Writing a book? Start with the proposal. – Birds on the Blog

Writing a book? Start with the proposal.

The book starts with the proposal

Every now and again I run a free 10-day business book proposal challenge, and it is ace.

Why is it ace? For me, because it’s enormous fun and I get to meet loads of great people with interesting ideas. For you, because it forces you to answer all the questions about your book that you didn’t think to ask yourself but which you need to know the answers to.

So what IS a proposal?

A book proposal basically a document that an author submits to an agent or publisher they want to take on their book. It tells them what the book is, who it’s for, who the author is, and why the readers will care about any of this. Basically, it’s the business case for the book; it sets out why this project rather than all the many others being pitched represents a good investment of a publisher’s time and money.

It also pitches you as the author: are you a desirable business partner? Will you not only write (and, crucially, deliver on time) a good book but will you also be an asset when it comes to marketing and selling it? If nobody knows about you right now, if you’re not engaged in and leading the conversation in your area online and off, the publisher could be forgiven for assuming that you’re not going to be much help in that department.

But in these days of democratised publishing you might not want to pitch your business-building book to an agent or traditional publisher. (And who could blame you?) And in that case, you don’t need to jump through the proposal-writing hoop, right?

Well, technically you don’t need to. But maybe you SHOULD.

Why should you write a proposal?

Because YOU need to be clear on this stuff too. Your book represents an investment of your own time and energy, and you need to make the business case to yourself.

Here’s just a few benefits of working through the proposal process that have nothing at all to do with successfully pitching your proposal to a publisher:

  1. You’ll get clear on what you’re writing about. You may feel you know this already, but the discipline of articulating it as a pitch and synopsis – one of the toughest parts of the challenge – will force you to strip away the fluff and identify the shining core of your message. Once you have that, it will inform all the marketing you’ll ever do, not just your book.
  2. Talking about marketing, it’ll make you think about that too, right up front, before you might otherwise get round to it. Which is important, because how you plan to market your book should inform how you write it and who you involve (listen to my interview with the brilliant Robbie Kellman Baxter for more on this).
  3. And something else you need to get clear on before you start writing is the target reader: exactly who is this book for? And how are they going to recognize it as being something they need in their life? Once you’re really clear on whom you’re writing for, it becomes much easier to find the appropriate scope, tone of voice and structure.
  4. Finally, one of the most challenging areas for an author to look at dispassionately is competition. It can seem overwhelming: so many books out there already – why should anyone read this one? Well, that’s a great question, and writing a proposal helps you face it down and find a great answer. Books don’t compete with each other in the way that say dishwashers do – once you have one large domestic appliance it’s generally enough, but most people can’t get enough of good books on their favourite topic. Find the distinctive approach or angle, position yourself cleverly in even the most crowded field, and competition becomes a positive benefit, not something to fear.

There are LOTS more specific reasons to write a proposal, but maybe it all comes down to this: it gets you started. It’s like creating a plan for your building rather than staring at a pile of bricks and wondering what to do with them.

So get started. You’re welcome to join the next free 10-day challenge which starts on 9 January 2017 if you want support and encouragement along the way, but you don’t have to wait until then: most publishers and agents make it clear on their sites what they need in a proposal (and if they don’t, they don’t welcome uninvited proposals so don’t waste your time).

(You could also use my free Kickstart Workbook between now and then to check that the book you’re planning to write is the RIGHT book for your business, right now.)

What you do with your finished proposal is up to you – maybe you just use it as your launchpad and north star to keep you inspired and on track as you write your book. Maybe you send it to an agent or publisher to pitch for a traditional publishing deal.

But whatever you do, you’ll be clearer and more capable, and that’s not just good for you, it’s good for the rest of us too. There are too many poorly thought-through books in the world. Make yours a good one.

You want more? Take a look at more Birds on the Blog wisdom here:

11 things that you should know before you write your book

Powerful women have clarity and focus

About the Author Alison Jones

Alison is a book coach and publishing partner for businesses and organizations with something to say. She hosts the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.

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