Everyone has a book to write based on his or her experiences. Think of all we go through, people we meet, the adventures we live to tell about. We should take the time to document all those memories.
Sometimes, we want to take it to the next level and write a book.
If it’s a novel, that is considered fiction. In order to have it published, you have to write the whole thing before even thinking of approaching an agent or editor.
If it’s a book about your grandma’s recipes, essays, or a craft book, a guide to life, etc – that is considered non-fiction. You don’t need to have a completed manuscript, but you do need to have a proposal.
For this article, I’ll share what you need to know to write and compile non-fiction book proposals. (Pitching to agents and editors is another article to come.) I have seven published craft books, so I’m sharing my experience based on those. Even though it seems like a heck of a lot of work, trust me, it is worth it. When your book sells to a publisher (and it will, right?) and it is time to start writing, all you have to do is pull out that proposal and follow along. Not only will your editor know exactly what to expect, but you’ll know exactly what to write!
How to choose a topic for your book
Be specific. For example, don’t say “I want to write a sewing book!” There are a gazillion sewing books on the market. You have to have laser beam focus on what kind of sewing book you will present. It has to be different and stand out from the rest. Visit the bookstore (or publisher web sites) and check out the offerings in the genre you want to write. This part is kind of tricky – note what has not been covered yet, but that has potential. If there are six books on T-shirt quilts, you don’t want to pitch a T-shirt quilt book. Maybe T-shirt totes or vintage scarf quilts. Think ahead of trend, maybe research runways shows to see what is up and coming and then dial it in to your style.
Once you have your topic – brainstorm titles, as well as a mission statement for the purpose of your book. (Note: Publishers have final say on titles and cover photos!)
OPTIONAL: If your book is very visual, you might want to consider sending a sample of your work – such as a purse for a purse book, etc. For my sewing book, I made each of the editorial board members a little sewing kit in the style of my proposed book. They loved it!
Okay, here go!
How to write a proposal
From my experience, these are the topics you need to cover in your proposal.
TITLE PAGE: You proposed title, subtitle, your name and date.
INTRO: This is your elevator pitch. In one tight paragraph, sock it to ‘em with what the book is about. (It’s Charlie’s Angels-meets-Martha Stewart!). This is the stage where they could go – “Nah.” So deliver your best stuff here.
MARKET POTENTIAL: List your trending topics that support your idea. You may have a brilliant idea, but you have to have proof that it is brilliant. You have to paint a snappy picture so the editor or agent will keep reading the rest of your proposal. You have to prove that there is a need in the market for this book. Mention research studies here, pop culture references, magazine articles, etc. This is the area where you tell why your book NEEDS to be published, what void is it filling?
TARGET AUDIENCE: Whom do you see spending money to buy your book? The broader, the better. If it is too much of a niche, it won’t be worth it for the publisher to invest in having the book printed or give you an advance. Brainstorm all the different types of people who will buy your book and present them here.
COMPARABLE TITLES: List books (and publishers) that are in the same spirit, along with a comment by each one of how your book is better or different. (“Mine has the same playful spirit and tone, but instead of home décor, I’m showing the fashion angle”). Look for reader reviews to support your book idea. Example: You want to do a book on pet costumes. Your book will be different because instead of just showing costumes for dogs and cats like other books on the market, you are going to show costumes for other types of pets. You would list a recent book on pet costumes and look at the reader reviews. Maybe there is one that says “I loved this book but wish they had included costumes for other pets as well.” You would add that by the comparable title. I usually add about six comparable titles in my proposals.
HIGHLIGHTS: Will your book have photos or illustrations? Include that here. Bullet points of main features, tip boxes, etc anything different that you are going to include in your book. Again, look at other books on the market in similar categories and see what you can add to your book to make it different! People don’t want what is already out there – they want NEW. They will spend their money on NEW. Buzz is always about NEW. Make sure your book delivers!
SERIES POTENTIAL: Can your book be made into a series? If so, list future title ideas here.
AUTHOR PLATFORM: Why YOU are the one and only person who can author this book and make it a hit. List your specific credentials. Publishers LOVE authors who already have strong platforms (web sites, blogs, social media). Include your data here for all of that, a bio as well. All your high points of your career, put those here.
