Book Proposals

While I’m waiting back to get some more feedback on my query letter, I’m also working on the proposal for my book. This is the more formal document that explains to a publisher what they would get if they bought the rights to purchase my book. Like a government or business proposal, I’m laying out the outline of what my product would be. I’ve covered some of this topic before (specifically, audience analysis and competitive analysis), but there’s always more to learn.

What is included?

Different publishers might have different requirements, but when you’re writing a book proposal, you’re usually looking at the following primary components:

  • Book description/rationale
  • Table of contents
  • Author bio and platform
  • Audience analysis
  • Competitive title analysis
  • Sample chapters

Book Description/Rationale

This is relatively straightforward. If I were selling a work of fiction, I’d be describing the lead characters, plot, setting, and primary themes. For a nonfiction book, such as I’m attempting, I’m focusing on the subject matter, my particular slant or focus, and the need my target audience has for this particular information.

Table of Contents

Providing a table of contents for a nonfiction proposal is a great way to say the publisher the primary topics I intend to cover and in what order. A detailed TOC could cover subheadings as well–the more detail, the better.

Author Bio and Platform

The biography should give the publisher some hint as to your experience/expertise that relates to writing this particular book. I can include not just on-the-job experience, but research efforts, previous publications, and other activities related to my topic. For example, if I were writing a book on horse breeding, any time spent working with horses on a farm–my own or someone else’s–would be directly relevant; if I were writing a book about automobile repair, not so much. As with other proposals, my past experience/performance should be relevant to what I’m proposing now. If I’ve received awards for previous work, I can include that information as well.

The author’s “platform” is, more or less, my marketing platform. Do I have a blog? Yes, indeed. A Twitter account? Check. A business Facebook page? Yes! How many followers do I have? How much has my audience grown over time? What are the demographics of the people reading my content? Does it match my intended book audience? This is where WordPress’s internal metrics and Google Analytics come into play and show that I am targeting my book audience appropriately.

Audience Analysis

I’ve covered this a bit before here. The book should have a targeted, identifiable, and realistically sized audience that can be cited as potential or likely readers. I could be writing about the danger of asteroid strikes on planet Earth, which are a direct threat to every person on the planet; however, the likelihood that all 7 billion humans on this planet will read such a book is slim. A more realistic audience might be policy makers and members of the public interested in space-related technologies.

In my case, I have the field of technical communicators, which is a bit over 59,000 people in the United States. Or, more realistically, given my Google Analytics data, I’m looking directly at the ~13,000 individuals ages 18-35 who are working as technical writers. I might tap other markets, such as technical writing students, but that’s a reasonable figure for one of my primary target markets. I’m not reaching all 13,000 of you (yet), but that at least gives the publisher some notion of what what the market potential is. Could my book be used as a textbook for college students? Potentially, but if I don’t yet know how many students are taking technical writing classes, I at least know that there were 185 undergraduate tech writing programs in the U.S. as of 2006.

Competitive Title Analysis

What other books are out there like mine? Publishers will want to know. I am not the only one who has written about technical writing careers–there are already at least a dozen books that cover the types of documents that tech writers create–however there aren’t a lot of books that cover both technical documents and office politics and life outside of work and retirement. That sort of difference narrows down my competitive field somewhat, which is good and bad: it’s a small niche, so there’s not a lot of competition; however, because it’s a small niche, there might not be as much demand, either. Those are decisions for the publisher to weigh. My job is to provide data that shows this book has a shot of making a minimum threshold of sales.

Sample Chapters

Many publishers, if they’re requesting a full proposal, will ask that the author include three sample chapters. This content, obviously, gives the publisher an idea of the quality of my work (vocabulary, grammar, spelling, punctuation), my style, and my content’s organization and flow.

If everything looks promising, I might then move on to the next step, which would be a contract to deliver my book within a certain amount of time in exchange for an agreed-upon fee (possibly an advance, which would be a fee paid before you deliver the complete manuscript) or a percentage of sales. And that, my friends, will be a topic for another day. One thing at a time.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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1 Response to Book Proposals

  1. Pingback: Book Update: Traditional vs. Self Publishing | Heroic Technical Writing: Advice and Insights on the Business of Technical Communication

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