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Do I Need A Book Proposal?



You don't necessarily need a book proposal if you plan to self-publish. If you want to take a shot at being picked up by a traditional publisher (which requires representation by a professional literary agent) you will  need a book proposal (especially if your genre is non-fiction). Why?

Very few (hardly any) traditional publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors. (They typically only deal with literary agents who represent authors.) Rejection letters will refer to you as an "unagented author." The few publishers who are open to looking at new manuscripts (good luck on finding one) will only accept what is referred to as a book proposal (and they will only ask for your proposal if you wrote a killer query letter that got their attention). Publishers' don't have time to read entire manuscripts. They will only look at book proposals and they won't even ask for your proposal unless, as I said, a query letter gets their attention. You are better off sending your query letter to a bonafide literary agent. Why?

Very few traditional publishers will consider an author's book proposal unless it is submitted by a literary agent. (that trend is changing—a few traditional publishers and even literary agents are pursuing successful, self-published authors; see below)
 
 
Disclaimer: Having said all the above, I just learned from my own editor (spring of 2013) that literary agents are beginning to take note of self-published books that are selling well and have changed gears. A growing number of agents and traditional publishers are starting to pursue self-published authors whose books are selling and offering them contracts. This is a good thing. With this new turn of events, non-fiction authors should prepare a book proposal just in case an agent or publisher contacts them. Just remember, any agent or publisher who asks for money up front is scamming you.
 
A good place to find a downloadable non-fiction and fiction book proposal template is Michaelhyatt.com.
 
Cost is $19.97 each or both for $29.94. Michael Hyatt (former CEO for Thomas Nelson), has added updated information (to his formerly complimentary book proposal guide) reflecting evolving changes in the publishing industry. There are also a number of helpful Websites that offer basic outlines for book proposals at no charge.
 
A good bare-bones template is offered by Ted Weinstein. 
 
Fiction writers may not need a book proposal. If the query letter gets a response from an agent, a completed manuscript may be the next thing the agent wants. So if you are writing a novel, don't send out queries until your manuscript is complete and ready to send. At the same time, be ready to send a book proposal if requested. Some agents require a fiction book proposal.
 
Karen Wiesner tells novelists how to prepare a proposal for your novel at: 
Your Foot in the Door: An Irresistible Synopsis, Part 1 and 2” which are excerpts from From First Draft to Finished Novel {A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building} © by Karen S. Wiesner, published by Writer’s Digest Books http://www.firstdraftin30days.com/.
 
Non-fiction writers will definitely need a book proposal. If an agent responds to a non-fiction author's query letter, he will be more interested in the idea for the book. The completed manuscript is not essential at that point. The agent will only want to see a book proposal which will give an overview or synopsis of the book.

*With a small investment, you can get professional help in fashioning a book proposal that will get results. Check out Terry Whalin's proposal advice.
 
Literary agents, as well, will only look at query letters. If the query letter doesn't ring their bell, you won't hear from them. There is a third, slim possibility. 

On the Book Marketing page you will see three Websites where authors can be listed for a fee. Publishers, and some agents, occasionally visit these Websites looking for new books with potential, but they will only look at book proposals. I also list them here for your convenience.
 
The two original Websites are:
 
WritersEdgeService.com and ChristianManuscriptSubmissions.com (Michael Hyatt, current CEO for Thomas Nelson Publishers, recommends the latter site for Christian authors).
 
*R.R. Bowker just opened a new Website (Bowker Manuscript Submissions) where authors can submit book proposals (for a fee—$99 for six months).To date, over 350 small to midsize publishers have signed up to view these proposals hoping to find new authors with talent. 
 
If you decide to take a chance and upload your proposal, thoroughly question anyone who contacts you. Most traditional publishers are swamped with book proposals from literary agents and neither commercial publishers nor literary agents typically go looking for new authors. I suspect, however, with the explosion of self-published authors, a growing number of publishers visit lists like these occasionally looking for new blood. Thomas Nelson, until recently, has been a long-time, traditional Christian book publisher. He recently started his own publishing company for self-publishers (you must use their ISBN). I suspect he did so to tap into the lucrative self-publishing market. And, hopefully, he will keep an eye out for self-published books with potential. The fact that Nelson partnered with Author Solutions to run his new publishing company makes me wary. Simon and Schuster have done the same thing and also partnered with Author Solutions to run their vanity press operation. I would be hesitant to get in bed with AS.
 
Writing a book proposal will show you whether there is a worthwhile book inside you. A well-constructed book proposal will give you a sense of purpose as a writer. If a literary agent responds to your (non-fiction) query letter, he will want to see your book proposal right away, so you need one completed before you seek literary represention. Agents move quickly when they think a book has potential. It's their bread and butter.

Writing a good book proposal is a lot of work, but a valuable tool in book writing. You will be forced into developing chapter titles, your potential target audience, your marketing plan and a writing path to follow. If you follow the suggestions and make an honest effort, it will put a fire in your belly and a glimpse into your future as an author.


Do you really need to write a book proposal? As I mentioned earlier, not if you plan on self-publishing. My wife self-published her first book, but I put a proposal together anyway, based on Michael Hyatt's guide, and it changed my whole attitude about writing a book. I wouldn't trade the experience. You will be glad you did.
 
If you decide to follow my advice and write a book proposal, read Michael Hyatt's Advice to First-Time Authors.

Look at some Sample Book Proposals.

 You are on the Book Proposal page.
 
 
Updated July 18, 2014