Tips for Preparing and Submitting a Book Proposal

Over the past year, I’ve helped several nonfiction authors, both scholarly and mainstream, to write and submit their book proposals. Here are a few tips, based on my own experience, that I’d like to pass along to help ensure your success:

  • Be familiar with the publishers that you are approaching. If you don’t know their publications list well, become acquainted with it. Why did you choose this publisher? What makes your book a good match for their audience? You must sell not only your manuscript’s inherent value but its marketability and its suitability to the publisher’s own brand.
  • Stay on top of recent developments and publications in your field. In your proposal, demonstrate to the publisher that you understand the market and will be able to assist with promotion of the book.
  • Know and follow the submission guidelines, which can often be found on publishers’ website. Submit unagented manuscripts only if the publisher accepts them. Prepare and deliver the proposal exactly as the publisher requests. Don’t send more material than prescribed. Some publishers ask that you follow a particular style or use a specific format. If you fail to follow these rules, they may disregard your submission entirely. If a publisher specifies that you should not shop your manuscript elsewhere while awaiting their decision, be patient and wait for their response.
  • Ask several people, including colleagues in your field and professional proofreaders, to review the final proposal before you submit it. Don’t assume that you will catch all errors yourself. You will be surprised how valuable additional perspectives can be.
  • Have realistic expectations. It may take a while to hear back. If the response is negative, don’t be crushed, and don’t take it personally. Many successful authors confronted repeated rejection before their manuscripts were finally accepted. Publishers receive many submissions and have to make their decisions based on a variety of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Perhaps for external reasons, the acquisitions editor doesn’t think your book is a good match for the publisher’s list, or perhaps she thinks the current market in your field is too saturated. If you are luckily, she may tell you the reason for the rejection; if not, thank her for responding and move on.
  • If an editor rejects the manuscript but offers constructive criticism, politely thank him, suppress your ego, and carefully consider the feedback. There is always room for improvement and growth. If the he points out problems with organization, grammar, style, or content, seek editorial assistance to address these issues before continuing with your submissions.
    • As a good friend of mine once said, sometimes success is just a matter of waiting for a change in the weather. At the same time, giving up guarantees you won’t get published, so don’t throw in the towel. Continue to polish your manuscript, and when it’s ready, submit it to other publishers. In some cases, self-publishing may also be an option.
  • Talk with your colleagues and author friends about their own publishing experiences, both failures and successes. Their stories may help to put your struggles into perspective. And once your book is accepted, they may also provide invaluable advice about the next steps: contract negotiation, marketing, book tours, and so on.

If you have additional suggestions, please feel free to comment below.