Writing a book proposal

Once you have an idea for a book, the next step is to begin work on a proposal. The purpose of a book proposal is to capture a publishing editor’s interest so that he or she will agree to publish your book. The proposal also provides a description that could be used on the book’s back cover and in marketing materials, so it should be written in a way that leaves a good – and accurate – first impression.

It is not enough to know what you want to write; you also need to think carefully about why the publisher might want to publish your book, and why people will want to read it. Some factors you need to include in any proposal are:

  • Need: Critically examine all the published books that cover the same or closely-related topics. What needs do these books leave unmet, and how can your book fill any gaps? If there is little currently published on your topic, why should the publisher choose your book to break new ground in the field?
  • Market: Will your book be written for specialists in a certain field, or will it interest a broader range of researchers? Does it have the potential to be used as a textbook? If so, for which course(s)? Be specific.
  • Plan: This includes a proposed title and table of contents for your book, and estimates of how long each section will be and how long it will take to complete the book. Also note the planned number and type of figures, tables, and other illustrations.
  • Contributors: Who are the book’s authors and editors, and what are their backgrounds? What makes these researchers attractive to the publisher? (Have they published papers in well-regarded journals? Have they made significant and well-known discoveries?)

Each publisher has its own specific requirements for book proposals, so be sure to read proposal guidelines before you start writing. Although book proposals are only a few pages long, they require a lot of work. Taking the time to build a good proposal will ultimately save you time and help you produce a better book. It will help you refine your ideas for the book before you begin writing it.

Once you have a draft of your proposal, read it over carefully. Does it clearly and accurately describe your vision for the book? If the finished manuscript is much different from the proposal it will create difficulties with the book’s marketing and could even be grounds for breaking the publishing agreement. However, do not be surprised if, after submitting the proposal, the editor asks for more information, or for changes in the book outline.