The writing biz: What I learned from writing a book proposal

When I finally got to the point of having my book done, I began to realize that the truly difficult part was just beginning. How to promote and market the book is a whole ‘nother beast. I read about this thing called a book proposal and I thought, huff, puff, who needs that?

But then I started looking into it and knew I had no choice but to write the thing. Everyone wants to see a book proposal these days–publishers, agents, sponsors,  endorsers and funding organizations like the governement and non-profits.

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So, I began the arduous process of writing a book proposal for my book Sustenance & Harmony. Then, this rather crazy thing happened. I began to see so much benefit from writing this proposal!

Here are some of the things I learned about having a well-honed book proposal. Passion for writing is essential, but without some down-to-earth sensibility, we’ll be sitting at home with our book all by ourselves with warm sappy tears running down our faces. That’s no fun!

This is what a book proposal can help to do…

A book proposal sets a BOOK APART:

What is it about my book that will make people buy it? Often the first people to convince are agents, editors and publishers.

Think you’re off the hook by self-publishing? This can actually be much more difficult. Convincing bookstore owners and online sellers to carry it is one task. Convincing media outlets to cover it and talk about it is another. What will make someone choose your book over all the other books they could read? This is a question that will need an answer and a book proposal helps you sort this out.

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A book proposal gives you FOCUS:

Writing a book proposal helps to prioritize focus on important things like:

What is your book really about? Can you describe it in two or three sentences in order to hook people in and make them interested? How will you describe the book on the back cover or a dust jacket? Or on Amazon, Goodreads, in a newspaper or in a magazine? Every author that has ever written a book has had to think about these things, unless they are already wealthy and famous and have people at their disposal to do these things. Not me.

What is the book’s purpose? This is important particularly for non-fiction. What will people learn? What will they take away? It sounds harsh, but people are going to evaluate whether or not your book is worth their precious time. People are more selfish about books than you might think. They want to get something out of it. They will want to be entertained or informed or inspired or whatever. They want to connect with the book and the person who wrote it.

How will your book fit in with other books? What will make someone buy your book and not one written by another author on the same or a similar subject? I think it can be a mistake to think of other authors as merely competition. These are people who are interested in your same subject and most importantly have succeeded in getting published. Makes sense to work with them instead of against them. They may even be able to help you down the line.

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Do you have a catchy tagline? A tagline is not a description and it’s not a subtitle, it’s more like a slogan or a catchy phrase. In looking online there seems to be a lot of confusion about this, even from people giving advice about them. Many of the examples they give are terrible! Yikes!

Here are some examples of great taglines.

“Trials are too important to be decided by juries.” John Grisham, Runaway Jury

Terror that takes you by storm. Stephan King, Storm of the Century

“We never know what will happen next in Florida.” Dave Barry, Best State Ever

“You don’t get to 500 friends without making a few enemies.” The Social Network (film)

“One man’s struggle to take it easy.” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (film)

The tagline for my own book is: “Feeding the mind is equally important as feeding the body.” I don’t think it’s half bad.

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Book proposals help you think about your AUDIENCE.

Yes, your audience. You know, all those real, flesh-and-blood people out there who are going to decide to buy your book or pass, as opposed to the millions of adoring mega-fans you’ve been dreaming about in your head. In truth, there will be specific groups of people who will care about your subject and ones that couldn’t give a hoot. Let’s say you’ve written a book on basketball called 100 Reasons to Love Basketball. Are you going to set up a book signing at a surfing convention? (Yes, surfers have conventions. I live in one of the top convention destinations in the world. I know about conventions.)

There’s always going to be some overlapping of what people like and what kinds of books they buy. For instance, a little old lady gardener might have an affinity for reading a book called True Confessions of WWF Wrestlers. It’s a strange kind of world.

Overall though, you will need to think about your subject matter and the kind of readers who will be interested. My book is about food and self-help. I’m not going to try to sell it at a rodeo, or, more specifically, a room full of professional chefs. They most likely aren’t going to be intersted in my home-cooking style recipes.

A book proposal helps you decide how best to MARKET the book.

How will you connect with people? Through blogging, book signings, attending readings, speaking at professional events? What media outlets should you contact? I know my audience will be made up of people who are interested in food, wellness, whole health, healing and/or mindfulness. Participating in a conference on mental health will be much better than setting up a booth at a megacon convention.

A book proposal helps you decide if you’re really READY.

Is your book edited and honed? If it isn’t finished do you have a strong outline or chapter summary. Just telling people your book is great and needs to be bought or preordered will not work, unless of course you’re fortunate enough to already have a devoted following. At this point, I think Stephan King could write a book about homemaking for housewives and people would devore it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of leverage?

Whew. If this seems like a difficult process, well it is! Best of luck… for me and for you!

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  1. Hello,
    I’m a book writer (of 11 years) and your pointers are magnificent, however, I’m having a bit of trouble actually getting my book out there, taking the next step, copyrighting and I guess getting noticed. I went through Page Publishing all for them to scam me. I sent money over a year ago and still haven’t heard back or gotten a returned phone call … any resources in BEING SUCCESSFUL? My books are GOOD and I finish quickly with very little error. You should read one sometime

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so sorry to hear about Page Publishing! I had thought about trying them out but it seemed kinda fishy. Glad I didn’t! You should write a blog post about your experience. I’m sure it will be helpful for other people. Here’s one I wrote last year about a job scam I found:

      As far as the book, what I ultimately decided to do was to concentrate on building a “platform.” Which takes time believe me, but I’m passionate about my subject so that helps. 🙂
      What is your book about?? You can try posting some excerpts or related content on your blog and see how people respond to it. 🙂


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