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by Patricia Fry

7 Reasons Why Your Book Needs a Book Proposal

Do you have a novel in the works or are you contemplating writing one? Wait! Before you finish that potential bestseller, you have a little business to take care of. You really must write a book proposal.

Why expend your precious energy writing a proposal for your amazing book? Many novelists resist writing a proposal because, well, it just isn’t a creative endeavor. Plus, they’ve been told that you don’t need one for a novel. One overzealous hopeful author actually told me this week that he wasn’t going to write a book proposal because his book is so good it will sell itself.

Why write a book proposal for a work of fiction? Let me count the reasons:

1: A book proposal can mean the difference between a rejection slip and a publishing contract. Contrary to what you may have heard, most traditional royalty publishers request a book proposal—yes, even for fiction. In fact, sometimes the publisher is more interested in the book proposal than he is the manuscript. Just look at some of the books that have made it into Barnes and Noble and that are on the bestseller lists. Are they all really that good?

The fact is that sometimes mediocre manuscripts are produced when excellent ones go unnoticed. Why? Think about it: A publisher is in the business to make money. Let’s say that the publisher can produce one more book this year. He’s looking for a single book to fill his catalog. If one author comes to him with a good book and no ideas for promoting it and another author shows up with a mediocre manuscript and an amazing promotional plan written into her proposal, which one do you think he’s going to choose?

2: A book proposal will tell you whether you have a book at all. A synopsis is a major part of a fiction book proposal. If you can’t write a succinct synopsis that brings your story to life, your book might not have all of the elements of a good story. Writing a synopsis is an excellent exercise—one that affords you the opportunity to examine your story from outside the traditional boundaries of the manuscript. Doesn’t it make sense to determine whether you have a viable project before you approach a publisher or self-publish your book?

3: A book proposal will help you to learn something about the publishing industry. As part of the book proposal process, presumably, you will spend some time studying aspects of your genre. You’ll define your publishing options and learn the possible consequences of your choices.

Think about it, you wouldn’t enter into any other field of business without learning about the industry, the products, distributors, manufacturers, suppliers and so forth. You would check out your competition and the needs of your customers. Publishing is not an extension of your writing. Publishing is a business and your book, once published, is a product. A book proposal, then, is a business plan for your book.

4: A book proposal will help you to identify your target audience. Yes, even fiction has a target audience. Who is yours? Readers of historical fiction? Mysteries? Thrillers? Science Fiction? Chick Lit? How many such readers are there? Is there another genre that is currently more popular? Perhaps there’s something you can do to make your book appeal to a wider audience such as, young adults, both men and women, seniors or readers of romance, biographies or humor, for example. Can you see how writing a book proposal can help you to write the right book for the right audience?

5: A book proposal will help you to reach your target audience. In order to sell books to your audience, you need to know where they are—where do they buy books, what sites do they frequent, which magazines and newsletters do they read? The answer to these questions will help you to create a marketing plan. And, a marketing plan is necessary in this publishing climate. You’ll need one and your potential publisher will require one.

6: A book proposal gives you the opportunity to build promotion into your book. How do you build promotion into a book? For fiction, you might discuss a popular issue and/or choose a more promotions-friendly setting for your story, for example. Make your novel more salable by giving a character a horse, a motorcycle, diabetes or triplets. Do you see how additions such as these would give your fiction book expanded promotional opportunities?

7: A book proposal will help you to build your platform. You won’t get very far selling books without a platform, nor will you get very far with a publisher. Publishers are interested in their bottom line. They want to know that their authors will take a strong role in the promotion of their books. What do you have going for you or what can you develop as part of your platform.

Platform, by the way, is your following; your way of attracting an audience. Publishers want authors who are known in their field or genre. They are interested in authors who prove themselves to be aggressive promoters—who are accustomed to presenting seminars, who understand the publicity business and who have the time and funds to travel and promote their books, for example. If you have never written a thriller before, start now establishing your platform. For example,

 • Submit your short stories to appropriate magazines, newsletters and web sites.

 • Expand your mailing list.

 • Create a newsletter and/or a Web site dedicated to your book or genre.

 • Develop a seminar related to your genre or the theme of your story.

The book proposal is not just for the nonfiction book anymore. Write a book proposal for your fabulous novel and you’re much more likely to experience success as an author.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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