Many indie authors choose to self-publish because they don’t want to spend their valuable writing time endlessly querying agents and publishers. But there is value in doing some of the tasks these gatekeepers require, even if you are going to sashay right past the gates. Remember, if you are self-publishing, you are now the publisher. Writing a formal book proposal will help you step back and see your book with clear eyes.
Why? Because it will help you clarify what your book is about, why you are writing it, who your audience is, and what else they are reading. Knowing these things will help you make better decisions about your book at every stage: drafting, designing, launching, and marketing.
Many agents, as well as a few publishers, have detailed proposal requirements on their websites. Search for agents and publishers who specialize in your genre to get more specific ideas about what your proposal should include. Below are the basic components that are useful for indie authors to include in a book proposal.
Have you ever had someone ask you what your book is about and heard yourself giving a rambling, disjointed response? Having a concise, compelling summary of your book at the ready will help you avoid this mishap. It will also help you start building your community of readers, backers, and fans from day one.
Writing coach Beth Barany has a fantastic formula for building what she calls an author message: “I write + genre + for [adjective] audience + desired impact.” For example, “I write self-help books for busy parents who want to spend more quality time with their children.”
Most authors put off writing their blurb – the summary that appears on the back cover of the book and on the online sales page – until the very last minute, and often it shows. Blurb writing is hard, no question. But start tackling it now, and you’ll have something you are happy with by the time your book launches.
Even if you don’t know all of the elements of your book yet, write a few sentences describing the contents. What is going to hook your reader? How can you convey the main components of your book in a way that is engaging and easy to grasp?
If you get stuck on this step, skip ahead to the audience sections of the proposal, read some blurbs of books in your genre, and follow the patterns you see successful authors using.
TABLE OF CONTENTS OR PLOT SUMMARY
If you are writing nonfiction, you should include a table of contents in your proposal. List your chapters, as well as subheads, and add a sentence or two summarizing each chapter. If you have already written an outline for your book, this shouldn’t take long. If you haven’t written an outline, your table of contents will become your roadmap as you write.
If you are writing fiction, outline the plot arc, focusing on your protagonist. Describe the opening scenario of the novel, the problems your protagonist must confront, the resolution of these problems, and how your protagonist changes over the course of the novel.
WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?
Hint: “everyone” is always the wrong answer. Describe who you think your audience is. How old are they? What are their interests and what are their worries? Where do they hang out online? You might get this wrong – you won’t know until you hit the publish button – but it’s good to have some readers in mind as you write and especially as you plan your launch and your marketing strategies.
WHAT ELSE IS YOUR AUDIENCE READING?
This section might be the most important of the proposal. The books you identify here are your “comps,” and they will help you figure out who your audience is, how to market your book, and how to set yourself apart from the pack.
So how do you find your comps? You are looking for books about which you can confidently say, “A reader who liked this book will like my book as well.”
Pick a few specific titles to serve as your comp group. Choose a few traditionally published books and a few indies, all from the top twenty or forty bestselling titles in their categories on Amazon. Focus on books published within the last year or two. For each title, pull out the blurb, the cover thumbnail, and the Amazon category listings and include them either in your proposal or in a separate comps file.
Now, write a paragraph about how your book is similar to or different from your comps. How is your book similar to successful titles? And what sets your book apart from your comps? What do you offer that is different or bigger or better than what other authors are offering? If you can’t answer this question to your satisfaction, you might want to think about how to retool your book so that you can.
YOU’VE WRITTEN A PROPOSAL: NOW WHAT?
Don’t stick it in a drawer and forget about it! For starters, think about who you can share it with. Send it around to friends and ask for their feedback. Identify a few people whom you think are in your target audience and ask them, would you read this book?
If you are still writing, open up your proposal every few weeks and update your plot summary or table of contents and take another whack at that pesky blurb. Once your book is finished and you are ready for the production steps, refer back to your comps to see what their covers look like, how the interiors are designed, and which categories they are in on Amazon.
Taking the time to act like a publisher – not just a writer – will result in a book that has better odds of finding an audience. Your book proposal can be the road map that takes you there.