In either case, you've probably toyed with the idea of writing a book, or maybe you've already written one. But how do you go about getting an agent or a publisher? If you're writing fiction, you need only a query letter and a synopsis. But if you're writing memoir or any sort of nonfiction, agents and publisher will want a book proposal.
Okay, you think, I'm a writer; I can do that, but where do I start? First, if you haven't already done it, you need to determine to whom you will send your proposal. You may be looking for a literary agent to represent you or an editor to take on the project. There are various printed resource catalogues of agents, editors, and publishers you can look through; and you can also go to a bookstore and look for the current publishers in your category. But keep in mind that any printed catalog quickly goes out of date; be sure to double-check each name and organization online, and even call publishers to verify an individual's name to send your proposal to. The publishing business changes constantly. You may find that the agent or editor you were targeting has moved, or that the organization is currently taking only proposals for certain types of books.
After you have a verified list of people that you are going to approach and you know they are at least willing to look at your proposal, it's time to write the proposal.
So what goes into a book proposal? No matter whether you're creating a "how-to" book about how to gardening or programming, documenting the history of your town, or writing a biography of a superstar, any agent or publisher will want to see the same basic information. Put yourself in the reader's shoes—that person wants to know who you are, what you are offering, and why they should be interested in partnering with you to publish the book.
First of all (of course), you need a Cover Letter, which should succinctly explain who you are, what you want, and provide all your contact information. Following that should be a Title page, which should simply say something like "Proposal for Sugar Free but Taste Rich, a cookbook by master chef Jane Smith."
Following the Title page, you should create a Summary and/or a Concept page—in other words, what is your book about? What will it offer the reader? Speaking of readers, you will also need to provide a page that describes your Market and Audience, meaning the readers who will want your book. Descriptions here might be something like "Parents of autistic children" or "Anyone renovating a Victorian house." If you can provide numbers of people in those categories, that type of concrete information will help persuade the reader that there is a good opportunity to sell the book. For example, if your book is about bird watching, you can probably find numbers of members of various bird watching organizations, or dollar amounts of sales of bird feed, etc.
The reader will want to know why you are qualified to write the book, so you'll need to write an Author Bio to explain your expertise, your history, and your passion for the subject.
Next, you need to do a Market Study. Don't panic - you don't need to do telephone surveys or anything onerous like that. In a book proposal, a market study or analysis means listing the other successful books currently available on the same subject or in the same category (your competition), and explaining how your book will differ from them.
If your book is a scholarly study, you may need to include a Bibliography or a list of Reference Material that you will draw from as you write your book. For any type of book, you will provide an Outline of your book - this is usually a list of chapter titles with brief descriptions of what each chapter will contain. Finally, you need to provide one or more Sample chapters so that the reader can evaluate your writing skill and style.
If your book is already written and you've received reviews from credible sources (meaning other authors or experts in the field, not your family or friends), you'll want to include a Reviews page or a Testimonials page to let the reader know that others appreciate your expertise and writing skill.
Finally, if your book proposal is fairly lengthy, you may want to include a Table of Contents right after your Title page to help the readers easily find the sections they are most interested in.
Naturally, you need to proofread your book proposal until it is flawless, because you are pitching your writing skill as well as your expertise in a subject. Every writer needs an editor, so if at all possible, be sure to have someone else read through your proposal before you send it out. Make sure your proposal package looks attractive and professional, too.
You're a writer, so you could start off each of these sections by staring at a blank word processor screen and then typing away. But you could also choose to make it easy on yourself and start with a proposal kit, kits will include templates for all the pages mentioned above. Each template has instructions and examples that will remind you of what sort of information should go on each page, so using a proposal kit can make the writing much more efficient and help you get your book proposal "out there" faster. There are hundreds of templates and sample proposals and tons of instructions to guide you in writing everything from a business plan to a grant request.
Ian Lauder has been helping businesses and individuals write their proposals and contracts for over a decade. => For more tips and best practices when writing your business proposals and legal contracts go to http://www.proposalkit.com
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