You have decided to write a book. You have an idea. You are excited about it. You even have a title … or at least a tentative one. But before you write, you have to plan. A formal plan is called a book proposal, and you need one for two reasons: Publishers require a book proposal to determine the marketability of your book, and you need it to think through every aspect of your book from its mission to how you will promote it. There are 5 essential parts of a nonfiction book proposal.
1. Concept statement
While it is the first thing an editor will see and read, it is the last thing you write. The Concept Statement is the encapsulation of the entire proposal. Therefore, it cannot be written until the proposal has been completed and all of your information is assembled and combined. The purpose of the concept statement is to hook the reader, who may be an acquisition editor at a publishing house, and make her turn the page and read the rest of the proposal.
2. About the book
The next-to-last section you write is a detailed description of the book from which the Concept Statement will be drawn; it cannot be written all at once. As each segment of the proposal is fleshed out, it can be threaded into About the Book and refined later. For example, the question “What else is out there on the subject?” depends on the information in the Competition section. Your proposal will be much stronger if you think through each part and then transfer the information to About the Book. To make that easier, this section appears right after the Concept Statement.
3. About the market
Your ideal reader is the person you imagine as you write: the man or woman who attends your presentations, comments on your blog, or visits your website; one of your students, a client, or a friend. Once you can describe your ideal reader, you will have a better idea of how big the market is. Begin by defining a category, such as self-help or autobiography, that indicates where the book belongs in the bookstore. This section must answer the following questions: How many potential readers are there? What publications are they reading? What is the circulation of those publications? What organizations do they belong to? How many members does each organization have? How can this market be reached? Where are readers likely to buy this book?
4. About the competition
Here is where you describe how other books on the same subject compare with yours. List major competitive titles and a very brief description of each. Explain what existing books on the subject cover or fail to cover. If there is nothing like this book on the market, why has no one tackled this subject? If there are many competitive titles, remember that there are very few unique topics.
5. About the author
This section contains your bio, with particular emphasis on your qualifications to write the book. This is the place to demonstrate your knowledge, experience, and expertise in relation to your subject. What makes you the ideal person to convey this information? What is the thread that connects you to your topic?
There are other questions covered by the proposal, but these are the most important. Both you and an acquisition editor want to know whether you have a viable idea for a book. That means, is is marketable? Will it sell? A well-researched proposal answers those questions.