Book proposal elements – proposal series #1

If you want to find a traditional publisher, whether you go through an agent or contact publishers yourself, at some point you’ll need a book proposal. In this blogpost series, I will talk you through the aspects of a book proposal so you too can get a book contract. This is the first installment in the series, in which I talk you through the different book proposal elements. 


Book proposal overview: goals, length and elements

Agents and editors at publishing companies are busy people. That is why they really appreciate having (or two) convenient page(s) with important information: the overview. This overview can include a hook (your elevator pitch), a short author bio, and a short book description. Don’t make anything too long though. This overview is a teaser. It is meant to grab the attention and serve as a sort of roadmap. It tells the agent/editor: these are the highlights, this is why you should keep reading.

It’s not the place for two-page bios that read like resumés. It’s not the place to talk about your pets (unless your book is about pets, of course). And you certainly should not cram all the information required into one page-long paragraph. Make it short, sweet, and scan-able. For more on the overview, check out part two in this blogpost series

The most important of book proposal elements: Synopsis

This is the one you will want to spend time on. Your synopsis is a one-two page summary of your book. Here, you take the reader through the story, whether it was written in narrative form or not. What are the main ideas? What’s the main conflict or problem? And if you write fiction: what are the names of the main characters? See the common thread here? It’s the word “main”.

You don’t need to name all the side characters: your reader won’t be able to remember those names anyway. You don’t need to take us through every chapter, that will come later. Here, you tell us where the book is going and how we will get there. Yes, this is true for both fiction and non-fiction, for narrative and non-narrative books. There is a point, a moral, a conclusion. Don’t be afraid to spoil it, it’s probably what makes your book interesting, and therefore should not be kept from the agent or editor. Don’t keep aces up your sleeves: it’s “all cards on the table.” Or, at least those cards that will convince them that your book will be a success. 

If you want to learn more about writing a synopsis for your narrative-based book, you can find a blogpost here

If you want to know more about writing a book description for academic or non-fiction, check out this post.

Market and audience

book proposal market and audience

This section contains a variety of book proposal elements. And most of them are quite time-consuming. They include target audience, competitive titles, promotion opportunities and sometimes market and relevance. What an agent/editor wants to see here is that there is a market for your book, meaning that books like yours (competitive titles) sell.

Competitive titles

If your book is completely new and no-one has ever written anything like this before (which is highly unlikely), that also means that there’s no market yet. There’s no group of people who are waiting for a book like yours, because a book like yours has never crossed their minds. They wouldn’t know how to look for it. So: please keep yourself from writing that “there’s nothing like this”: it’s doesn’t sound as good as you think it does.


Speaking of this group of people: who’s your target audience? And don’t say “everyone will like this book.” Even if that is true, there will still be groups of people more likely to buy your book than others. Who are they? And do they actually buy books? If, for example, you’ve written a book that is guaranteed to bring every homeless person who reads it the life they desire, that’s wonderful! However, homeless people will not spend a lot of money on books, so you’ll need to rethink your target audience. You can find more about this section of your proposal in this blogpost.

Promotional opportunities

And then there’s the “promotional opportunities part. I still talk to people who want to find a publisher so they don’t need to do any promotion themselves. But I’m afraid that’s not how traditional publishers work. The more you can convince them that you will sell books yourself, the more likely they are to want to offer you a book contract. So: expand your online presence. Think of organizations and clubs that might be interested. Contact them. Consider a blogtour… And put all of these plans in your proposal. You can find more information on the promotional opportunities here.

Book details

This is the part that I always find most enjoyable. The book details include manuscript information, chapter descriptions and sample chapters. This is where you get into the nitty-gritty of your work. If your reader made it this far, they’re interested, they think your book can sell, they think that you can sell your book. And now they want to know what they’ll get.

Manuscript information

The chapter descriptions and sample chapters don’t need much explanation I think. However, manuscript information is often forgotten, but actually an essential element in any book proposal. Here, you give a brief overview of all the information the publisher needs to determine how expensive it will be to publish your book:

  • How many words will your manuscript be?
  • When will it be ready to be submitted?
  • Will there be images/tables/graphs in the book? Do they need to be color or can they be black-and-white? (This is hugely important for printing costs).
  • And how will you handle copyrighted work? Do you foresee any problems with acquiring permission to use them? (this is especially important when it comes to song lyrics). Is there a possibility of any other lawsuits (slander, for example?).

List answers to all of these questions, and anything else you can think of that a publisher should know. You can find more information on the manuscript information here.

Concluding thoughts on the book proposal elements

A book proposal can be a tricky thing. However, this blog series will help you through the hard parts so that you, too, can get a book contract with a traditional publisher. So have a look at the other posts in this series, in the blocks below. Or, if you want help with your proposal, go to my book proposal page. There, you’ll find the different book proposal services I offer, ranging from final checks to writing the proposal for you. 

Talk to you soon!

– Susanne