Getting Published: How to Write a Winning Book Proposal

Writing a winning book proposal is an essential part of getting published.

You obviously need to put your best foot forward when presenting yourself to prospective agents and publishers.

Ideally you want to work with someone who has experience in selling and packaging books or someone who has a fresh eye and isn’t so close to the material, such as a writing or book coach, or even an agent, in order to create the best proposal possible. However, you can get off to a good start by following the book proposal writing guidelines below:

Front Cover — It’ best to have a designer create a sample cover for you, one that fits with the genre/subject of your book (note: the publisher is highly unlikely to ever use this as your book cover but by using a powerful image you can help better present your work.)

Table of Contents  — This is the detail of your Book Proposal, not the T.O.C for your actual book. Leave the creation of this until the last minute, when you actually know for sure what elements you will be including in your proposal.

Book Overview — Write a 1 – 2 page description (in third person) about what happens in the book, covering story arc, resolution, solution for the non-fiction reader, etc. Look at book cover copy to give you a guide. This is your “pitch,” it needs to excite, entice, and show that you have clarity around the progression of your work and that you have a complete, vs. half-baked, idea.

Target Audience — Before you can provide information on the potential size of your readership, firstly you need to know who they are. If your book is fiction, look for themes in your work that might interest certain groups, such as the history in relation to the major locations where the book is set, an activity (shopping, sailing, skiing, sex), relevant groups such as nannies, gardeners, chauffeurs, ex-pat’s — providing your book relates to the story of someone in one of these professions/demographic groups.

Similarly, for a non-fiction book, identify the group for whom the book provides a solution and then all of the potential sub-groups or influencers of your target audience, for example: Your book is about overcoming divorce from a woman’s perspective, your primary target audience is therefore female divorcees. Influencers might include family therapists, counselors, priests, female friends, family members and other divorce experts.

Once you’re clear on who you are targeting, start to find statistics through online research to show how big your potential audience might be, and use these statistics in your proposal as supporting evidence.

About the Author  — This section is also typically written in third-person, e.g:

“Adams is an experienced public speaker and a multiple award-winning author whose works have been translated into Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. Her latest book takes a humorous look at our addiction to modern technology.”

Your need to focus on including information relevant to your skill set as an author, rather than what grades you got in college! Such as: public speaking, your networks, professional organizations, prior media experience, any previously published works, awards or foreign translations and why you are qualified to write this book if it’s non-fiction.  I also recommend you include a good quality author photograph and your website address.


Examples of Author Photographs – Bad vs. Great:

This author looks like right a Smart Aleck. His hand seems to be required to support his enormous brain and the image is dark, pooly lit and makes him seem inaccessible and unprofessional. NOT what you are aiming for!

This is a lovely, warm, inviting author photo. High-resolution, well-lit and professional. You feel like you’d want to meet her. Exactly what you are aiming for!

If you have previous media experience, bestseller status, awards, a mailing list of 500,000 or a 20,00o Twitter following, anything that makes your stand out from the rest, then include it here. You can always include good quality graphics of press articles, or put in the logo’s of the key media you have worked with here and in the following pages.

Proposed Marketing — Aim to include a realistic amount of marketing activity that you as the author will take responsibility for during a specific timeframe, e.g. the first 12 – 18 months after the book’s launch.

There are so many ways to market your book, the question isn’t really how, but how much? And this questions also refers to how much time and money you actually have to invest in marketing. Typically I recommend apportioning 20% of your advance to marketing and PR. If you are self-publishing you would expect to put aside somewhere between $2,000 – $20,000 for this purpose. You don’t have to spend it all at once, but over the course of the promotional period — 6 months prior to publication to 18 months after the pub date.

The list below covers the majority of book marketing techniques, but there are plenty of others, for more examples take a look at John Kremer’s fantastic book, 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and visit his website.

 Give a description against each of the activities that you plan to utilize, including, if any, the budget you have and the potential reach that this activity might achieve.

  • Events

  • Book Endorsements and Foreword

  • Social Media

  • Video

  • Partners & Affiliates

  • Reviews / Reader Giveaways

  • TV, Radio, Magazines

  • Book Tour

  • Website

  • Seminars & Talks

Competitive Titles — You should show between 3 and 5 books that are in some way similar to, or competitive to your proposed book. Ideally you need to have read them in order to be able to write a detailed analysis of how your book compares, which is what publishers are looking for. Particularly where the competing books are weak in comparison to yours, how yours offers something different to readers and how the writing styles compare.

You don’t need to include sales figures for the competitive titles, but you should include basic meta-data, such as:

  • The Publisher and publication date

  • Name of the Author

  • ISBN and price of the book

  • Genre and page count

It’s also advisable to include images of the book covers but make sure they are high-res and copy them from somewhere other than Amazon so you don’t get the image with the Search Inside logo above. See the difference below:

Image of cover from Amazon:

Clean cover image:


Book Table of Contents — This is simply the skeleton outline of your book where you would include any front matter materials, such as:

  • Foreword

  • Introduction

  • Acknowledgements

Then you just list your chapters and the chapter titles:

  • Chapter 1 – Getting to Grips with Grief

  • Chapter 2 – The Value of Emotional Assets

  • Chapter 3 – The Opportunity

And, so on…..

Finally, you want to include any sections that you plan to feature within the back matter, such as:

  • Epilogue

  • Recommended Organizations

  • Recommended Websites

  • Bibliography

  • Index

Chapter Outline — This is a short, one to two paragraph description of each chapter written in third person about the characters or content (even if the character is you!). Your focus is on showing the development of the story, not the details, you want to communicate the drama, the twists and turns, the excitement of your story, or, if non-fiction, how the book identifies, then solves the problem for the reader, or inspires them to live a new life, etc.

Remember, your final number of chapters may differ from the proposed number, this is okay, the important point behind outlining your chapters is to show publishers and agents that you know what you are doing and that you have a fully developed book in your head, even if it still needs to make the journey onto a piece of paper!

Timeline to Completion — If you are submitting sample chapters, for a non-fiction book or you are sending some sample materials to your agent, you will want to provide a realistic timeline for when your book will be completed. If you are sending 3 sample chapters but have completed 15, make sure you say this and explain that you still have 10 more chapters to write and aim to be finished within six months.

 Contact Information — Simple stuff here, just include your phone, email and website address, if you have one. If an agent represents you, include their contact details here as well.

Lastly, remember to get someone to edit your proposal before you submit it to agents or publishers and have 2 – 3 people read through, preferably someone in the business or with experience in selling products because that is your ultimate aim here, to sell your product (you and your book!).

 I’d love to know more about your Book Proposal writing challenges below, feel free to post your thoughts below. . .


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Getting Published

Author:Gemini Adams

Multiple-award winning, bestselling author, artist and founder of the Finish Your Book educational program.

Subscribe to Finish Your Book

Follow Finish Your Book for the latest news and expert advice on writing, publishing and promoting books.

3 Comments on “Getting Published: How to Write a Winning Book Proposal”

  1. May 15, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Thank you for that quick, visually compelling primer on writing book proposals!

  2. July 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Thank you .. I am excited to start work on my proposal and this is a great guideline/

  3. November 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    Very beneficial to start with info, thanks for your article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: