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Writing a Book Proposal? 6 Things You Should Absolutely Know

So… you’ve written a book and you are eager to share it with the world.

I’ve been in the book industry for more than 20 years. Over those years, I have helped hundreds of authors with their publicity plans, but I’ve also worked with many new authors who need guidance with their book proposal before they submit it to a publisher. And if there’s one thing they all have in common, it’s that they’re speaking to the wrong audience. The decision maker is not who you think it is.  

Selling to Sales

Most authors write their book proposal with the publisher (or acquisitions editor) in mind. But what you don’t know is that in a publishing house, the salespeople are really your most important allies. If they are enthusiastic about a book, they can convince a publisher to publish yours! 

Salespeople are the ones who have to convince retail book buyers and booksellers to carry your book, so you need to include as much information as possible that will appeal to them. 

1. “Comp” Titles Are Key 

Sales reps and publishers always research comparable books when making a publishing decision. Because they think it’ll make their book more exciting, new authors have a tendency to say, “there’s no other book like this on the market!” but in all honesty, many publishers prefer to publish books that have seen success in the recent past. They use a database called BookScan to make many of their decisions by researching sales data. 

2. What’s Coming Up?

Don’t just use existing information in your comps. Make sure that your comp titles include forthcoming books too. You don’t need fancy database to do this. You can find this info on Amazon when you do a category search, on the left side of the screen under New Releases. Amazon shares books in your category that have yet to be published. Sometimes there are books 8 months in the future. Salespeople will want you to present these forthcoming books too when considering yours.

3. X Meets Y

Craft a description using popular books in your category that they can relate to like The Tipping Point meets Rich Dad Poor Dad.  Sales reps like to share examples of bestsellers when they present books to their buyers, so try and include any comparable bestselling books in your description.

4. Where Will This Sell?

Think about where your book will sell well…and be realistic! 

  • Is it good for Mass Market stores like Walmart, Target, Kmart, or Best Buy? 
  • Is it a Costco book that will sell well near the Aidells Sausages and toilet paper (see this great NYT piece on this very subject)?
  • Is it perfect for specialty retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Urban Outfitters, Paper Source or Anthropologie?
  • Is it a business book that would do best on Amazon?

Wherever you think your book would stand out, include that information in your proposal. But be sure to actually shop at those retailers first if you are going to include this information. Let’s be honest: no teenagers will buy a business book at Urban Outfitters and not that many small-trim gift books on unicorns will sell well at Costco. Do your homework and peruse the bookshelves at Target and giant book palates at Costco and Walmart before you include this information in your proposal.  

5. How May I Be of Service to You?

When writing your proposal, think about what YOU can offer the salespeople in terms of opening new doors, developing new accounts. 

  • Do you have a strong relationship with the book buyer at your own company? 
  • Is there someone at your business practice that might want to make a bulk purchase? 
  • Would your own corporate headquarters want to do a branded book purchase for their own training use? 
  • Would you be able to introduce the sales reps to a new retailer with whom they don’t already have a relationship? 

These sales opportunities might sway a publisher to move forward with your book. Remember, if they can’t sell a lot of books, why would they want to publish it? And if possible, try and explore or arrange a bulk sale before your book even publishes. Numbers above 500 might actually seal the deal.

6. Get Your PR & Marketing Plans in Place RIGHT NOW!

Want to impress a publisher? Start putting some money aside for PR and marketing before you even get the book deal. Many publishers (including some of the big names) don’t have the budget or bandwidth to do a robust PR and marketing campaign for every book. They save those marketing dollars for “A-list titles” and that may be only 10 books a year. So, start putting money aside now so that if you get the book deal, you’re ready to come out of the gate running. 

A decent campaign can be anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 and sometimes more. Marketing budgets are for expenses such as advertising, book awards submissions, social media marketing, book tours, creative marketing tools like a microsite, bookmarks, posters, e-newsletters (copywriting and design), etc. A publicist can cost around $2500 a month or more –depending on how much you want them to do. So, if you can set aside at least $10k-$15k and say in your proposal that you are ready to move ahead and do much of the PR and marketing on your own, it will be very appealing to any publisher.   

Consider hiring a publicist to help you create a broad-strokes PR and marketing plan specifically to include in your proposal. You can usually pay them hourly to do this and it could be very helpful in landing your book deal. You want your prospective publisher to know you are going to do all you can to promote the book and that you have been really thoughtful about how it will best be promoted.

These are just a few ideas for making a winning proposal. If you are working with a literary agent, they can guide you too. Want guidance with your proposal? Contact us at We’d love to help! 


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