Most weeks I get a call or email from at least one author wanting me to work with them on their nonfiction book proposal. Sadly, I’d say four out of five of those authors aren’t ready to write a book proposal.
Here’s what I mean. The best book proposals are created through a solid, thoughtful process consisting of six stages: concept, testing, competitive analysis, platform, path, and distillation.
This process is simple—but it’s never, ever easy. Let’s walk through it briefly.
Stage 1. Develop your book concept.
What will your book do for its readers—what benefits, what problems solved, what changes in thinking or behavior?
This book concept will align with who you are, and what you are inspired to accomplish.
You know you’ve clinched this when you can describe the unique features or the offering of your book in one or two clear, explanatory sentences.
Stage 2. Test your concept.
Test out your concept with the people who will become the audience for your book. Test it by writing articles; blogging; podcasting; running a course or workshop.
Gather feedback meticulously. If you get good responses, and you’re able to report on your findings in detail (either anecdotal feedback or data on comments/reads for online content), you know you’ve nailed this part of the process.
Stage 3. Know your competition.
What other books do your readers have on their shelves? How do those books achieve their aims—through case studies, a sustained narrative, executable advice? Maybe a combination of all of those elements?
Read the reviews of those books, too, and find out what people like and dislike. Absorb it all. Then write up your findings: list 5-10 comp titles to your book and describe their strengths, weaknesses, and how they demonstrate the need for your book.
By knowing your competition, you can be confident that you have something unique to offer that your readers are not getting from any other author.
Stage 4. Build your platform.
Once you have distilled your message, tested it, and assessed what else is on offer, it’s time to double down on connecting with your readers.
This is about boosting your credentials as an author.
You want to reach a point where complete strangers (not best friends or blood relatives!) ask, “Are you writing a book? When can I buy it?”
For this stage, the proof is in the data: having strong numbers or a marked increase in your blog followers, social media engagement, articles published, or workshops booked.
Stage 5. Choose your publishing path.
Many authors hanker after a book deal with one of the Big Five publishing houses (HarperCollins, Penguin Random House etc.). But it’s not the only solution, or necessarily the best one for every author.
Weigh up the pros and cons of the Big Five and their mid-level brethren; small presses; assisted and hybrid publishers; and independent or self-publishing. Check out my earlier blog post on making this choice.
You know you’ve got this covered when you can explain clearly which publishing path is right for you, how you will go about achieving it, and why it’s the best choice for you and your book.
Stage 6. Write your book proposal.
If you’ve decided to pursue a traditional publishing deal, you need to write a book proposal. It distills all your findings and achievements from the previous stages (your business case, including your concept, your audience, your competition, and your profile as an author) with a chapter outline and sample chapters from your book. This is the persuasive document you will submit to agents and editors.
To have the weight, depth, and professionalism agents and editors expect, your book proposal will run to at least 60 pages, often more, and be as strong and fine-tuned as the calf muscles of an Olympic gymnast.
I work with authors on their book proposals in three specific ways.
I write the entire book proposal: the business case as well as the chapter outline and sample text. I work from the best material you have—usually a combination of interviews that I conduct with you, along with existing articles, blog posts, or recorded lectures.
I contribute to your book proposal, writing only specific sections as required. You may write the chapter outline and sample chapters and I may write the “business case,” for example. At the end, I weave the whole document together with a final edit so it is coherent and consistent.
I can be your editor-coach, guiding you to write the book proposal in full yourself.
If you're ready to find out more about working with me, email me today at email@example.com.
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