A good book proposal consists of much more than a description of the book you, the author, hope to write. Here is the set of items I look for in an incoming proposal:
1. Title. Your suggested title and subtitle, and a few alternatives. The publisher will probably change it, but a catchy first draft title can help you concisely pitch your concept to the first, critical gatekeeper – the acquisitions editor.
2. Synopsis. A summary of the book provides a succinct thesis of the book’s main idea. Provide a lucid and rigorous focus for the purpose of the book, presented with a compelling central hook or metaphor. How would you write the book’s back cover copy?
3. Felt Need. Consider both the presenting need, or the hole in the market, and the emotive need, or the problem this book will solve. Another way to think of it is, what omission in the current literature will the book fill, and what specific task will it accomplish? With the latter, what job required of the buyer is the book going to help complete? And, at a more basic level, what feeling is the book going to satisfy?
4. Target Audience. Who are you addressing with the book? The target audience is not everyone, which is an illusion. Be specific in describing primary, secondary and other audiences with affinity for subject and related interests, common concerns, demographics and reading habits. Write for somebody specific.
5. Features and Benefits. Name up to three central features (your point of view on the book) and three benefits (the reader’s point of view) it offers.
6. Related and Competing Works. List the author, title, and publisher of at least three (or more) related and competing and/or similar works. Describe why they are not adequate to meet the need(s) and tell how your proposed book is superior.
7. Author Information. A description of your ability to sell a book is very important. It includes a brief biographical sketch, including the knowledge basis for the book; a list of previous works, if any; and a description of your professional position of influence, networks and the ability to leverage them, such as frequency of speaking engagements, professional associations, and online presence.
8. Endorsers. List influencers relevant to the book’s field of study who may endorse the book. Include name, title, and affiliation, and indicate those with whom you have a professional relationship. This is basically the “who you know” section.
9. Details. What is the estimated length of the manuscript in words? Estimate 300 words per page. When will it be completed?
10. Chapter Outline. An annotated chapter outline demonstrates the thesis’ development. Surprisingly, many authors lack the ability to carry an argument forward. This is a chance to show your writing chops.
11. Writing Sample. Provide a complete chapter for writing style. If possible, include the Introduction.
These elements, done well, will go a long way to securing a contract.