How to Write an Irresistible Book Proposal by Michael Larsen, AAR

Some writers find it easier to write a book than a proposal. For others, writing the proposal is the most creative part of doing a book. You have the freedom to plan the book in the way that excites you most, without the responsibility for writing it, changing your vision of the book to suit a publisher’s needs, and the pressure of a deadline that goes along with a contract.

Although there is no single way to write a proposal, any more than there is to write a book, the following technique has evolved over the last twenty-five years. It is the fastest, easiest way we know to make your proposal rejection-proof and obtain the best editor, publisher and deal for your book. Follow it closely.

Most proposals range from thirty-five to seventy pages. Your proposal will have three parts in logical sequence. Each part has a goal. You must impress agents and editors enough with each part to convince them to go on to the next.

The following list is an overview of the parts of a proposal:

The introduction

The goals of the introduction are to prove that you have a solid, marketable, practical idea and that you are a pro. The introduction has three parts: overview, resources needed to complete the book and about the author. They give you the opportunity to provide as much ammunition about you and your book as you can muster.

The overview

  • The subject hook: the most exciting, compelling thing that you can say that justifies the existence of your book: a quote, event, anecdote, statistic, idea or joke. The book hook includes 2,3, and 4.
  • The title: it must tell and sell.
  • The book’s selling handle, a sentence that ideally begins “(The title) will be the first book to …”
  • The length of the book (and number of illustrations) arrived at by estimating the back matter and outlining the book.
  • The book’s other special features: tone, humor, structure, anecdotes, checklists, exercises, sidebars and anything you will do to give the text visual appeal.
  • The name of a well-known authority who will give your book credibility and salability in fifty states who has agreed to write an introduction.
  • What you have done to answer technical or legal questions. If your book covers a specialized subject, name the expert who reviewed it. If your book may present legal problems, name the literary attorney who reviewed it.
  • Back matter: using comparable books as a guide.
  • Markets for the book, starting with the largest one.
  • Subsidiary-rights possibilities, starting with the most commercial one.
  • Spin-offs: If your book can be a series or lends itself to sequels, mention the other books.
  • Your promotion plan: In descending order of importance, a list of what you will do to promote your book. For most books aimed at the general public, this list is eight times more important than the contents of the book.
  • A list of books that will compete with and complement yours


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