The Book Proposal

From last week we’ve working on our book proposal, which includes these sections:

-The Cover Page
-Hook / Sales Handle (one liner describing your book)
-Proposal Table of Contents
-Overview (1-2 pages)
-About the Author(s)
-Chapter Summaries (1-2 paragraphs about each chapter in your book)

COMPLETED in Week 2 -Market (Who is going to read this book?)
COMPLETED in Week 2 -Competition (What else is out there?)

-PR + Media (What do you have for media contacts now, and how do you plan to get media coverage for the book when it launches?)
-Platform (Speaking gigs, workshops, teaching – where can you sell this book?)
-Advance Praise/Testimonials (if applicable)
-Online Presence
-Book Specifics: Title, Cover, Design, Format
-Spin-Off Books & Products (if applicable)
-Legal Issues (if applicable)
-Budget (if applicable)
-Delivery of the Manuscript
-Philanthropy + Charity

Plus Attachments:
-Sample chapters
-Press Clippings
-Speaking Schedules, Brochures, Promotions
-Media Reel


1. The irresistible premise of your book:

-Hook / Sales Handle (one liner describing your book)
-Overview (1-2 pages)

2. Your unique ability to write this book and sell it:

-About the Author(s)
-Platform (Speaking gigs, workshops, teaching – where can you sell this book?)
-Online Presence


I waited a bit to have you tackle the hook for your book so you’d have a chance to think about agents and the market you’re trying to enter. That’s because everyone thinks they have the best possible angle, but then when you get knee deep into the reality of what everyone else is doing, you might feel differently. Perhaps you’re starting to wonder, “IS this broad enough?” or “Why aren’t there other books like this?”


This is part of the process. You go in a little blind, you start to look around, and then you warm up to the idea that maybe you need some tweaks. You’re open to changing things a little. You want to be competitive in your market. You have some idea now of what that looks like. It’s so much better than me trying to convince you on day 1. Right?

So this is where we’re at: it’s time for you to write a sales handle, about 1 sentence that describes your book. I also want you to write an overview that is no longer than one page that describes your book in more detail. We’re going to workshop our concepts this week.


Most people write about 1-2 pages to describe their book. Some people break this rule and launch right into a descriptive narrative. Here’s an example:

“The most striking memory I have of my first meal at el Bulli is not of the parmesan air packed into a Styrofoam ice cream container and served, frozen, with rose-colored muesli sprinkled on top. It is not of the tart, fizzy gin and tonic that managed to be both hot and cold at the same time. It is not even of the plump spherified olives—one of chef Ferran Adrià’s signature dishes—that the waiter spooned from a canning jar, with a warning to pop whole into my mouth, else risk an explosion of verdant juice. What I remember most clearly is the scene in the kitchen I had glimpsed earlier in the day. It was a bit past noon, and the cooks had just arrived for the start of a work day that wouldn’t end until well after midnight. In most kitchens, they would have immediately set to work preparing their stations. But at el Bulli, the two dozen or so young cooks, dressed in identical white jackets and blue aprons, faced off across a long, narrow table. They pulled out their paring knives and set to work on a huge pile of green pine cones heaped between them. For the next hour or so, they did nothing but release pinenuts from the cones.”

And it continues… for about 2,300 more words. Read it here.

I think this is a compelling way to go, but obviously wouldn’t work for all books. I include it as a potential way you could deviate from the “rules” especially if one of your strongest assets is your writing and you’re selling a very descriptive or narrative heavy book.

I wrote a completely straight forward overview for my book:

“Who wouldn’t want to speak multiple languages? Isn’t there something deeply fascinating about the multilingual mind? Do bilingual people, for instance, dream in their native tongue, their second tongue, or both? Are they smarter, quicker, or better able to multi-task? Do they know something about the world, or life, that the rest of us don’t?

Now imagine that— times FIVE.

The Fluency Experiment follows Christine Gilbert’s often entertaining and misguided attempts to become multilingual as she tromps around the globe with her husband and toddler son. In an attempt to prove that Americans can learn multiple languages, like citizens of the rest of the world, she creates a lofty goal for herself: learn five languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Thai) before her son reaches pre-school (in just over two years). Her dream outcome: new career options as multilingual, with a focus on human outreach programs, like Unicef, the World Health Organization (WHO), Red Cross International, or Habitat for Humanity. To test her skill, she’ll be taking the ACTFL (American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages) verbal and written exams in each language. Also, to examine the effects of the language study in general, she has arranged for an fMRI scan at the beginning and end of the project at Thailand’s JCI accredited Bumrangrad hospital. She will also undergo a battery of memory, IQ, multi-tasking and language aptitude tests as used by linguists.

In far-flung destinations such as Beijing, Bangkok, Argentina, Beirut and Paris, Christine and her family will find out firsthand what it’s like to live as a local in a new country, to think in a foreign tongue and to be immersed in an unfamiliar culture.

Will she succeed? Will the languages become one thick, messy vocabulary soup? Are the studies about bilingualism true, and will she change her brain and thinking (in ways only an fMRI scan can tell)? Or is there a good reason why 80% of Americans only speak English?

With her small-town husband at her side, and a toddler on her hip, Christine aims to discover that beyond her comfort zone of book learning and study, learning languages is about the people that you meet. As a writer she’s used to be an observer, but now she’ll be forced for the first time to break out of her shell and introduce herself to the world, in their language.”

By the way, both books sold, and my book in particular didn’t end up with the same name, the same languages or even the same events. If you pop over to Amazon you can see the description they used for Found in Translation – which became Mother Tongue.

In general though, the Amazon description for other books in your niche is a good way of approaching the overview for your proposal. It will likely be re-written by the PR team but that’s what the section is essentially there to do – you’re writing the marketing copy for your book in advance of even writing the book – all so you can convince publishers to buy it.


Paste your sales handle in the top of a Word doc, then the overview below that. Upload it to the private FB group under files:

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and choose Upload File:

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And as you upload it, there’s a box to say something, just let us know this is your Sales Handle and Overview for feedback.

Why do I push you to share this? Well, the thing is, I personally really dislike high-level writing advice. I could say, “Be impactful, be you, be memorable,” but if communication was as easy as lobbing adjectives at a struggling writers, then we’d be all set. There’s tons of advice on writing, and almost all of it ends up going out the window because it’s kind of like sex – you can describe good sex but can’t invoke that chemistry by giving someone a pep talk. So no pep talks today, show me what you’ve got, I’ll respond to everyone and I’m also asking you to read and respond to as many of your classmates as possible because as writers, this kind of feedback is pure GOLD.


This is going to really depend on how established you are… I think you can combine all of this down into one or two sections, or if you’re really doing a lot of stuff from speaking gigs to a large online platform, to partnerships with organizations then use as much space as you need.

Researching Bios

You might not realize it, but the bio in your proposal will be used everywhere by the PR team at your publisher (of course you can tweak it later too). That’s why most bios look exactly the same on Amazon – because they just copy and paste them. Fortunately for you, you can just take a peek at your target books and look at how those authors wrote their bios and create yours accordingly.


1Write your sales handle and overview (or introduction is you choose to go that way)
2Share your sales handle and overview in the FB group for feedback
3Give feedback to others
4Write your bio
5Compile your platform, either as a single document or break it out if you have a lot of ways to promote this book.