your writing skill and your ability to present your topic in a lucid manner.Include samples of other works and/or a resume, if applicable. Do not use links unless you are submitting by email.

To Market, To Market, Who will Buy Your Book?

 Go through the latest edition of “Writer’s Market” for possible publishers.

 Do they publish topics like yours?

 Do they accept writers without representation or writers’ agents only?

How long have they been in business?

Do they have strong marketing and sales support?

      In addition to “Writer’s Market,” check those books that you’ve enjoyed reading that are similar to what you want to do. (You got much of that information for your cover letter.)

NOTE: The scope of publishers listed in various directories, including “Writer’s Market” varies. Please know that only writers who are self-publishing pay for printing their books. All legitimate publishers pay you for the work and provide all the details of the arrangement for publication and payment in a written contract. All contracts are subject to negotiation.

Submission Guidelines Aren’t Guidelines. They’re Rules. Publishers are very specific about what they do and do not publish and how they like to receive proposals. Check their websites for the guides and, follow these guidelines EXACTLY.

Submission guidelines include everything that is necessary. Follow these guidelines for best results. Determine the name of the Acquisition Editor who will recommend the book to the publisher and send your proposal to him/her. Submit in the way they like to receive proposals: email or snail mail. Double check for name, spellings and accuracy in the address. Find out if they offer a Work-for-Hire or Standard Royalty Contract.         

The Work-for-Hire contract is an arrangement where a writer provides a written item for a one-time fee. No royalties. The fee can be modest or substantial. You will usually transfer all rights to the publisher.

The Standard Royalty Contract is an arrangement where a writer provides a written item for an advance against royalties. The advance is paid in installments, generally but not always, at the time the contract is signed, when the item is submitted and when it is accepted. Some publishers withhold some of the advance until the item is published, something to be avoided. The advance money will be deducted from the royalties until they are repaid. All subsequent royalties are then paid to the author on a twice-yearly basis. The rights are maintained by you and the publisher until they cease publishing the book. Then, all rights revert back to you.

  Last thoughts: After creating a table of contents and writing a sample chapter or two, you may discover yourself on an entirely different path. Your topic may, in fact, be more appropriate for a longer article, or a series of blogs, but not a book. Or, you might realize that you’d rather write about something else. That’s all okay, because you are now closer to what you really want to write about and that will be reflected in your work in a very positive way. Always remember, writing a book proposal is creating a sales tool to get a publisher to buy your writing. Write it with clarity and concision and do it in a way that highlights your point of view. Try to make it both entertaining and informative, without sacrificing the expertise you want to share. Good luck!

Diana Rosen is the author of 10 books on food and beverage and the co-author of three additional titles including “Taking Time for Tea,” “CHAI: The Spice Tea of India” and “50 Jewish Women who Changed the World” with Deborah F. Felder.

One thought on “YOU CAN WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL! Here’s How

  1. This article is AMAZING! I learned so many things reading it—many of the topics touched upon are not readily available on the Internet or otherwise. I loved that the contract-types were broken down as so often writers are led to believe that if you just write something good, a publisher will pay you an advance and a big check upon publishing. It is truly a nuanced industry with many rules and guidelines. You are right, Diana—writing well is not enough. It’s about being multi-faceted and having a business mind when it comes to your product – the book. Thanks for this post. Can’t wait for the next one!


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