Writing a book – Part 3 – The proposal

December 16th, 2005

This is the third installment in a series of posts on writing a book (first post here, second post here).  It's not so much a "how to get published" but rather one author's experience of the entire writing process, starting with the idea and taking that to a finished book. 

Same disclaimers as last time - I'm writing from a technical author's viewpoint and ideas may not translate to other kind of writing, I can't guarantee that you'll make millions or that you'll even get published but I'm pretty sure that the information here isn't going to harm your chances!

The Proposal

The proposal is the stage where you take your idea and structure it into a book.  A proposal can take an almost infinite number of forms and most publishers have a format that they prefer to get proposals in.  However, don't let this be a reason not to be organizing your thoughts and structuring the book.

In a basic form, a proposal should have the following information:

  • A basic chapter listing
    This is core to any proposal.  You want to get a clear idea for your book and it is during the proposal writing stage that you will get this. 
    I start writing a proposal by mind mapping the idea that I have (I used to do this on paper but I've started using MindManager Pro for Mindjet to do this and I find this very useful).  I take the big idea and break that down into the component parts, which I then break down further.  Using this process I get a series of smaller topics that become chapter headings (the chapter titles may change later but don't worry about that for now).
    Work hard on this aspect of your proposal and take your time - you're going to want to make this as full and as comprehensive as possible.  If you are a new author then the publishers are going to be looking at your layout and style and trying to decide it you are the right person to write the book.  All they have to go on is the information that you give them and the part they seem pay the most attention to is the chapter outline!
    As well as chapter headings outline sub chapters and give some details as to what's going to go into the chapter (remember, the publishers are unlikely to be subject matter experts).  If you can, give an idea of the page length of each chapter (OK, if you are new to writing books this is going to be tricky but take a stab at it - no one is going to give you too much or a hard time if you don't get it right!).
    This process should take a good 60 - 75% of your proposal writing (and rewriting) time.
  • About the book
    In your proposal make sure that you talk a LOT about the book.  Why you want to write it?  What need it fills?  Who will read it?  What are the competing books?  Why people will buy this over other competing books? 
    Hype it up big-style! 
  • About you!
    First, make sure that you let the publishers know who you are - Name, address, contact details and so on.  Basic stuff but you want to be more than just a name and an email address to the publishers. 
    Then go on to talk about yourself - You you are, what you do, why you're the right person to write the book ... Sell yourself to the publishers!  If you written anything (online or offline) then mention it! 
    This is your time to sell yourself!  Don't pass up on doing so!

Whatever you do, enjoy the process of writing the proposal.  It might seem like you are doing a lot of free work but you aren't - this is the document that not only sells your idea to the publisher while at the same time helps you to organize your ideas and create a writing plan for later. 

As a rule I put all my proposals through a four stage process:

  • Write
  • Rewrite/edit
  • Edit
  • Polish

The rewrite/edit, edit and polish steps can be very variable.  Sometimes I've been lucky and done a good job early on and the proposal only needs a polish while other times each stage can be a major rewrite.  One thing I have noticed is that the more effort I put in at the idea stage, the better and easier the proposal stage is.

If you want to look at a proposal template, take a look at this page on the Wiley website.  This will give you an idea of how it should look.  If you look at other publisher's websites you will see other templates available.

One word of advice - Don't send one publisher a proposal using a rival publisher's template!  Either use your own format or pour your format into the other formats.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

This entry was posted on Friday, December 16th, 2005 at 17:12 and is filed under Book Talk!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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