How to Write a Killer Book Proposal

Lesson 2/11 - The Proposal Overview


How to Write a Killer Book Proposal


Lesson Info

The Proposal Overview

Now, let's dig into the first section of your book proposal, the overview. So, I just told you that a book proposal is not a summary of your book, right? So, you get to summarize a little bit. I'll renege slightly here. The overview is the spot in your book proposal where you give the 50,000 foot view of what it is you want to do with the book. So, that means you need to make the beginning and the end really count, because those are going to be among the first things that someone receiving your proposal sees. So this is also much more marketing copy than it is true summary, you are selling the book and the idea of the book to the person reading. And make it count, so I would say with the first couple of sentences, include a tie-in with current events if there's one that really works. Say you're writing a book on strong women throughout history, you could probably work in something about the current flood of sexual harassment claims, and how strong women need role models in this era. If...

you have, you can also, if there isn't an easy tie-in to what's going on in the news, but you have some sort of interesting salacious detail, you can highlight that in those first couple of paragraphs. Like if your memoir delves into your life as an exotic dancer, mention that right up front. That's gonna get some attention. And then you need to be persuasive as well. Set up your argument for why this book needs to come into the market right now. So if you're writing a book about management techniques, you can cite statistics about growing workforce discontent. That's gonna grab the attention of the literary agent. So, open with something good. Hit them right away with something fabulous. Then you can dig into summarizing the book's content. Be sure to highlight unusual or arresting features. So that would be something like, are you gonna include worksheets in your book? Will there be illustrations? Interviews with subject matter experts, case studies? Are there gonna be exercises for the reader to complete? If you have anything like that, go ahead and put that in there right up front, because you're gonna wanna know, the person reading it is gonna wanna know about those things. If appropriate, you can mention how your book differs from similar works. This is something that is going to come up again in a different section of the proposal, but this is a nice place to highlight it if you can do it kind of smoothly. So, I've got an example for you. There's going to be some dramatic reading in the course of this course, so bear with me, I try to keep it pretty exciting as much as I can, and I will stop at certain points so you can see why this is relevant. So, this is a section from an overview for a fashion book, and it says, "My book is the antidote to cookie-cutter style guides. Instead of lumping women into body type categories and telling what they can and cannot wear, this friendly, funny, body-positive book presents a highly customizable regimen to help women define, hone, and expand their own personal styles." So, the first sentence there says, this is what you're gonna get from most books that are like my book, but my book is not like that. Instead of doing the thing that all the other books on the market does that people are totally sick of seeing, my book is gonna do this much better thing that people are looking for. So this isn't necessarily a tactic that's gonna work for every single book, but if you are writing a book that you feel like is a disruptive book, that it's gonna really do something different in an existing market, you can definitely call that out in your overview. That's gonna definitely ping some good lights for you. And then, you know, I hate to say this as a person who writes things for a living, but honestly, the beginning and the end are always the most important things in any piece of writing, and that includes your overview. So wrap it up with a wry, or earnest, or impassioned conclusion, make sure that you open up with something that's gonna grab attention and be memorable, and do the same as you're concluding. So, now we're gonna do yet more dramatic reading. So much text, but the thing is, without these examples, I feel like a lot of this information is just gonna be so theoretical for you guys. So, let's take a look at what an actual overview looks like. This example is from a style and body image book that is targeted at teen girls. So here's our first paragraph of the overview. The attention grabbing intro. "The United States is having a body image crisis. Our weight-obsessed culture has forced 81% of 10-year-olds to fear becoming fat and driven nearly 10% of teens toward disordered eating. Young women believe there is one right way to be beautiful, and they struggle to live up to that impossible ideal. When they're told they must change their bodies to feel better about themselves, they accept it. But it simply isn't true." There's your impactful intro. Then, here's our comparison to the competition. "Adolescents need diverse weapons to fight their body image battles. While traditional books focus on emotional reprogramming and psychology, many teens need something more concrete and actionable, something visible and exciting and personal. And for many, that something is style." So that sets up the argument that what is available to them is not working, so we need to try something different. Now we'll talk about, this is more of the summary of the book generally, and highlighting its features. Oh, I should also note, you all may know this already, but just in case, typically, if you are addressing the title of a book in a book proposal, it goes in all caps. That's just industry standard, so hot tip there. And in this case, I have put my book as the title of the book. "MY BOOK will show young women how to shift their personal styles to suit their unique figures and personalities. This book will teach them to celebrate the bodies they have and feel confident in themselves just as they are. Since teens spend 31% of their income on clothing and accessories, an estimated $80 billion per year, this is a natural marriage of significant subjects." You'll notice that I put statistics in a lot of my book proposal content. If you can find ones that are relevant, they're always gonna be very hard-hitting. "Utilizing style to improve self-esteem encourages teens to learn about their bodies in a fun and creative way, and allows them to value their individual beauty regardless of size, shape, ability, or skin color." So, this gives an idea of what this book is gonna look like, the innards of it, and then, your memorable conclusion. "MY BOOK will explore media messages, discuss the social pressures associated with dressing, introduce readers to the idea of understanding their bodies as they relate to clothing, and offer help on outfit assembly and figure-flattery. This book will energize and empower its readers through self-knowledge and gentle acceptance. MY BOOK will offer struggling girls a valuable and engaging resource for building vital body confidence." So, you see how the various parts of the overview sort of work in concert with each other. If you wanna take it paragraph by paragraph, this is what I suggest for your overview. Start with an arresting intro. If you wanna do a question, that's great, say to the person who's reading it, "Have you ever done X, or have you realized that this is happening in the world?" Or a hypothetical, or a current events tie-in, any of those will work great as your opening. Then summarize, dig into your unique features of your book. And then, talk about what makes your book stand out from the crowd, if appropriate, if that works for your specific book, go ahead and do that. And then finish it up with a punchy, but memorable conclusion. And that is how you write an overview for your book proposal.

Class Description

You might have an amazing book or idea to sell, but the only way you’ll be able to seal the deal is with a strong, persuasive book proposal. Much more than just an introduction to your book, a proposal gives literary agents and acquiring editors the information they need to make the tough decision to take on your work.

Writer, editor and consultant Sally McGraw will teach you the six essential elements of a solid book proposal and how you can make your case in the most creative and convincing way possible.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Persuade rather than summarize.
  • Figure out your target audience.
  • Create a market analysis and choose comparison titles strategically.
  • Write a bio or have someone else write it for you.
  • Define your author platform and explain what you’ll do to make your book a success.
  • Create a chapter-by-chapter outline.
  • Write a short, sweet and attention-grabbing query letter.


Beth Howard

Sally's presentation was excellent. She is articulate, professional and informative. I learned some great tips about adding statistics (and how/where to find them.) I especially appreciated her guest speakers, two seasoned literary agents who added helpful perspective. More classes from her, please!

Lee-Sean Huang

I am currently in the process of preparing my own book proposal. Sally's class is concise and super helpful in breaking down the elements and considerations needed to be awesome. I feel like I will be coming back to re-watch this while I prepare my proposal.