Writing a Book Proposal

While more and more writers are going the self published route, pitching book proposals is hardly a dying art! In fact, these skills are useful for any writer – no matter the genre.


Prepar­ing Your Submission
Step 1. Get ready for rejec­tion. If you can’t han­dle rejec­tion do not try to pub­lish books.
Step 2. Write a pro­posal. Don’t bother with unso­licited manuscripts.

Writ­ing a Proposal
Pro­pos­als look a lit­tle some­thing like this:

  • Title
  • Short bio of yourself
  • Sum­mary
  • Audi­ence
  • Need
  • Com­pet­ing volumes
  • Poten­tial endorsers
  • Word Length
  • Sub­mis­sion Date
  • Sam­ple Chapter

Get­ting the Pro­posal heard

  • Meet an edi­tor — net­work like crazy, meet peo­ple, schmooze. You’re incred­i­bly unlikely to be pub­lished via an unso­licited man­u­script. Your chances dra­mat­i­cally increase if you know the pub­lisher. The edi­tor has to believe in your project over and above the other projects on the table. They have to sell it to their edi­to­r­ial col­leagues and the pub­lish­ing company. Conferences (especially the large ones) are often the place where you will have most contact with acquisitions editors or their representatives.Be a person when you meet an editor though, can you imagine how it feels to be talked at and sold to all day (or multiple days at big conferences).
  • Con­sider the mar­ket, ethos, val­ues and the­ol­ogy of the publisher. Do your homework on the other books they have published in the last 5 years and their list of forthcoming titles making sure you’re not duplicating anything or proposing something that would be in direct competition with one of their current titles.
  • Be will­ing to make changes. Nego­ti­ate on the size, the scope, the con­tent, the audi­ence – every­thing is on the table. If something isn’t negotiable then you need to decide if this is the publisher for you and whether you’ve miscalculated in your pitch.
  • Be pre­pared for it to be a long process. The journey to publication is likely filled with cor­rec­tions, proof-reading, endorsers, indices, reviewers.

Be Pre­pared for…
Some more things to be ready for in the process:

  • A long delay wait­ing for a response. It can take quite a while – do not expect a response the same week or even the same month as your proposal letter is submitted. It’s okay to make enquiries about the sta­tus of your pro­posal after a few months.
  • Rejec­tion is normal. One of my professors shared 43 rejection letters that he received for his first book – including one which came the same day as he received a box of published hardcover books.
  • Work and fam­ily com­mit­ments can and will impact your book. When your cir­cum­stances change deliv­ery dates may have to change. Be sure to be open with the publisher’s representative about known situations that could have an impact. However, a contract is a contract – don’t put yourself is a bad situation without some thought.
  • Edi­tors can be bru­tal. If you’re an academic you need to know that there’s a dif­fer­ence between an aca­d­e­mic super­vi­sor and an edi­tor. Super­vi­sors want you to pro­duce defend­able work, edi­tors want you to pro­duce mar­ketable work. Do you want to be coddled, or do you want it to be good. Be nice, be humble and for goodness’ sake, remember that editors have a job to do.
  • Copy edi­tors can be incompetent. Just because you paid them to copy edit doesn’t mean they fixed everything. Remember thought, that they can also be an amazing support. Choose wisely. Trust, but verify.
  • Pub­lish­ers can change stuff. You may not get much input or decision making power over the name, cover, etc. Read the contract before you sign it, and get your own attorney to look it over too.
  • Negative or harsh crit­i­cism in reviews. Are you going to read them or not? There are the pre-publication reviews – those you will likely need to read in order to understand how to make the book better, or at least where to position your work within the market place. After the fact is a different story – a few years ago Marilynne Robinson (yes, that one) told me that she doesn’t read reviews good or bad because she finds they make her too self conscious about the content of her work. I love her writing, and i have to say you could do much worse than following her advice on this.

In the writ­ing of books there is much sor­row, mainly for the authors.  The first ben­e­fi­ciary of the process is your­self, but it’s good to see oth­ers learning and profting from the process. Writ­ing is an avenue for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the debate, being part of the con­ver­sa­tion, and it’s fun.

How a blog inter­plays with books

A Blog can be a useful way to help develop a marketing presence that you as an author control.

Writer (and Academic) Michael Bird says that start­ing a blog was one of the best things he ever did.  The blog opened doors with pub­lish­ers (they even took him out to lunch). Some of his posts now prompt emails from publishers. This is a best case scenario obviously.

A blog can be great for bounc­ing ideas off peo­ple, and working through ideas. Be careful publishing all of your raw material on a blog, however, as publishers aren’t too keen to buy the cow when you’re giving the milk away for free. Also, blog posts are a different genre to writing for book publication.

Blogs can also be effective for building your audience, developing launch teams, and generally showing a publisher that you have worked hard to build an audience.

Other Resources
Some of these resources go into more detail about the elements of the proposal identified above. These do have an academic focus as that is my background, but they are still useful nevertheless.
Submitting a Textbook proposal to Oxford University
University of California Press Book Proposal Guidelines
Routledge Information for Authors
How to Write a Book Proposal – Cambridge University (Department of History and Philosophy of Science)
Book Proposals – Purdue Online Writing Lab
Submitting a Proposal to the Academic Division
Ashgate Proposals for Humanities Authors



Speaker. Reader. Thinker. Writer. Traveler. Advocate

img_2516-resized-500Anna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, has been working with Social Enterprises, socially-responsible businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations since 2006 to develop and effectively execute strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, attract talent, and reach new customers. Anna is an Australian-born speaker, writer and advocate. Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, Instagram, facebook page, & Twitter.

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