Preparing a Winning Book Proposal

The Writing for the Soul conference is just around the bend! I’ll be at this conference and I hope you will, too. This is your chance to show your book ideas to the editors and faculty members you speak with.

But how can you present your material in a professional way? Here’s a list of the items to include in a nonfiction book proposal that has worked for thousands of writers over the years. For fiction, see the end of the blog.

Page One: Your name and contact information centered at the top of the page, and the title of your book and byline (by Sue or Sam Smith) centered, mid-way down the page.

Pages Two, Three, Four, etc. Include the following headings:

  • Concept: Describe the book idea in one or two succinct paragraphs, using lively language to engage the editor.
  • Approach/Structure: State the format you will use: how-to, self-help, human interest stories with prayers and quotations or whatever style you’ve planned.
  • Audience: Name the group of readers you want to target, i.e., parents, business owners, women in recovery, teens, etc. This should be as specific as possible.
  • Reader Benefits: List the ways your book will help readers. Example: information about your topic, inspiration from real life stories, reader involvement through journaling and prayers, or whatever applies. Be specific here so editors can envision the book.
  • Competition: Write down the titles, authors, and publishers of two or three books that may compete with yours, describing in one sentence for each, how yours is different. Stay positive in talking about your book’s differences; avoid bashing the competition.
  • Publicity: Provide in a short paragraph, ways you’ll cooperate with promoting the book. Example: blogging, Facebook, author appearances, radio and television interviews, etc.
  • Author Bio: Create a brief bio of your professional and/or personal qualifications for writing this book. Are you a teacher, counselor, pastor, business owner? You want to inspire confidence in the editor that you are the one to complete this work.
  • Chapter Outline: Write two or three sentences describing what each chapter will cover.
  • Introduction: (Optional) Start a new page and write a short introduction to the book. You can change or add to it later.
  • Sample Chapters:(one to three) Include at least one chapter to start with. If you receive encouragement and interest from an editor he or she may ask for a few more. However, your chapter outline (above) must include descriptions for each chapter.
  • If you’re presenting an idea for fiction, all you’ll need at this point is a two-to-three-page synopsis of the plot, including all major characters, plot points, twists, turns, surprises, and the ending, and three sample chapters. Most fiction editors will also want to know that your book is completed.

But even if your book is not finished yet, take advantage of the opportunity to meet with editors and agents. You will receive great information on the current market and encouragement to get to “The End.”

So, take time to put together a focused proposal and print several copies to have available. Don’t miss this excellent opportunity to introduce yourself and your ideas to editors who can help you move from beginning writer to published author.

It starts with showing up—at Writing for the Soul. Enroll today!

Karen O’Connor is an award-winning author of 60 books and hundreds of magazine articles for children and adults, a retreat and conference speaker, and a writing instructor with 25 years of experience. Her most recent books are It’s Taken Years to Get This Old and 365 Reasons Why Gettin’ Old Ain’t So Bad (Harvest House 2010).

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