How to Write a Winning Book Proposal

Keep in mind, several people with various agendas will read your proposal. Some will want to get a quick idea of what your book is about, while others will read every word. Although it's very important to be complete, you should start your proposal with a document that tells the whole story in a page or less. It will set the context of your proposal for the editor, and it will provide more than enough information for the sales and marketing people.

The following section outlines the key questions book publishers ask before they make a publishing decision. Regardless of how you organize your proposal, it should include answers to all the following relevant questions. Remember, your goal as an author is to maximize the time you spend writing books. If, after asking yourself these questions, you find there isn't a very compelling reason to write the book, then this exercise was extremely valuable.

When you write a proposal, the first questions you should ask yourself is whether the publisher in mind has some guidelines for creating that proposal. If the book is in a series, then there will be almost assuredly such guidelines. If it is a 'one off' book (not part of a series), then you should talk with the editor and find out what it is he or she wants to see in a proposal.

Describe the purpose of the book. (Is it to replace poorly-written documentation, to act as a reference, to address an unmet need in the marketplace, to provide real-world experience, etc.?) Why should this book be published?

Explain the concept underlying the work and the major topics you plan to cover. Describe why you arranged your book as you did (as shown in your outline). Why is this arrangement better than any other?

If a CD-ROM will be included with the book, what value-added materials do you believe should be included? Why?

If the book covers new/forthcoming software, how do you intend to cover/emphasize new features and how much emphasis should be placed on these new features?

State the title, subtitle, number of pages, suggested price point, whether your book includes a disk, and any other special characteristics of the book.

What current or forthcoming software (commercial or shareware) will be required to adequately use the book? (Include relevant minimum version/release numbers).

What is the topic of your book, and why have you chosen to write about this topic?

What skills and experience will readers need to bring to the book? What is the minimal skill set necessary to adequately use the book?

What skills will the reader take away from the book? What will readers be able to do that they weren't able to do before reading the book?

Which chapter listed in the attached table of contents would you like to use for your sample chapter? Why?

Will you provide instructions, summaries, exercises, hints, and programming examples?
Will you use figures, illustrations, graphs, charts, and drawings?

Are there any special hardware/software needs because of the book's content or included software? If so, what are these needs?

Who is the audience? Aside from the skills and software needed to properly use the book, describe the audience. Are they power users? Business professionals? Programmers? Hobbyists?

Why does your intended audience need this book? To learn? To develop? For entertainment or personal interest?

Why would someone purchase this book? To save time? To save money? To find information that isn't available anywhere else? Please list three reasons.

Market Analysis
Is timing critical to the publication of your book? When should your book appear on bookstore shelves?

What are the known competitors to this book or type of book? (Be specific and include author, complete title, and ISBN, if possible.) What do these books provide that yours cannot? What are you providing that the competition cannot?

What is the estimated market size for the book? How many potential readers have or will have the software, skills, and interest in a book of this nature? How many people have the product? How many of those people buy books?

What can you do to help sell the book? What kind of platform can you bring to the project that will increase the book’s visibility? This is critical for many publishers in their deliberations and another indication of how more responsibility for marketing and sales is moving from the publisher to the author.

Are you committed and available to complete your book on an aggressive schedule?

Have you published books with other publishers? If so, please provide for each book the full title, publication date, and publisher. What else have you had published – magazine articles, documentation, etc.?

What can you do as an author to help market the book?

What unique, value-added benefits can you afford to a reader of the book?

What can you, the author, provide to set yourself apart from competing authors?

Why do your academic, personal, or business experiences qualify you to write this book?

List and describe four specific benefits inherent to the book that will help sell it.

Write a few paragraphs that you think could serve as the back cover copy for the book.

Did you answer all of the questions?

Did you include professional writing samples?

Did you include your resume?

Is your address, telephone number (day and night), and email address included?

Is your outline complete and well thought out?

When It Comes to Writing Proposals, Above All Else...
OK, you've just read a good deal about what questions one should answer when writing a proposal, but let's cut to the chase for a moment. Here are the most important things to remember about proposal writing:

It is the first time the editor is encountering your idea. Whatever you want to say and however you want to impress that acquisition editor now is the time. There's no second chance to make a first impression.

Be sure of your facts. If you say that X has sold Y, ensure you have the data.

When you are asked about the books that would be competitive with yours, by all means, be thorough in comparison. Don't just list the titles; list the titles and then tell them why your book would be superior. After all, why would a publisher be interested in a book that is not distinctive? It is this information that the editor will use to make his or her case to the publishing board as to why the company should consider your book.

The table of contents should be as detailed as possible and include a two- to three-sentence description of each chapter; it should be organized as numbered chapters and sub-sections, if necessary.