Proposals are written to sell nonfiction books to publishing houses. You don’t need to write the entire book: instead, you write a 40- to 80-page proposal that gives editors a sense of the book’s premise, scope, and market. The typical proposal consists of:
An overview (essentially a 6-10 page pitch letter)
A review of similar books (comparable titles) that are currently available
Marketing and publicity strategies
Chapter summaries (1-3 pages each)
In the proposal’s overview, you must convince editors that you have a dazzling idea and the credentials to back it up. It may not be a new idea, but it's your unique version of an idea, and you have a voice so fresh that readers will be lining up to pay for it. The good news is that editors want to be convinced of this. They want to buy manuscripts. And most people do have a unique voice, they just need the right person to help bring it out.
After you have snagged the editor’s attention in the first few pages of your proposal, they'll be on the lookout for signs that the book could be a winner:
Chapter summaries and a section on"Comparable Titles" will answer these questions.
Your proposal must sell not only the book, but also its author. You need to convince editors that you're qualified to tell this story and 110% committed to promoting the book once it's published. You'll need to develop your platform, capitalize on your resources, and think like a publicist in order to present a marketing strategy your editor can dangle in front of the sales team. Merely loving your concept isn’t enough— your editor needs ammunition for the bottom-line guys. For this reason, the “About the Author” and “Marketing and Publicity” sections of the proposal are just as important as the chapter summaries and sample chapters.
You'll need to include at least one sample chapter with the proposal. Here is where the editor will get a sense of whether you have what it takes to capture a reader’s interest and deliver a complete and polished manuscript. The quality of the sample chapter may have a great impact on the advance you'll be offered for your book.