Book proposal overview – proposal series #2

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 second installment in the series, in which I give you more information about the book proposal overview.

Your book's Title and subtitle

You’d think there won’t be much to say about the title and subtitle. You’d be wrong. Every text that tells you how to write a book proposal should spend at least a few sentences on this. Why? Because titles are important, especially in the internet age. And they are a critical element in any book proposal overview.

Make your title searchable and attractive

If you know anything about search engines like Google, you know that finding things online is dependent on keywords. So, if you want your book to be searchable, your title needs to include those keywords that your target audience will use to look for books like yours. And this can sometimes take a lot of time and effort.

However, you don’t want your title to just be a compilation of keywords: it also needs to appeal to your potential buyer. Luckily, there are tips and tricks out there, if you know where to look. On the Passionate Writer Coaching Instagram and Pinterest, for example, I’ve been sharing Scott Norton’s titling strategies. So these posts might be a good place to start. 

The publisher’s view

Now, there is good news in all this. Every respectable traditional publisher will have at least one person on staff who’s an expert at this. So it’s not all up to you. For some people, however, this also is bad news. Because that means that no matter how much effort you put into finding the perfect title, your agent or publisher might suggest you change it. They’ll assume that the success of your book is important for both of you and therefore would really like to see in your proposal that you’re open to feedback and suggestions. 

So, in addition to keeping in mind that your publisher or agent might want to change your title, there’s a few tiny tricks you can implement. First, you can put “provisional” before the word “title” in your proposal. By calling it a provisional title, you already acknowledge that it might be changed at some point. Another option is to list several options. For example: three titles and three subtitles. This works especially well if you’re already torn between different titles. This way, you implicitly invite your agent or publisher to help select – or even suggest – one.

The Hook

This word is used in a lot of different ways. If you look for the “book proposal hook” online, the results can describe elements ranging in length from one sentence to two pages. But what the different ideas on the hook have in common is that it is a short teaser designed to spark the reader’s curiosity. Even though some publishers will tell you exactly how long the hook should be etc, whatever else you do, I advise you to think long and hard about a one-sentence hook. 

Though I completely understand that it is impossible to put every nuance and point of strength of your book in one sentence, at least try to capture the spirit of your work in this one sentence. A good hook has the power to motivate the editor or agent to keep reading through the potentially weaker parts of your proposal. The hook should be the most powerful sentence of your book proposal overview. It should reflect the atmosphere and one major point of interest. However, it’s hard to say more, as a hook needs to be unique to your project. If you want my help finding yours, just send me a message using the contact form in the sidebar (or below, for mobile users). 

The short summary in your book proposal overview

Your short summary should be short. And the more you need to condense your book, the harder it is. So, I think the short summary might be the most difficult of all book proposal elements. Personally, I always leave them for last. When I have done the competitive titles and market research, I understand what makes my book unique. And these points, these USPs (Unique Selling Points) should be mentioned in the short description. I also write my synopsis first. This longer summary is already half way there. And that means that I no longer have to summarize my book in the short summary: I only need to summarize the synopsis. 

The short summary shares its goals with the hook. You basically prime your reader (here: the publisher’s acquisitions editor or the agent). Make the hook interesting enough that your reader will invest more time: make them read the short summary. And make the summary interesting enough that they want to learn more. You should entice them to give your proposal more time. To keep reading. Your reader is under no obligation to read your entire proposal. It is their right to just look at the title and reject your submission. It is your job to make them WANT to read on. 


After your short summary, you can add some keywords. So here’s what you do. Pretend you are a person who doesn’t know that your book exist. However, you have a need to read a book such as yours. Now, what would you, the would-be-reader, type into Google to find the kind of book that you are proposing here? Think of genre, theme, topic, or one of the unique qualities that set your book apart. Keep this list between 3-5 words. Consider these keywords for your title. And look for these keywords in your short description. 

The short author biography

If summarizing your book seems difficult, summarizing your life will seem impossible. Luckily, though some people interpret it that way, this is not what an author bio is. The important thing to remember here, as with any aspect of the book proposal overview, is that it needs to be short and draw the reader in. By all means, give the editor or agent one tiny interesting detail that will stay with them. Something that makes them remember you. However, the much-used sentence that you live in [city] with your partner and two dogs is not going to be it. 

It can help to simply ask yourself why your reader wants to see a bio. Generally, what an editor or agent wants to know is 1. that you are qualified to write this book; and 2. that you’ll be able to finish and submit the book. So: any prior experience you have with the theme or topic of your work should go in there. Any experience you have with writing long texts will help. Any previous experiences that show that people are interested in hearing what you have to say should go in. But unless your dog has heart-shaped eyes and misses a leg, or your book is about dog-owning, do not mention them here. 

Concluding thoughts on the book proposal overview

The first page(s) of your book proposal should be completely dedicated to sparking the editor or agent’s interest. Tease them, lure them in. Give them just enough so that they want to know more and keep reading. Remember: they are under no obligation to read your entire proposal. It is your job to make them want to. This is why putting the key pieces of information I discussed above in the first pages is useful. It gives your reader a feeling for the book and you as an author. A lot hangs on these pages: though a strong overview will not guarantee your book deal, a bad overview almost certainly guarantees you will not get one. 

If you want some help with this or any other parts of your book proposal, I’m here! You can go to one of my other blogposts in this book proposal series clicking the boxes below. You can find my book proposal services on this page here. Or contact me directly using the form in the side bar (below, if you are on your phone). 

Hoping to hear from you soon!