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My current nonfiction project is a book on writing that was solicited by a publisher. Since I have already been given a contract for the book, and I have a tight deadline, you may be surprised to hear that one of my earliest steps in the process is writing a proposal.Dave&books What?

Isn’t the purpose of a book proposal to sell the book to a publisher? Why would I waste time writing a proposal for a book I’ve
already got a contract for? If that surprises you, you’re likely to be astounded to hear that I even advise people who are self-publishing to write a book proposal. Now why would I do that?

Well, I do a lot of things that even I can’t explain! But in this instance there’s a good reason behind it. A book proposal is more than just a sales pitch to a publisher. There are six things that a book proposal can do for you:

  1.  A well-done book proposal can force you to think through your book—how to describe it and how to sell it to the reader.
  2. Writing the proposal can also force you to ask the tough question, “Who would want to read this book?” Identifying the audience is crucial to the process, from writing the book to marketing it.
  3. Another tough question it can force you to ask is, “Has this idea been done before?” In other words, what makes it distinctive? Come on, admit it: don’t you sometimes worry that you are unconsciously putting together a cheap imitation of a book you read a long time ago?
  4. A book proposal also makes you start to think about marketing and promotion, and what unique opportunities and contacts you might have to get this book into the hands of readers.
  5. The proposal can also serve as a guide to writing the book (yes, it is possible, and sometimes preferable, to write the proposal before you write a single word of the book).
  6. A good proposal can motivate you to start writing the book, or if you’ve already started, to finish the rough draft, and to work through the revisions to a final, polished manuscript.

Of course, all this depends on how well the book proposal is written in the first place—which brings me to my current project: an e-book on writing a book proposal. Look for it sometime next year!

David E. Fessenden is an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and two decades of editorial management with Christian publishers. He has written six books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, will be published in fall 2013.Dave’s blog

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2 Thoughts on “Why waste time with a book proposal?

  1. Excellent post, Dave.
    Too often authors view the book proposal as a dreaded chore instead of a useful tool.
    Thanks for the revised perspective!

  2. Thanks, Ava. I haven’t heard many others talk about the uses of a book proposal beyond pitching the book to a publisher, so it’s good to get confirmation from a veteran writer like you!

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