Should I write a business book proposal?

Publishers want a book proposal, not a finished manuscript. A publisher’s business model seeks revenue from book sales. But business people see the value of their book in terms of what it will do for them and their companies. Self-publishing has many advantages for the business author. However, in this article, I’m going to tell you about the book proposal: what it is, and why you may not need one. 

What’s this proposal thing?

The proposal’s purpose is to sell your idea to a publisher.

A book proposal is a document of between 3,000-12,000 words. If successful, it will have been evaluated by several people. Editors, marketers, salespeople, and production staff will all have their own criteria for whether your proposal will be acceptable.

Literary agents sell book proposals to editors. Editors sell proposals to publishing committees. Editorial staff will scan your proposal first. And this is why format matters.

If you’re going the traditional route, large publishing houses or small independent publishers will want you to answer a lot of questions. They may have their own book-proposal template.

Components of a business book proposal

  1. Title
  2. Concept
  3. Table of contents (proposal)
  4. About the book
  5. About the author
  6. About the market
  7. About the competition
  8. Production details
  9. About promotions
  10. Table of contents (book)
  11. Chapter summaries
  12. Sample chapters
  13. Appendix[i]

Publishers want to know your book will sell

Celebrity sells. Many people buy books because of the author. Publishers want to know you have a following with eager potential buyers for your book. Even the most compelling topic and a well-written proposal can fail if the author has no following.

For most business-book authors use their books to enhance credibility. Nothing says expertise better than, “I wrote a book on the topic.”

Business authors use their books to open doors that would otherwise be closed.  For them, what matters is getting their book into the right hands. Print on demand (POD) makes warehouses full of unsold books a thing of the past. 

In 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing, Steven Piersanti, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, writes: The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.

But we know from The End of Average, that “average” can mislead because it doesn’t consider variability or “jaggedness” as author Todd Rose calls it.

Some books fail to sell at all. Others become a big success.  There’s a strong correlation between marketing—or lack of it—and how many copies you sell.

If you self-publish—as many business book authors are now choosing to do—the process of writing your proposal is still worthwhile. You wouldn’t build a house without a plan. And a book proposal is nothing more than a plan.

Don’t send your finished nonfiction manuscript to a traditional publisher and expect it to be read.

Write a book proposal if you want to go the traditional route. On the other hand, if you self-publish have a plan for what you want your book to do for you. 


[i] Elisabeth Lyon, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to get a contract and advance before writing your book, penguin.com