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An irresistible book proposal is the key to attracting the interest of a large publisher. The six largest publishers produce between 75 and 85 percent of all books published in North America today. The remaining 15-25% of books are published by the other 2,200 publishers. If you seek a wide, national audience and are hoping for a slot on the bestseller list, you’ll need to be published by one of the large publishers.


Writing a nonfiction book is the easiest route to becoming published because of these factors:



In my workshops, I always encourage participants to write what they’re most passionate about, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. However, if you’re undecided and are equally excited about both your nonfiction and fiction book projects, do the nonfiction book first. If your heart is set on fiction, though, next month’s newsletter will provide a template for preparing a fiction book proposal.


I’m sure you’ve heard that it’s difficult to get published. This is not true. Since 80% of all new books fail (that is, they do not last longer than six weeks on bookstore shelves), the industry thrives on a constant turnaround of books. The key is to give the publishers a well-conceived project and an excellent book proposal.


All successful book proposals are essentially superb business propositions. You are asking publishers to invest their money in your project. Your writing should be strong, confident, and hard-hitting. It’s the writer’s responsibility to review the market, identify the audience for the book, document the need for the book, analyze the competition, and develop a book promotion plan. You may have a fabulous idea for a book, but unless your idea is presented in a format that is understandable to publishers, you won’t get published.


Sections of a nonfiction book proposal:


1. COVER SHEET (title and subtitle of book; author’s name, address, phone, fax, email)
TABLE OF CONTENTS (include list of attachments)

3. CONCEPT STATEMENT (optional—briefly state the target audience, why they need this book, why your book is unique or timely, why you are an authority on the topic, and what your book offers that other books don’t).

4. OVERVIEW (how you came to write the book—weave in attention-getting facts; this must be the most compelling part of your proposal!)

5. PURPOSE OF THE BOOK (what will your book do? what need will it fill? how will it benefit readers?)

6. DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (give page length, trim size, and sales price; describe type of illustrations)

7. THE MARKET/AUDIENCE (who will buy your book? why do they want or need it? give statistics!)

8. COMPETITIVE BOOKS (what else exists? where is it shelved? how is your book new and better? how does your book differ from all other books on this topic?)

9. MARKETING OF THE BOOK (bookstores, book clubs, Internet, clubs, associations)

10. SPECIAL SALES (if applicable—these are sales outside of a bookstore environment such as retail store chains, specialty stores, catalogs)

11. PROMOTION & PUBLICITY (list newspapers, magazines, TV & radio stations that the publisher should contact)

12. AUTHOR’S PROMOTIONAL CONTRIBUTION (list everything you’ll do to make the book successful; be sure to include Internet sites you’ll contact and all of your ideas for author appearances and events)

13. COMPLETION OF THE BOOK (state that “x” months from date of contract you will deliver the manuscript—usually a 9-12 month period is allowed)

14. SEQUELS (optional—list 1-3 other projects that interest you and that have a large audience)

15. ABOUT THE AUTHOR (your background and experience; why you are the best person to write the book)

16. CHAPTER OUTLINES (use outline verbs – see pp. 96-97 of How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen)

17. TWO SAMPLE CHAPTERS (your first chapter to set the tone for book and your best chapter)

18. CLOSING THOUGHT (optional—an uplifting quote that pertains to the subject matter of your book)

19. ATTACHMENTS (exhibits that will enhance your credibility and the importance and timeliness of your book)


When you’re ready to prepare your book proposal, I suggest that you copy the proposal outline above to a Word document and leave space between each topic heading. Print this form and take it with you wherever you go. As ideas occur to you for the various sections, record them. Soon, with diligence, you’ll find that you’ve made excellent progress on your proposal during the “waiting” times we all experience (waiting for a flight, waiting for kids to finish swim practice, etc.).


For unpublished writers, I find that the two most difficult parts of a book proposal are the OVERVIEW (you need to make sure this is absolutely compelling) and the AUTHOR’S PROMOTIONAL CONTRIBUTION (writers often overlook many ideas that will help make their book successful). In future newsletters, I will cover these topics in depth.


I recommend that you refer to the following books for assistance in preparing a nonfiction book proposal:


How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen

Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why by Jeff Herman & Deborah Levine Herman

Nonfiction Book Proposals by Elizabeth Lyon

1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer

Guerilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons to Help You Sell Your Work by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman & Michael Larsen


Expect to spend a lot of time preparing your book proposal. Sometimes my proposals will take me over 100 hours. If you are not intimately familiar with the material in the above books, your proposal could take much longer.


Writers often tell me that it sounds like publishers are more interested in the book proposal than the book itself. This is true. Publishers want you to demonstrate the need for the book and tell them everything you will do to promote the book, in addition to presenting them with an excellent book.


The better a case you can build for a book, such as providing statistics showing a specific audience and explaining how you will reach that audience, the larger your advance will be. You must show how your audience will benefit from your book.


© 2010 June Cotner, publishing consultant and author of the bestselling Graces and Dog Blessings and 24 other books. PO Box 2765, Poulsbo, WA 98370


For more information on having your book concept analyzed or your nonfiction book proposal evaluated, please go to:


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