According to Mollie a course in miracles in the 2009 Guide to Literary Agents(1), the essential five elements that agents and publishers are seeking when they read your proposal are:
1) An original idea. What fresh, original and engaging idea will your book present?
2) But not too original. What published books share the same audience as your book? Why were those books successful, and why will your book appeal to the same readers?
3) A clear sense of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. What’s the scope of your book? How are you going to set about gathering and presenting your information?
4) Why is this an important book? How is your book different (and better than) other similar books? Why is now the time to publish a book on your chosen subject?
5) Why are you the go-to-guy (or gal) to write a book on this subject? You may have heard the word “platform” floating around and wondered what it means. Put simply, there are two kinds of platforms, and ideally you want to demonstrate that you’ve got both. First: What makes you an expert and clear choice to write the book you’re proposing? Second: What media connections do you have that will help you reach your intended audience with your message?
Elements of a Book Proposal
It must be said that writing a book proposal is a project in itself! The proposal is not short – typically up to 30 pages, demonstrating that you have carried out a wealth of research and have lots of ideas about how to market the product and get readers to buy it.
You will need sections as follows – the exact number of sections and the weight given to each one will be dependent upon the kind of book (eg self-help, special-interest human story, travel, ‘how-to’ etc.):
1. Overview / Abstract
This is the ‘big picture’ of your book. It must be clear, concise, and set out the premise of the book from your original idea to full scope, why it has importance, and why you are the perfect person to write it. Keep to one page maximum and make certain that every word counts. If you can’t write a succinct, interesting and punchy abstract, you’re lost from the word go!
Use this section to provide more detail than in the overview of the book parameters, ie length, structure, format etc. Essentially you must state how the material is going to be delivered.
3. About the Author / Biography
Here is where you can expand on the Abstract and provide specific details about your qualifications, relevant work experience, previous publications, media appearances and newspaper / magazine coverage etc. Include short clips of especially relevant publications, particularly other non-fiction books you have authored.
4. Audience / Market
There are millions of books out there. Justify here why there’s a need for another one – your book, who you expect to buy it. Include statistics and figures if possible to back-up your claims, such as circulation figures for magazines in the genre, club /forum / list membership figures and so on.
5. Publicity / Marketing plans
These days most publishers expect their authors to get involved in these aspects of publishing. Show you are enthusiastic and self-motivated; how willing and able you are to reach out to potential readers yourself and how you intend to do that. Write about your promotional ideas, and ensure that everything you say is realistic and achievable. Include your media connections, such as your Blog, any social media platforms where you have a presence (State the number of Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn etc. followers) and any other media networks where you feature or have people who will help promote you.
6. Competitor Analysis
Demonstrate your knowledge of the competition: a) include successful books that would appeal to your audience and b) argue that your book will become equally successful – and also explain why it is different and better. Do not appear either ignorant or dishonest – that would be a real ‘turn-off’ to an agent!
7. Chapter Outline
How many chapters will the book have? What are the topics covered and how will the chapters / topics fit together and flow? This section can be bulleted or in paragraphs. Deliver one to three sample chapters which are the ‘proof of the pudding’. They will be your showcase – the closest thing the agent can currently see that resembles the finished product – so they need to be excellent, both in terms of content and quality of writing. They do not have to be sequential, although including the first one is a given.