How To Write A Book Proposal

    Categories: Publishing Options

OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn

Despite the changes in the publishing industry, many people still want to pursue a traditional publishing deal. Maybe you're one of them.

Although I am currently happy self-publishing my books, I would definitely consider a print book deal once I have evidence of excellent sales. I also like to keep you in touch with all the options for your book and I know many consider traditional publishing the holy grail.

The book proposal is the scary monster that must be faced if you are pitching agents and publishers. It is in some ways harder than your book to write. How on earth can you distil your months/years of hard work down into a catchy proposal that hooks you the deal you want?

I recently bought ‘Writing a winning fiction book proposal: An insider's secrets to landing an agent and a book contract” by Michael Hyatt and wanted to share some key points from the ebook. There is a non-fiction equivalent as well if you'd rather check that out. (Yes, I am an affiliate because I think it's a useful product.)

4 key points on writing your book proposal

  • Agents and publishers do not want to see your manuscript (unless they ask for it). They need to be hooked on your project within seconds or you will go into the trash pile. The proposal is your chance to impress and it must include certain elements. In a way, it's not that hard because the questions are often the same. So there is a kind of formula, you just need to know what it is. The proposal will also give you a chance to think critically about your own book. If you can't distill your book down into these important elements, then maybe there is something you need to fix?
  • You need to know the genre your book fits into. Your book won't be interesting or relevant to everyone in the world. You need to understand the niche you fit into and where your book would go in a bookshop. This is also critical before you even pitch because agents specialize in certain genres. You can't pitch a sci-fi book to a romance agent, or horror to someone specializing in literary fiction. That's wasting everyone's time. You should be researching agents first. Many of them have blogs now so you can find out more on what they like and represent. Also, don't make a genre up. Do your research on where your book fits. You can also mention what other books your book is like. I always say Pentecost is like Dan Brown meets Lara Croft. It gives you an instant idea of what the book is like.
  • Write your hook in 9 sentences or less. There is a full breakdown in the ebook as to how you can do that but understanding that you need to get it down to basically a paragraph is key. It means writing and rewriting, breaking it down to the most important elements until you have a coherent, irresistible hook. Writing your own back blurb is a similar process.
  • The synopsis is a breakdown of the plot from beginning to end. Don't say “read the book to find out the story”. They don't have time! It has to be short and to the point, but also complete with all the plot points. It demonstrates your book is a complete story and has enough in it to justify looking further. It will also demonstrate your own writing ability.

Why should you buy these ebooks instead of any other books on book proposals? 

I have been reading Michael's blog for several years now and still consider it a must-read site. I frequently tweet his posts and bookmark them myself for re-reading. He's an author himself, but has also been a literary agent as well as working in publishing for many years ending up as the Chairman of Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publishers in the world. He has been around the publishing block a few times!

I believe wholeheartedly that you buy things from people you know, like and trust. Michael has earned my trust through his fantastic content and also producing clear, easy to use ebooks at a reasonable price. I am an affiliate because I think they are useful and I hope you also find them helpful in your journey.

You can buy the fiction or non-fiction book proposal ebooks here for US$19.97 each or a reduced price for both.

I also recommend subscribing to Michael's blog as he posts a lot on publishing as well as leadership and other topics. He has a useful interview with Rachelle Gardner here on publishing tips and if you want to go the traditional publishing route, I definitely recommend her blog as well.

Have you tried the dreaded query letter? Do you have any tips?


Top image: iStockphoto.

Bottom image: Michael Hyatt

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (5)

  • I can only speak from a non-fiction perspective, but I was surprised by how 'sales and marketing' focused a book proposal needs to be. Not dissimilar to a normal business plan, the publisher basically wants to see who your market is, why they would buy your book and how you are going to sell it once the initial launch period is over. I found plenty of good examples and resources on the web for writing these proposals. Mine was around 5 pages long.
    Also key is finding a publisher who publishes the kind of book you have written.

    • Thanks Richard - I think authors need to remember in general that publishers are in business to make money so sales & marketing is important. It holds just as true for self-published authors!

  • Thanks for this Joanna. I've been considering buying those ebooks of Michael Hyatt's for some months, and now I might actually do it. When I do, I shall come back here and use your link, so you get a little income to keep you in business! I follow his blog too - it's really useful on so many publishing angles.

    I'm one of those odd people in both camps. As an editor, my clients are both traditional publishers and self-publishers. As a writer, I am currently writing three books, two of which I have always planned to self-publish, and for the third I will explore the traditional route first.

    I do regard the book proposal as a scary monster! I need all the help I can get!

  • Thanks for stressing that a proposal's genre needs to be identified, and it needs to be real, actual, something others in the publishing industry would recognize. More than a few new authors think that identifying two genres for their work doubles the market. Actually, many know that if a book doesn't sit on one stool, no group of buyers will own it or call it theirs. Keep going!

  • Congratulations on your book. I`'ll read as soon as I have a,chance. May I just ask as a newbie if a website is necessary as well as a blog? Some people say blog is as useful as website. Kind regards trish