Why write a proposal first?

Non-fiction books are typically sold on proposal. A book proposal is much easier to sell than a complete book.

Here are some of the reasons:

  • It’s easier to read a 20 or 30 page proposal than a 400 page book;
  • It’s easier to make changes in the book’s concept at the proposal stage;
  • With a proposal, the publisher, in the person of your editor, can take ownership of the book. It’s like bespoke tailoring: the editor feels that the book has been specifically written for the publishing house.

Even if you decide to write your book first, you’ll need to create a proposal once you’ve written it. No agent or publisher is interested in reading an entire book to assess its viability. That’s the proposal’s job: to ensure that your book has a niche in the marketplace. As you do your research for the proposal, you’ll work out whether or not your book is likely to sell. You can shape the book at the proposal stage, much more easily than you can when it’s a huge stack of print or a giant computer file.

Sometimes you may get an idea for a book, but the idea is amorphous, it doesn’t have a real shape. You may want to write several thousand words to see whether the book becomes clearer in your mind. But  write the proposal before you write more than ten thousand words, because your book must target a specific group of buyers.