The 5 Questions Every Book Proposal Must Answer

When preparing your book for submission to an agent or publisher, you must remember that the agent or publisher will be assessing you, your book and your concept for commercial viability. In other words, the agent or publisher will be looking at your book and trying to determine if all the boxes have been ticked for it to sell enough copies to actually make a profit.

The job of a good book proposal is to convince the agent or publisher that your book is a solid business investment, as well as a well written work of literature. To do this you must ensure that your book proposal has answered the following five questions.

1. What is your book’s genre?

The book industry is divided along the lines of genre. Publishers and imprints collect expertise in editing, production, sales and marketing all based on a particular genre. After all, it takes a completely different skillset to sell cook books, as opposed to romance novels. In turn, agents look to gain knowledge and trust of these publishers. This means agents too become genre experts. An agent with in-depth knowledge of the cook book market, its publishers and internal editors, is very unlikely to have the same insider knowledge of the romance genre.

As a writer looking to have their book published, it is essential that you pin point the correct genre. Only once you know your genre, can you then go on to find a suitable agent or publisher with expertise in that genre.

One good method of identifying your genre is to look at competitor titles. If you look for books that are like your book, there is a pretty good chance that these will be in the same genre. My advice would be to go into your local book shop and find just one book that you are sure readers of your book would also enjoy. Then, identify two or three other titles that are come under the same genre.

The list of competitor titles that you produce, will allow you to do two things. The first is to correctly identify the genre of your book. Using Amazon as a guide, and this list of genres on the BubbleCow blog, you should be able to do this. The second is that the competitor titles will allow you to demonstrate to any potential publisher or agent that you have knowledge of your given genre. When pitching your book, your list of competitor titles will encourage the agent or publisher that they are dealing with a book that they can sell. The agent/publisher will have an intimate knowledge of the genre, if you are listing titles they know well, then there is a pretty good chance that your book will be a fit for their list.

2. Who would read your book?

Readership is an important aspect of your pitch and is closely related to your genre. My suggestion is for writers to develop the concept of the ideal reader. This is a fictional person who represents your target audience. You need to be able to explain the age of your ideal reader, their buying habits, the kinds of books they like, the lifestyle they lead and the reasons they will buy and read your book. Once you have this person in your head, it becomes easier to paint a picture to potential agents and publishers that you envisage will be your target reader.

3. Is your book written, if so how long is it?

In regards to fiction books, submitting a proposal for a completed book is better than submitting a proposal for a partially written book, or an idea. Think about it, when submitting a partial the best response you will realistically receive is a request for the full book. This will send you into a tail spin of panic as you rush to finish, simply because an agent has shown a glimmer of interest (an agent request for a full manuscript, is a long, long, long, long way from an offer of representation). Before you submit a partial, ask yourself why? Are you simply looking for someone to like you book? Are you looking for validation? If so, then the book submission route is not the best way to discover if your partially written book has commercial potential.

Assuming you have completed your book, the agent/publisher will be interested in knowing the book’s word count. There is no exact science here, but agents and publishers are looking to check your work is not too long or short. Look at your competitor list, the word count of these books should be roughly similar to your own. If your book is too short, then consider expanding before submission. If it is too long, then look to remove sections, or even split into two or three separate books. Either way very long or very short books presents agents/publishers with a problem.

4. What aspects of your biography may provide an interesting marketing angle?

Your book proposal should establish that your book will fit into the agents/publisher’s area of interest, show that you understand the marketplace and clearly identify the readership of your book. However, there is still one important aspect – YOU. When it comes to marketing your book, the publisher will be looking at you as a writer, and trying to determine if any aspect of your life can be used to leverage the book. If you are a skateboarding granny or a skydiving vicar, then great. But even us mundane, normal people, will have an angle to offer. Maybe you have a huge on-line presence, or an interesting childhood or even a record number of rejections. There will be something hidden away that can be packaged to make you a more interesting prospect as a writer.

The key to understanding what to include in your biography, is not to see it as an interview, but an opportunity. The agent/publisher is not looking at your credentials as a writer (though these play a part) they are looking at you as a whole and what you can bring to the marketing party. So when writing your biography, don’t be afraid to share.

5. Are there any unusual issues that are worthy of mention?

Agents and publishers hate surprises! If your book comes with baggage, then it is better to get it out in the open as early as possible. If you envisage anything out of the ordinary for your baby, then say so in the pitch. If you need illustrations or photographs, than include this in the pitch. Translations costs money, so do fancy covers. Colour photos are more expensive than black and white. Oversized books bring their own problems and if the book has appeared as a self-published project the agent/publisher needs to know. The general rule is that if it is going to cost money then mention it up front.

One aspect that worries writers, agents and publishers alike is copyright. It is essential that you have a clear copyright position established prior to pitching. One special word of advice here comes in regards to songs. The use of song lyrics in a book can be a potential stumbling block for any proposal. Getting permission for using song lyrics can be expensive and time consuming. My advice is to simply avoid using lyrics at all costs.

BubbleCow provide a free course to help you write your book proposal — go here to sign up for free.

About the Author

By Gary Smailes - Co-founder at BubbleCow, helping writers to write, get published and sell more books. Google+ Twitter

  • Marta Merajver-Kurlat

    Your article is most useful and enlightening. As I work with only one publisher, I don’t have to worry about some of the items you pinpoint, but I might in future.
    I don’t have a website yet (working on it.)
    All help is welcome, and I wish to thank you for sharing vital information with writers.
    All the best,

  • Brenda

    Thank you for the information. My first book is being published in the spring.