Writing a book proposal? Appeal to readers, not publishers.


The job of a book proposal is to convince an acquisitions editor at a publishing house to make you an offer. So obviously, you should write it for editors, right?


Editors don’t want you to tell them what you plan to do. They want you to show them what you can do — for readers, who are also buyers.

Consider the parts of your book proposal. Whom do they appeal to?

  • Title and subtitle. Appeals to readers.
  • Opening story. Readers.
  • Main ideas. Readers.
  • Description of target market. Appeals to editors.
  • Differentiation. Readers. (“This is the first book that . . .”)
  • Competing books: Editors.
  • Table of contents. Readers.
  • Author platform/marketing plan: Editors.
  • Sample chapter(s): Readers.

The title, opening story, main ideas, differentiation, table of contents, and sample chapter all appeal to readers. If you write them in such a way that readers will love them, then you’re in great shape. The editor reading these will say, “Wow, I like this. It sucks me in. It will suck readers in. This is great!” That’s good, because you should have the readers in mind for 90% of what you do, and for these parts, you need not be distracted by thinking about the mechanisms of publishing.

The other parts are more about the mechanisms of publishing. You need a marketing plan to convince editors you can sell. You need to identify your target market so editors know it exists, and you need to show competing books to demonstrate that you are in a category that can be popular, but is not full of books just like yours.

But even these parts for editors are about how you will connect to readers — you can still keep the readers top of mind when you write them.

Show what you can do

Editors love books that readers love. That is what matters.

Editors don’t like to be told what to do. They like to be shown how you can inspire.

If you’re thinking about the pitch more than the readers, you’re making a mistake — and it won’t work. Consider the readers. Because that’s what the editors are thinking about, too.

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