April 2012


The final two sections of a book proposal should be the book’s outline then the sample chapters. In this post, I’ll take a look at the outline–how to structure it, how long it should be, and what it should accomplish.

Chances are, if you’ve already written your book, you’ll have at least a partial outline written as well. So this part of your proposal should, in many ways, be redundant. Keep in mind when writing your book proposal outline that you are essentially writing the skeleton for your book to show how it is organized and how it will flow together.

For a nonfiction book, create a List of Chapters, where you give each chapter a catchy title (possibly also a subtitle) and the page on which the sample chapter can be found later in your proposal. You may also want to organize your book further into sections or parts. For my Grandparenting through Obstacles proposal, which is a book of compiled stories from other writers, the book was separated into four parts–each part representing a different obstacle that the writers in those sections had to tackle. For your nonfiction outline, include all your chapters as well as your introduction, but omit any back matter you’ll have in your book.

For a fiction book, create a similar List of Chapters. You may or may not have these chapters titled. If not, simply write the chapter number and the page the sample chapter can be found on. Again, you may want to break your book into sections.

Some books, like picture books, will obviously not lend themselves to being outlined. But any book that will be broken into chapters should have an outline to show the editor how your book will be structured. This may include everything from memoirs to how-to books, to YA novels to research books.

Content for chapter outlines: For nonfiction books, the outline will contain one or two brief opening lines that describe the goal of the chapter–what will the chapter accomplish? Use wording such as, “This chapter will provide…” Then, anywhere from one paragraph to a page can be written on the subtopics of the chapter, how it will be structured or organized, and if there will be accompanying charts, graphs, sidebars, etc.

Move your reader through your chapters with wording such as, “The next part of the chapter will show…” or “The chapter will conclude with…” which gives the reader a visual of how each chapter is organized. Each new chapter should begin on its own page, unless the outlines are very short, like maybe one paragraph.

For fiction books, each chapter outline will serve as a synopsis of what will occur in that particular chapter. Characters are introduced, the plot progression is shown, and the areas of conflict and climax are revealed. Although fiction chapter outlines only provide a brief summary of each chapter, they need to be compelling and attention getting if you want the editor to continue reading into your sample chapters. If the outline is boring, why would an editor want to read even more of the same boring story? Use descriptive verbs and catchy lines to hook your reader with each chapter summary.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the goal of your chapter outlines should be the same: enticing the reader to want to read your sample chapters. You also want to prove through your outline that you have enough material to actually produce an entire book. If each of your chapters looks too bare bones and could possibly be combined with other chapters, resulting in a book with only five chapters total, then the editor may not be convinced that you truly have a book-length manuscript ready for publishing.

After you’ve written your outline, spend adequate time revising it, making sure that you didn’t overuse certain words or phrases, that the chapters flow into one another with smooth transitions, that your organization is clear, and that each chapter is outlined concisely, yet interestingly.

Next time I’ll discuss the final section of writing a book proposal, which is the sample chapters.

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I’m getting close to wrapping up my series on writing book proposals, but we still have a couple more issues to address. For this post, I’d like to talk about those little “extras” that either will be included in your book or help identify the physical attributes of the book. Specifically, these are back matter, special features, and the book’s specifications.

Let’s start with back matter. What exactly constitutes the back matter of a book? This will entirely depend on the type of book you’re writing. For a children’s book, back matter may include a glossary of words that you’ve included which may be new to the child. It may also include other similar books that the child can read to learn more about your subject. Or, back matter may have a list of websites with activities or other resources that tie in to your book or your subject.

If you’re writing a fiction book, back matter will be limited if even included. I’ve seen some historical fiction books that added a page of resources at the end to direct the reader to interesting facts or places mentioned in the book. Some authors also like to include an author bio page or perhaps contact information for how their readers can reach them. Beyond this, you probably won’t need much back matter for fiction.

Nonfiction, however, can have quite a bit of back matter. Some things you may want to include at the end of a nonfiction book are: an appendix (or appendices), an index, tables or graphs, bibliography or end notes, a list of resources for additional information, an author’s bio and contact information.

The main idea of back matter, regardless of the type of book you’re writing, is to make the book as helpful as possible to the reader. You will normally list your back matter in one short paragraph in your proposal where you discuss the contents of your book. You’ll also want to give the publisher a rough idea of how many pages or words your back matter will include.

In this same section of the proposal, you’ll want to mention the special features that your book will contain. Keep in mind that special features are different than benefits of your book. Features are those things that make your book useful and appealing to your reader. Benefits, in turn, are how those features will ultimately help you reader and keep him coming back to buy more of your books.

For example, a feature of a how-to book might be its detailed illustrations that walk the reader through each step, while the benefit is that it makes your book easy to follow because everything is drawn out for the reader. A feature of a children’s book might be that one side of the spread is written at the child’s level while the other side is more in-depth so that the parent can provide the child with more information. The benefit here would be that parent and child can read together at two different levels.

