The complete, well-organized proposal contains the following elements:

Title Page 
“What People Are Saying About the Author and the Author’s Work”
Proposal Contents
The Pitch (Executive Summary)
The Book
The Audience
The Competition
The Author
The Author’s Promotional Platform and Plan
Book Contents and Specifications
Chapter Summaries
Sample Chapter 


Cover. Why put a cover on a proposal? Because, like not or not, people do judge a book by its cover. It immediately establishes an image of your idea as a real paper-and-glue book.Your cover should accomplish two goals: capture the spirit or mission of your book and excite an editor to open it up and read it. Make your design look like a published book rather than a junior high school research report and concentrate on coming up with a knock-’em-dead title. Authors and editors slave over titles and subtitles. Your title should capture your book’s mission. Test it on friends and colleagues. If 10 people walked into Barnes & Noble and strode into the aisle where the bookstore shelves your book, will they instantly understand the title?  Will it strike a nerve in the person who needs your book? In most cases you should couple a descriptive title with a snappy title: THE OZ PRINCIPLE: Getting Results With Individual and Organizational Accountability.

Title Page. Reproduce the cover without the artwork, adding your agent’s contact data: Represented by_______________.

“What People Are Saying About the Author and the Author’s Work”. If you possess credentials in your book’s subject matter, you have collected testimonials from people familiar with your work and any previous publications. Look at the way publishers of mass market paperback reprints include page after page of review excerpts right up front, giving the book a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Blurbs and endorsements not only lend credibility, they display your promotional savvy and demonstrating that you will exercise marketing leadership, create buzz and sell a lot of books. 

Proposal Contents. This page provides easy access to the elements of your proposal. Some editors look first at the book’s table of contents, while some marketing directors look first at the author’s promotional platform and plan. Include the title of your Sample Chapter and make sure the page numbers correspond to the components of the proposal.

The Pitch. Imagine entering an elevator on the first floor of the Random House building in New York. An editor follows you into the car. Lucky you! You have three minutes to persuade Ms. Maxwell to invite you into her office on the 34th floor to tell her more about your book. What would you say? To impress her, you must quickly identify your topic, establish your credentials in the subject matter and describe how your book will benefit readers or solve their problems. Keep your pitch (Executive Summary for a business book) to one page, one-and-a-half max. Think jacket-flap copy, brevity, and marketing language.

The Book. Here you can provide a more detailed synopsis of your book, embroidering the points you made in your quick pitch. Again, stress the points a marketing person needs to know: the book’s benefits and solutions. Restrict this section to 3-4 pages.

The Audience. Who will buy your book? Why does your audience need your book? Quantify your target readership. For instance, if you propose a book on starting a home based business, offer statistics on the number of home based businesses established each year. Add consultants and advisors, such as lawyers and accountants, who help their clients set up new enterprises. Never assume that everyone in the world, needs your book but that a reasonable number will buy it (i.e. if 436,000 people started a home based business last year, you might reasonably suggest that 10% or 43,000 might buy your book during its first year on the market). Do not suggest that people interested in apples will buy your book on oranges. However, you might argue that someone interested in growing oranges may well purchase a book on cooking with oranges.

The Competition. List 5-7 direct or indirect recently published competitors and  respectfully compare them to your book. Your book might replace another book   or it might beautifully complement it. Imagine your target reader’s library shelf. Which 5-7 books might that person have purchased over the past year or two? Why would she or he add your book to that shelf alongside indirect competitors or buy your book instead of direct competitors?  Focus your competitive analysis on your true competitors. While someone interested in oranges might buy a more up-to-date book on growing oranges or one on growing tangerines or other citrus fruits, she will not likely buy one on apples. 

The Author. Present a detailed biography that showcases your credentials to write this book, such as your degrees and years of experience dealing with the subject. Include your website. You cannot over-toot your own horn. Add details. If you have consulted to 200 of the Fortune 500 companies, don’t say that in one sentence but list every single one of your clients. If you have written and published magazine articles, list them all, perhaps including a tear-sheet of a recent one related to your topic. Emphasize activities, such as newspaper and magazine articles, public speaking, workshops, and webinars that demonstrate your ability to create buzz and attract media attention. You might also add a recent PR quality photo of yourself.

 The Author’s Promotional Platform and Plan. What sort of platform have you already built to promote yourself and your work? Anyone can propose to do spectacular promotion in the future, but editors want to know exactly what you did last year, what you are doing now, and  what you plan to do in the future to extend and even expand. your efforts. 10 years ago publishers look for promotable authors; today they look for promoters. 

 Book Contents and Specifications. Put as much thought into your chapter titles (and subtitles) as you do in the book’s title/subtitle. Again, snappy titles, clarifying subtitles usually work best. At the bottom of the page provide two critical specifications: length and delivery date. You can estimate length in terms of word-count, manuscript pages and/or printed book pages. Even if you have completed the manuscript, publishers will not want to see it until 3-6 months contract signing. They have already firmed up their offers for the next year. Although publishers can manufacture books more quickly than 6-12 months, it takes time for them to prepare the market for your book.

 Sample Chapter. Now you can strut your stuff in a complete well-written chapter, usually not the book’s first chapter, which in most cases sets the stage for the performance to come, but with a chapter that puts the book’s best and most distinctive foot forward. Show the editor the “heart and soul” of your book.  While you want to take great pains to make sure your whole proposal reflects your ability to write clear, concise and compelling prose, your sample chapter must pass an editor’s test for an acceptable, production ready manuscript. Make sure you use a lot of anecdotes, examples, cases and stories to enliven your presentation. See our blog on the power of a good example.

Before you submit material review the guidelines for contacting us.

New authors often wonder how much a book evolves as it progresses from the initial proposal to publication. The proposal for Dr. Nicole Lipkin’s forthcoming book on the psychology of leadership sold in March, 2012 to AMACOM as What Was I Thinking? Click here to review it:  WHAT WAS I THINKING FINAL PROPOSAL.pdf.  The author finished the manuscript in October, 2012. This coming May AMACOM will publish it as What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. You can pre-order the book from the publisher: Click on the cover to learn more about this talented author:



“Anyone who manages people – and tries to do it well – will benefit from the sage advice that executive coach and consultant Nicole Lipkin offers in What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.  Nicole brings together social science, compelling examples, easy-to-remember frameworks, and her own extensive management experience to isolate eight key problems that real leaders face in the messy world of organizational life.  She then helps readers solve these problems in honest and authentic ways that will lead to many, many more nights of sound sleep.  It has the marks of a Snell Literary Agency bestseller – stories, frameworks, and the clear, honest voice of a fellow human as the author.”
--G. Richard Shell, Thomas Gerrity Professor at the Wharton School of Business and author of Bargaining for Advantage and The Art of Woo and the forthcoming Do What You were Meant to Do (Penguin/Portfolio)


    Proposal Guidelines