Consider including the following in your proposal:
Overview: This is a concise opening statement that describes your book in broad strokes. Make sure you include important points made in each of the following sections, and be sure to tell us about the market for your book. Think of this as a salesletter for your book … it should be exciting to read (without being full of hype). Sounds like a tall order? The more convincing it is, the more likely we are to keep reading. This section can run three pages or longer – but should be no longer than is absolutely necessary. (That’s a good rule in general.)
Your Competition: Compare your book to four, five, or even six of your major competing titles. Make it crystal clear to us how your book is better, unique or distinct. This section should be fairly brief; one or two pages. (Hint: writers who criticize best-selling titles are not on their own side, let alone ours. Sales are important.)
Your Market: Who will buy your book? Describe their interests, age, gender, lifestyle choices, etc. It’s important to note that there may be many people interested in the subject of your book, but do they buy books? (Women between the age of thirty and sixty make up the largest population of book buyers.) Are there any special markets you appeal to (libraries, hospitals, etc.)? This section should also be brief, only one or two pages.
Publicity: If you have access to press or have been involved with the media, let us know. If you speak to the public, teach, or have been on television, let us know. The more notches on your belt, the more promotable you are. This section is usually one page.
Your Biography: Whatever hasn’t been mentioned already should be included in this section. Previous books or articles should go here, but also anything in your personal history that relates to your book. For example, if you are writing a book about getting over a divorce because you’ve been through three, that’s very helpful for us to know. This experience should convince us that you have what it takes to write this book; that you have something valuable to offer the reader. Depending upon how much you have to tell us about yourself, this may run one, two, or even three pages.
Chapter Breakdown: A book outline helps you get clear on the contents of your book, and helps us to get a broad view of how it helps the reader. List your chapters in order (e.g. Chapter One: How to Find Your Way Home, Chapter Two: What To Do When You Get There, etc.) with a brief outline of the chapter itself. You are not writing the chapters. You are selling us on reading them. Make the outline a compelling brief itself, and we’ll want more. This is the heart of your proposal, so make it good! You may need quite a few pages to outline your book, but anything longer than fifteen will likely make us worry about the scope of the book.
The Title: You may think that your title is perfect just as it is, and it may be. Or, we may not agree with you. Include a brief section about your title – why you chose it, and why you think it works. If you are open to changing it, indicate that – it will make it easier for us to say yes to you.
Sample Chapter: If you have already written a book or published articles before, you may not need to submit a sample chapter for this book (unless this book is different from everything you’ve ever done). In that case, attach a clip or two to your proposal. If you decide you need to include a sample chapter, make sure your draft is well-written and interesting.
Consider the “voice” of your proposal carefully. Writing as if you are presenting the book to your eventual reader will help you to keep your tone personal and intimate. You’ll also be more likely to offer immediate, compelling information.
We want to hear your enthusiasm and passion for your subject, but there’s a limit to how much. Once your prose becomes purple or you start to ramble, you’ve lost us.
Don’t gab. Only write as much as you need to. We’re busy and will appreciate your brevity and professionalism.
Format your proposal so that it’s easy to read. We prefer double-spaced, single-sided, unbound proposals. Remember to keep it professional, and print dark type on good paper. We do not read proposals sent by email.
Use subheads as needed to break up your proposal into manageable chunks. We’re fans of short paragraphs, and we do not believe that long ones make you look smarter. (Unless you’re truly brilliant.)
Many writers come to us with a full nonfiction manuscript, but it is actually easier for everyone if you haven’t written the book yet! That’s because once you have a full manuscript, you’re more invested in not changing the structure, the tone, etc. Unless the book is truly publishable as is (which is very rare), having a great idea, a market, and an outline – with maybe a sample chapter – is enough for us to consider your proposal. The up side of this for you is that if you write a 30 page proposal, and it doesn’t get published (here or elsewhere), at least you didn’t write the entire book!
Don’t take this process personally (and yes, we realize how hard that can be). Sometimes books aren’t accepted because the perceived demand is low – not because you’re a bad writer or your book isn’t needed. In fact, we pride ourselves on publishing “long-tail” titles that other publishers reject.
Get help for your proposal from people you trust. If you are at a dead end, hire a professional to write it for you – but if your proposal is fantastic and your book isn’t, we’ll be disappointed!