So–the publisher or agent you’ve written to has responded favorably to your query letter, and now asks to see a book proposal. Attention spans aren’t long at the submissions coalface and if you miss your moment, it may not come again. It’s important that your proposal is not only ready to go, but leaves a positive impression. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, the aim of the book proposal is the same: to convince your first readers of the credibility, value, and marketability of your book. Publishing is a collaborative business: decisions made at acquisition meetings are group decisions, and include not only editorial staff, but marketing, publicity, finance, and accounting, as well as specialist departments such as rights, educational, etc. The editor might love your proposal but she has to convince everyone else of its merits, so you need to help that process along by including the ‘meat’ of your proposal, i.e. a summary of the content of your book, plus either a story arc and character description (for fiction) or a list of chapters which indicate clearly what is in each one (for non-fiction). You also need to show you understand the market you are writing for. When you propose a book outside of your normal genre—say, like me, a fiction writer proposing a non-fiction project—this is especially important. It can be embedded within the body of the summary of the project, as well as flagged at the end. For instance when I was pitching my non-fiction book, The Adaptable Author: Coping with Change in the Digital Age, (Keesing Press, 2014) here’s how my book proposal summary began:
Getting published is every aspiring author’s dream, the focus of enormous energy, hopes and fears. The statistics quoted in articles and books on the subject can be dispiriting, so if that dream comes true, then as a newly-anointed published author, you can feel as though all your struggles are now over and you can relax into the life of the professional author. But getting published is only the start, and in retrospect, it can seem a good deal simpler than what follows: staying published, and maintaining a career as a professional author. That’s never been easy, but in a modern publishing industry in the middle of rapid and turbulent transformation, it has become even more difficult.