Want to write a nonfiction book in 2021? Write a book proposal—even if you plan to self-publish. A book proposal helps a publisher understand:
• If there is a market for the book
• How you are going to market the book
• What the book is about
• How the book will be organized
• How your expertise and skills make you the right person to write this book
Even if you self-publish, fleshing out these elements can make it easier to get started writing your book and potentially help you reach more people.
The article I share the most with clients who want to write a book proposal is Jane Friedman’s, Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal. Jane’s piece covers the main proposal parts and the nitty gritty of how to write them.
Let’s take a look at the elements of a book proposal to see why it’s important to get them down on paper, even if you’re going to self-publish.
Competitive title analysis
Before you start writing your book, it’s important to determine that there’s a market for it. This section is where you look around to see what books already exist about your topic and how well they’re selling. You want to get clear about how your book is similar to books that are selling well. You also want to notice how yours is different enough to make someone who bought a bestselling book on a similar topic want to buy your book too.
Tip: When you search on Amazon for bestselling books on your topic, check out the subcategories they’re in as well. The subcategories are often what make the book stand out from others in the main category. For example, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by angel Kyodo Rev. Williams is #8 in Buddhist History, #22 in LGBT Demographic Studies, and #190 in Discrimination and Racism.
Who are you writing your book for? As much as you want “everyone” to read your book, there is nothing “everyone” reads. Take O, The Oprah Magazine as an example. Everyone may know who Oprah is, but that doesn’t mean everyone reads her magazine. If you look at the O Media Kit (what they use to sell ads), here’s what it has to say about readers of the print version:
Interested in personal growth and “living their best life.”
Median household income is $80,504
74% have attended or graduated college
1/3 are Millennials
57% are White
35% are African American
11% are Asian / Native American / Other
11% are Hispanic
This does not describe “everyone.” The clearer you get about who your readers are and what they care about, the easier it’s going to be to know what to include (and not include) in your book and how to market to them once it’s published.
Even if a publisher picks up your book, you’re going to have to do a lot of the marketing of your book yourself. You’re going to need a plan. Your plan can include all kinds of things like:
• Email campaigns
• Social media campaigns
• Amazon review campaigns
• Podcast interviews
• Guest posting
• Speaking engagements
• Book tours (virtual or in-person)
• Online advertising
• Something fun and creative no one has ever done before!
Drafting a marketing plan will motivate you to get started now with building your email list, social media following, and relationships with podcast hosts, content creators, and event producers. Don’t wait till the book is done to begin this process!
Publishers want your bio to determine if you have the expertise needed to write your book. If you’re going to self-publish, writing a bio helps you recognize what makes your take on a topic unique and why you’re the one to write about it. For example, here is part of the bio for Layla Saad, author of The New York Times bestseller, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor:
“Layla Saad is a globally respected writer, speaker and podcast host on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation and social change.
As an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman who was born and grew up in the West, and lives in Middle East, Layla has always sat at a unique intersection of identities from which she is able to draw rich and intriguing perspectives. Layla’s work is driven by her powerful desire to ‘become a good ancestor’; to live and work in ways that leave a legacy of healing and liberation for those who will come after she is gone.”
Don’t hide your special combination of experience, skills, and background. Let them shine. Even if you self-publish, your bio will tell your ideal readers why they should turn to you to teach, inspire, or entertain them about a particular topic.
Table of Contents
Great job! You’ve:
• Looked at the competition.
• Gotten to know your ideal readers.
• Strategized about how to let those ideal readers know about your book.
• Recognized your special take and expertise on the topic.
It’s time to figure out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Creating a Table of Contents will help you organize your content as well as provide an outline for how to write it. So much easier than staring at a blank page, right?
You’ll want to write a short summary of each chapter under the chapter’s title. This will help you determine if you have enough, too much, or too little content for each chapter before you begin.
Now that you’ve completed your Table of Contents, you’re ready to write your sample chapter(s). Woo hoo! Here’s where the rubber meets the road and you get to find out:
1. Do you even want to write this book?
2. Do you have time to write this book?
3. Are you excited to work on this book for a long time?
It’s one thing to have the idea, “I want to write a book.” It’s a whole other thing to do it. Writing sample chapters will give you a feel for what the process will be like.
You can now write your Overview. Even though it’s what comes first in a proposal, it can be easier to write after you’ve written all of the other parts. This is where you summarize all the work you did above and make the case for why your book is needed now and why you are the person to write it.
If you’re going to self-publish, writing the Overview will help you practice describing what your book is about and why your ideals readers need to read it. You might end up using some of what you write in your Overview for the book’s back cover description and in pitches for your marketing plan.
Even if you self-publish, write a book proposal.
Writing a book proposal even if you self-publish helps you get to know your book and your potential reader, so that when you when it comes time to write, you’ll be ready to connect, calendar, and commit.
Need help thinking through, or writing parts your book proposal?