If you’re working on a proposal for a nonfiction book, you need to include the sections an editor expects to see. I posted about that last time. Once you’ve got the structure of your proposal, think about these tips to polish it up:
Show off your best writing. It can be easy to think of the proposal as being secondary to the book itself. But the proposal is what agents and editors see first, and as everyone knows, first impressions are important. Make your Introduction attention-getting, interesting, and sharp. Also, purge your proposal of typos, grammatical errors, and punctuation problems. If the mechanics of writing aren’t your strong suit, find a grammar maven to help you get the proposal in shape.
Be concise. Keep in mind that the person reading your proposal wants to know, as quickly and as clearly as possible, what your book is about. Don’t ramble, don’t give unnecessary context or background about how you came up with the idea.
Spend extra time on your outline. The outline is the basis for your completed book. The publisher will include it in your contract, and you’ll use it to write the chapters. A good outline at the proposal stage saves you lots of time later, when you’re writing. Be sure the organization makes sense. Look at it from a reader’s point of view. What’s the first thing someone new to your subject needs to know about it? After they’ve learned that, what comes next? And so on. This applies to the overall organization of the chapters and the organization within each chapter. If your outline is well organized, your book will be, too.
Be open to changes. Even though you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your proposal, it’s likely that an editor will want some changes. Don’t reject these out of hand. The editor has experience turning ideas into books, and you should work with your editor to refine and shape the outline. It’s common for an editor to ask for changes before presenting your proposal to the publisher’s editorial board; and the outline may well go back and forth between you and an interested editor several times before it’s ready.
Be realistic. Your book may be your baby, but to the publisher it’s a product. From an editor’s point of view, the whole purpose of a book proposal is to determine whether your project is a good fit and something that will sell. Keep this in mind as you create and submit your proposal.