Why We Need a Book Proposal for Every Book We Write

I’ve never met an author who likes to write book proposals, yet if we hope to sign with a traditional publisher, we need a book proposal – a really good book proposal. Aside from being tedious and time-consuming, parts of a book proposal are challenging, such as researching competitive titles, selling ourselves as the ideal person to write the book, and talking about our platform (a.k.a. how we can move books).

To further complicate things, there is no standard format for the ideal proposal. True, there are some common expectations, but the list varies. Even the order is a matter of preference. To further frustrate matters, some people advise including items that other equally knowledgeable folks say to ignore.

This all conspires to make writing a book proposal a chore. Thankfully we only have to write book proposals if we’re going the traditional publishing route, right? No. The gurus say to do a proposal if we’re going to self-publish, too. Yeah, like I’m going to do that.

However, I recently gained some insight into this when attending a book proposal workshop by Andrew Rogers at the March Jot Conference. In addition to giving the most helpful information I’ve ever encountered on the subject, the act of writing parts of a proposal in class was insightful.

For the purpose of the exercise, I used my current WIP (work in progress) Women in the Bible – for which I did not have a written proposal because I plan to self-publish it. Noting the title and subtitle was easy, since I already knew that. A synopsis paragraph affirmed my vision for the book, while describing the target audience was insightful. Though we didn’t have time for it, writing the hook – a compelling one to two sentences to sum up the book – would provide additional clarity. Last is the table of contents, which effectively is an outline to guide the writing. (I realized that to self-publish I could skip the other items of a typical proposal, including a detailed outline, platform information, author bio, and sample chapters. Yea!)

Having these five key items established would help me write and hone any book I want to self-publish. Plus, they wouldn’t take too long or be burdensome to develop. Armed with this insight, I intend to write a mini book proposal for all my future self-published books to guide my writing and clarify my vision.

The items for a mini book proposal when self-publishing are:

  1. Title and subtitle
  2. Hook
  3. Synopsis paragraph
  4. Target audience
  5. Table of contents

This is not an overwhelming list and won’t take much time to pull together. Remember, this will make our book easier to write and the finished product, better.

What’s your experience writing book proposals? Do you see yourself writing a mini book proposal for your next self-published book?

4 thoughts on “Why We Need a Book Proposal for Every Book We Write

  1. I also learned through writing a proposal that it helped clarify my writing. Helped me better understand my own purpose in the book! I need to do that for my current writing. Even if self-publishing, you will need a “sell sheet”, which is very similar to the proposal. You can send that out when trying to get stores to stock your book.

  2. Hello, Peter. I don’t have a proposal for my book. This is the first time I hear about it. It makes sense. When am done with the last edits, I will work on one. Your post is clear and helpful. Saving it for later. Thank you!

    I don’t think I could write a proposal before I had a book, as Sally suggests. The book I have written has a mind of its own, so it wouldn’t have worked.

    Have a blessed New Year!

What do you think? Please leave a comment!