Other book features may include visually appealing graphics, photographs, sidebars, maps, or a discussion guide. You’ll notice that the features I listed are normally only found in nonfiction books. Features for a fiction book, like back matter, will be more limited, if not nonexistent. Exceptions are YA novels, where you may find graphics or photos.

Special features are an important part of your book. They can go a long way to make your book more helpful, more visually stimulating, and hopefully, more interesting to your reader. And publishers will always love that!

While back matter and special features are things you can add to your book to help it sell, book specifications are what will be inherently part of your book in a physical sense that you simply need to share with the publisher. Ideas of what to include in your book specs section are: word count (including back matter word count), trim size, delivery date, and any special requirements your book may need. In particular…

word count: you need to give the publisher some idea of how long your book will be. They know it’s not going to be exact, but a good estimate is required. To come up with a good estimate, figure about 12-15 words per line and about 250-265 words per page.

trim size: if you’re expecting your book to be a standard paperback or hard cover trim size, you won’t need to mention this. But if you envision a special size for perhaps a children’s book or a larger, workbook size (like 8.5″ x 11″) book, then you’ll want to let the publisher know what you’re thinking. Specialty-sized books will cost more to produce, so that will definitely be a factor to consider.

delivery date: this is the date by which you can commit to having your manuscript finished. Most delivery dates will be around 6 months from the time the publisher issues a contract. If you’ve discovered through the publisher’s website that they require manuscripts to be finished within a certain time frame, make sure that is the time frame you state on your proposal!

special requirements: this can include many things, or you may not have any special requirements at all. Some things that may fall in this category would be illustrations or photographs that you need to secure, a special type of binding that your book will require, or perhaps add-ons that your book will be using (pull-out charts or maps or textures for children’s books, for example).

Your Book Specification section will be separate in your proposal, usually added at the end of your overview and before your outline.

Speaking of which…during my next post I’ll talk about how to best construct an outline for your proposal, so I hope you’ll stop back and join me!

Some writers launch into their book based on a great story idea or a nonfiction idea that they believe needs to be written about without ever seriously considering who will actually buy their book. Before you ever start to write–anything–it’s critical that you have identified, then catered to, your target market.

How to identify your target market

Identifying your target market may not always be that easy. If you’re writing chick lit, you could say your target market is women. But that’s not entirely accurate. Not all women are going to buy your book. Your job is to determine which women will most likely buy. What are their ages? What other interests do they have? Do they usually have families, or will your target market be predominantly single women? These are all legitimate questions that you’ll need to ask yourself before putting pen to paper.

When identifying your target market, start general, but don’t stay there. As a first step, place your potential readers into general categories of gender and age groups. From there, consider other groupings, such as social status, interests, religious affiliations, and so forth.

Do your market research

For the purposes of your proposal, you’ll want to share with the publisher what you’ve discovered about both the reader who will buy your book as well as the type of store that will sell your book.

Gather numerical statistics on the kind of reader who has purchased similar books, attended workshops or seminars on your topic, watched television shows or movies on your subject, or who is affiliated with related organizations. If you’re book is about fitness, find out how much money people spent in the last year on fitness-related products or gym memberships; research the age groups with the highest number of purchasers; and find out what other interests or affiliations these people are typically interested in.

The whole point of this section of your proposal is to show that you have a specific, target audience in mind and that you have done your homework to prove that this target market is large enough to warrant the publisher buying your book. You can never accurately estimate how many people will ultimately buy your book, but you can estimate–based on real data–how many potential buyers there are.

Aside from gathering statistics on your readers, also determine what kind of places might sell your book other than the large bookstores or online avenues. What specialty outlets might cater to your target market? Your fitness book might be a good fit for a health food store or a sporting goods store. As you research your target market, you’ll likely discover some interesting places that your reader can be found hanging out on a regular basis.

Targeting a niche market

If your book will not have broad universal appeal, like a cookbook might, you’ll have to convince the publisher that your specific niche market is still large enough for book sales. To do so, research every possible avenue, affiliation, or interest group that your audience might be connected with. Find out how many members each of these organizations has, if there is a growth trend in this particular field, and what the vehicles are through which you could sell books within this niche. The tighter the niche, the harder you’ll have to work to prove the numbers will be there when it comes time to sell.

If you have a fiction book that also has a niche market, you can look to competitive titles in that genre or perhaps movies or television shows to prove that you are writing a story that will garner a lot of interest. A perfect example of this is the vampire craze that began a few years ago but is now beginning to fade.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, or even children’s books, much of the research you’ll need to support your case for potential buyers can be found through internet searches or through government agencies or private organizations (such as the Nielsen Group) that make it their job to compile statistics on buying trends. Use these figures to support your case for how you’ve identified your target market and why that market is large enough for the publisher to buy your book.

During my next post, I’ll cover the various things that should be included in the sections of Book Specifications, Back Matter, and Special Features.