PHOTOGRPAHER OR ILLUSTRATOR: List their info here along with a sample of their work as it relates to your book.
MARKETING OPPORTUNITIES: You should have a list of ideas for promoting your book once it is published. Embrace the art of self-promotion. Instead of saying, “I’ll Twitter it” say “I’ll come up with a book trailer, free bookmarks, contest ideas and giveaways, I’ll connect with local book sellers, etc”. Be specific. You have to show the editor or agent that you are 100% dedicated to making your book a success! Pretend that there is no marketing team, only you. What would you do to get people to buy your book?
ANY OTHER INFORMATION: If you feel you have important information that will help your proposal, add it here.
This is where you fully outline your book. Pretend that you are opening the cover – list everything included: Title page, intro, history of topic, glossary, quiz, tools you need, techniques, chapter titles, project ideas (with short explanation), sidebars, photo examples, index, etc.
INTRO: Yes. You will need to write the intro to your book, just as if it were being published tomorrow.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: A fully written chapter from start to finish!
My proposals for my craft books are usually between 30-35 pages, double-spaced. It takes me a dedicated week to compile a proposal. This will vary from topic to topic!
There will always be the chance that an agent or editor will pass for whatever reason. I’ve learned that if they like your style and voice, they will come back with ideas for revisions or another book altogether. If you get a solid rejection letter, I wouldn’t bother them any further for that specific proposal. Chances are you won’t get a reply. Publishers usually have a team of editors who make these decisions together, preaching to one editor won’t help. Plus, you don’t want to damage your chances of submitting again in the future for a different title.
Here is a pep talk: I once had a proposal rejected, so I set it aside. I then pitched a different book to a different publisher, who rejected it but asked if I had any other book ideas. I whipped out that previous proposal and freshened it up. That is what became Crafty Chica’s Guide to Artful Sewing! And it is my best-selling book to date!
Keep the faith and don’t give up!
15 thoughts on “INSPIRATION FRIDAY: How to Write a Book Proposal”
Thanks for all of the helpful and concise information. I printed this from my computer for future reference. I have so many ideas.
Awesome! I have wanted to write a book about my life for 16 years now. You see, 16 years ago I had an AVM that rendered me unconscious and every defining characteristic if ME has taking at 180 degree turn! And since my accident, I have had a hard time fleshing out my ideas and this definitely puts me on the path. Thanks!
This was extremely helpful! I have been sitting on a craft book idea for several months but haven’t really done much beyond the concept stage. I think I’m going to get my butt in gear and write up the formal proposal, and send it in! Thanks for the inspiration!!
great article!! I have lots of ideas floating and crashing around in my head! thanks for the great inspiration.
this is some great information – the kind of advice that is hard to come by! I have all kinds of ideas floating and crashing around in my head – thanks for the inspiration!!
I have a really short inspirational book ready to go. It is for adults or kids. I’d love to have it published. Thanks for putting it back on my mind.
This is wonderful – I’m def. saving to refer to again later! Very well-explained. Thanks, Kathy!
Really informative–it’s great to get tips from someone who’s succeeded in this already! 🙂 Thank you.
Thank you for sharing such valuable information…it’s wonderful when women reach out to each other and share the knowledge they got the hard way.
Kathy……you are so incredibly amazing, kind and generous – wow……this is such great info. I’m going to recommend everyone read this piece – it should be in Writer’s Digest!
Thanks so much Kathy,
Love, Violette xo
Thanks so much for this very helpful article. I have a question, though. Do you need to have a photographer or illustrator lined up to work with you for the book proposal, or will the publisher help you to find one if they’re interested? I imagine that it would be helpful for the sample chapter, but can you use placeholder photos for this part of the proposal? How did you do it for your first proposal, before you were established as a writer?
Thanks for the great feedback, glad you liked it!
As far as photog and illos – some houses have their own. my first two books i had to send my projects to their corporate office, the others i hired someone locally. i had to submit their work and resume to my editor.
it is always good to have someone in mind and ready to go, just in case they ask!
hope that helps!!
That does help–thanks so much for sharing your knowledge 🙂
Thank you so much. It’s funny, I paid money to take a class like this in the past… Waste of money and I walked away with minimal information. So, thank you for your generosity.
Thank you so much!