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How Writing a Book Proposal Can Boost Your Sales

December 1, 2013

A successful book proposal is a marketing document that tells agents and publishers who you are, what your book is about, who wants to read it, how you intend to reach that au­dience, and what efforts you’ve already made toward building an effective marketing platform that will help sell your book. It remains useful after the book deal as well: Dozens of people will review and repurpose your proposal in parts or in its entirety between the day your concept is first pitched and the day it is launched into the world as a printed book.

If you’re hoping for a book contract and are writing nonfiction, you must write a book proposal. These days, many agents and publishers appreciate receiving a fiction proposal with your finished manuscript as well. If you’re self-publishing, you are taking on the role of publisher, which means you, too, need to know this information and will use the material in your proposal for marketing and sales purposes.

So how exactly does writing a book proposal help you improve your book’s success? Here are just a few ways:

PUBLISHER: Marketing and publicity departments will look to your information on your target audience and ways that they can use your platform to design a promotion plan.

YOU: You likewise will need to know where your readers are and how you will reach them, because publishers rely on authors to help out with marketing (and if you self-publish, remember, you ARE your marketing department). Your research will be the makings of your promotion plan. Analyzing your platform so you can put it on paper will help you spot weak areas that you need to bolster for better results. As you research how your book fits into its category or genre and what publicity outlets or opportunities for promotion would be best suited to your project, you may find aspects of your book that need tweaking, or hot topics/problems you haven’t addressed but need to.

PUBLISHER: A publisher’s sales force, which pitches titles to the major bookstore chains and wholesalers, will use your outlines and descriptions, sometimes even your sample chapters, to get your book on the shelves and into catalogs.

YOU: You are your own best advocate, and you’ll need to know your book inside and out to effectively convince others to do what you want—whether it’s to stock your book in their store, buy a copy, or invite you to speak at their conference. In the course of writing your proposal, you will develop:

  • A sales handle — This mini-pitch, sometimes referred to as an “elevator pitch,” is meant to explain what aspect of your book’s content will sell it. Useful in all kinds of circumstances, and a great temperature gauge: If you can’t distill the essence of your book into one or two sentences, something’s wrong.
  • An overview or synopsis — Writing this section will give you great clarity on just how well your book fits into the marketplace and whether or not it will be compelling to your target audience. You’ll practice making a convincing argument for why people need your book, or, for fiction, you’ll practice creating an engaging story summary that immediately sucks people in.
  • A list of comparative or competitive titles — Every author needs to be aware of his or her competition. Why would a reader choose your book over someone else’s? Writing this section involves market analysis, which will tell you something crucial about your sales potential: If your research reveals that there are too many books too similar to yours, you’re going to have trouble making your project stand out, which means publishers won’t want it, and readers won’t “hear” it amidst the noise of the marketplace.

Delving into what makes a great book proposal and how writing one can positively impact your book’s success requires more than a short article, so be sure to attend the Mid-Winter Conference West to learn more. I’ll spend an hour and a half on the subject. Hope to see you there!

allyemachate SMAllyson E. Machate is the chief editor, writer, and publishing consultant at Ambitious Enterprises and has worked with small and large book publishers, including Simon & Schuster, where she acquired and edited books. Ally loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than fourteen years of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at and

One Comment
  1. January 17, 2014 2:10 am

    Great post! My new book, The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books Feb 2014) discusses this very topic–how to use a nonfiction book proposal to evaluate your book idea –fiction or nonfiction–through the lens of an acquisitions editor. In the process you train yourself to succeed as an author. How? You evaluate yourself and your book the same way an editor might, and you learn to produce a marketable book. Learning to do this is so important no matter how you publish, but indie publishers often forget they need a business plan. Fiction writers also don’t realize they need one.

    Your conference looks great! I’d love to come speak at your event!

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