I write illustrated children’s non-fiction and fiction. I’ve sold 10 books over the last two years using this book proposal structure. My commissions range from 32-page picture books to 98-page illustrated fact books.
Writing a concise, well-considered, market-focused book proposal will significantly increase your chances of selling your book.
The difference between subbing non-fiction and fiction.
When subbing non-fiction, a proposal document is expected to be sent with a sample of the manuscript (or the whole manuscript if it’s a short picture book.)
When subbing fiction, a full proposal doc is not always necessary, sometimes a covering letter suffices and the whole manuscript is usually sent.
HOWEVER, fiction writers, I would recommend you write a proposal doc anyway. You are likely to put a lot of the same information in your letter and the headings in the proposal doc are a great checklist for your book’s marketability. Also, it trains your brain to think commercially about every book concept
Keep it short and to the point
A book proposal is not a letter or an essay it is a sales and marketing pitch for a new product – in other words, a business document. Ditch the wordy paras for headers, small paras and bullet points as needed.
Editors use the information you have provided to sell the book to the publishing team which includes the senior editor/publisher (aka the boss), sales, marketing and foreign rights teams in the home market and around the world. Every book is sold internationally. If you write a great proposal, you’ve just made an editor’s life a lot easier!
The who, what, where and when of your book in a nutshell, also called the elevator pitch. Think more along the lines of the book blurb on the back cover. Read some for inspiration!
The pitch is a taster of your story that leaves the reader wanting more and demos your writing style and approach. I often have a go at a pitch early in the writing process and come back and perfect it once I have completed the rest of the proposal and written a draft. You have to know your concept/story, character/s, core theme/s and market very well to be pitch perfect.
2. Target age
Who is your book for?
Age categories can change from country to country, so check out the competition and see how publishers list similar titles’ age range on Amazon or their own websites. In the UK, usually, for illustrated non-fiction, it is 4-6 years or 7-10+ years. Then non-fiction moves into chapter books/novel-length books. Picture books in the UK tend to be 3-5 years and then children move into Junior fiction. In the US picture books range up to 10 years, especially non-fiction.
3. Format and word count
State the type of book (e.g. illustrated non-fiction; picture book; young reader…), the number of pages and any special features, such as activities that might have pull-out/foldout pages etc.
Word Count can be approximate if you are subbing a sample of the text and you can indicate how much text is the main body of the book versus the backmatter if appropriate.
Children’s illustrated non-fiction tends to start at the standard picture book length of 32 pages and increases in increments of 16 pages to meet production and layout cost efficiencies – 48, 64, 82, 98. Word count and number of pages do not always increase exponentially. I have written more words for a 48-page book than I have for a 98-page book. More space was given to the landscape and animal illustrations in the latter. I often write a note in this section stating different options are possible. It’s good to be flexible. Different book lengths suit different publishers. Commercially they know which length works well for them and they will say!
4. Why this book now?
This is the question you need to give the most thought to before writing a draft manuscript. Why does a reader/publisher need your book and why should they commission it now? Editors have to present the answer to this question in a commissioning meeting. They also add on ‘why us?’ as the book has to fit their list and publishing style. If you can’t give concrete market-driven reasons why your book is original/different to the competition, relevant to readers/gatekeepers, and on-trend, then it will not sell. You need to sum all that up in 2-3 short sentences.
We’re going to look at the proposal doc in three blog posts as there is way too much to fit on just one.
So, sign up to my email list so you don’t miss out on PART 2 and 3 of this blog series.
- Book Content/Structure
- Market Appeal
- Publicity and Distribution Opportunities
- Alternative book title ideas
- About the author