Why Every Book Needs a Proposal – Even Self-Published Books

By W. Terry Whalin (used by permission)

I’ve read thousands of book proposals as an acquisitions editor and a former literary agent. I continually teach on the topic because I believe many writers don’t understand the critical nature of this specialized document called a book proposal.

On the traditional side of publishing, editors and agents read proposals. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written nonfiction or fiction because this document includes information, which never appears in your manuscript yet is critical detail in the decisionmaking process.

As a book publisher at Intermedia Publishing Group, many of my authors have not written a book proposal because we work with full manuscripts. From my perspective of working in book publishing for over 20 years, every author should create a book proposal for their book–whether eventually they publish the book with a company where they pay to get it published (subsidy or self-publishing) or whether they find a traditional book publisher. In the proposal creation process, the author learns some critical elements about their book concept plus they are better positioned in the marketplace.

Here are four benefits of proposal creation (and I’m certain there are many more):

1. You Define Your Target Market. Many authors believe their book will hit a broad target–everyone. No successful book is for everyone. Each book has a primary target audience and the proposal creation process helps you define, pinpoint and write about this audience. It is important in nonfiction but it is also important in fiction. For example, romance is the largest fiction genre yet there are many divisions within the romance genre. Every proposal needs a target which is defined– yet large enough to generate volume sales. You learn and achieve this balance when you create a page-turning book proposal.

2. You Understand Your Competition. While creating a proposal, the writer has to take a hard look at which books are competing with your idea. This process helps you understand the marketplace. Many new authors believe they are writing something unique with no competition. It’s not true.

Every book competes in the marketplace and you will be a better equipped author if you understand your competition.

3. You Create A Personal Plan For Marketing. Whether you like marketing or dislike it, the reality is every author has to market their own book. It doesn’t matter who publishes your book–whether you self-publish or go with a large traditional house. As you create a book proposal, you will be including practical, specific and measurable ideas that you can execute when your book enters the market. The proposal will be a valuable reference tool for you because you’ve done this important creation process.

4. You Possess A Valuable Tool To Pitch Agents and Editors at Traditional Houses. I’ve written it a number of times but it bears repeating here. Literary agents and editors do not read manuscripts. They read book proposals. Even novelists need a book proposal for their initial pitch to an editor or agent. And if you self-publish and are successful with selling your book, because you own everything, if you receive an attractive offer from a traditional house, then you can move the book. Without a proposal you can’t properly pitch the concept and you’ve eliminated this possibility.

I believe writers should explore every option and keep their possibilities open. You’ve narrowed the possibilities rather than expanded them if you don’t have a proposal.

If you make the effort to create an excellent book proposal, then you will be ready to pitch your book at any time and any place.

Editors and literary agents do not read manuscripts (a surprise to authors). They read book proposals. Learn more at: http://bit.ly/wbkpro


W. Terry Whalin, a writer and editor, lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com.

Terry’s  Book Proposals That Sell has over 100 Five Star Amazon reviews and continues to help many writers. His online course, Write A Book Proposal has helped writers around the world to learn the step-by-step techniques of creating a proposal.

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