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Your Book Proposal: Give Them What They Want and Make Them Beg For More!

Pitch Perfect Proposal by Erin Reel, The Lit Coach

To agents and editors, The Overview section of your nonfiction book proposal is like a first date. After these decision makers check out your title and concept, The Overview is what really makes a lasting impression.

If you’ve successfully and succinctly given them the heart of your book in The Overview, they’ll read on, they’ll want more, they may want commitment. If you don’t, they may still read on, it depends on their level of patience and availability, but honestly with so many other attractive fish in the lit sea, their eye may wander to a more attractive prospect.

And who can blame them, really?

Two Approaches: Short & Sweet –or— Long & Romantic

book-proposal Some Overviews are short and sweet (a page or two) but give the reader a very clear sense of what to expect from the full blown book while others take their time to unfold (more than a few pages but less than 10), romancing the reader with intriguing statistics and compelling anecdotes making the reader yearn for more.

In both proposal scenarios, short and sweet or long and romantic, the authors get the job done – they’ve attracted the keen interest of an agent or editor by giving them what they want.

What do agents and editors want? Answer These 4 Questions

In The Overview you must answer the following four questions to keep the interest of an agent or editor: (Even if you plan to self-publish, I encourage you to follow-through with this exercise so YOU’RE clear on why someone would buy your book.)

· What is your book about?

· Why should your book be on the shelf?

· Why are you the ideal person to write it?

· How will you plan to write it?

#1 What’s it all about…

Ok, writers, no pressure here, but this is your big opportunity to really dazzle your reader.

You got your foot in the door with a great concept and title, now it’s time to wow that agent or editor by answering their first question, What is your book about? with a powerful synopsis.

Your goal with your synopsis is to adequately and succinctly inform your reader of what a book is about. Plain and simple. 

#2 You will find my book between…

Why should an agent take a chance on your book? Because it needs to be written, because you see a perfect hole on the shelf your book could fill.

Another important goal of The Overview is establishing a need for your book. Including attention-grabbing statistics and/or compelling anecdotes will not only bring your concept to life but they’ll underscore that need.

Agents not only love that supplementary data, they need it to make their case that your book should be published with an editor who will then have to turn around and make the case of why your book needs to be published to an entire publishing team (and they’ve heard it all).

But choose only the most relevant statistics and anecdotes for your Overview. That said, not all Overviews have statistics or anecdotes and that’s fine…sometimes they’re not appropriate…it depends on the book.

#3 In my years of…

I’ll preface this by saying the ideal person to write a nonfiction book, the kind of person the publishing industry is looking for, is someone with a few miles of road beneath them, experience, and a platform to tell the world about it.

  • Why are you the ideal person to write this book?
  • What do you bring to the table as an expert of your subject matter, your concept?
  • