Should I write a business book proposal?

cartoon of editor sitting at deskA traditional publisher is unlikely to read your finished nonfiction manuscript. If you want your business book published through a traditional publisher, then you must write a business book proposal.

The proposal’s purpose is to sell your idea to a publisher.

A book proposal is a document of between 3,000-12,000 words. If successful, it will have been evaluated by several people. Editors, marketers, salespeople, and production staff will all have their own criteria for whether your proposal will be acceptable.

Literary agents sell book proposals to editors. Editors sell proposals to publishing committees. Editorial staff will scan your proposal first. And this is why format matters.

If you’re going the traditional route, large publishing houses or small independent publishers will want you to answer a lot of questions. They may have their own book-proposal template.

Components of a business book proposal

  1. Title
  2. Concept
  3. Table of contents (proposal)
  4. About the book
  5. About the author
  6. About the market
  7. About the competition
  8. Production details
  9. About promotions
  10. Table of contents (book)
  11. Chapter summaries
  12. Sample chapters
  13. Appendix[i]

Publishers want to know your book will sell

Celebrity sells. Many people buy books because of the author. Publishers want to know you have a following with eager potential buyers for your book. Even the most compelling topic and a well-written proposal can fail if the author has no following.

A publisher’s business model seeks revenue from book sales. But is that your expectation for your business book?

Most authors sell few copies

In 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing, Steven Piersanti, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, writes: The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.

But we know from The End of Average, that “average” can mislead because it doesn’t consider variability or “jaggedness” as author Todd Rose calls it.

Some books fail to sell at all. Others become a big success.  There’s strong correlation between marketing—or lack of it—and how many copies you sell.

If you self-publish—as many business book authors are now choosing to do—the process of writing your proposal is still worthwhile. You wouldn’t build a house without a plan. And a book proposal is nothing more than a plan.

Don’t send your finished nonfiction manuscript to a traditional publisher and expect it to be read.

A book proposal is a lot of work, but not as much as not writing one.

Yes, you should write a book proposal.


[i] Elisabeth Lyon, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to get a contract and advance before writing your book, penguin.com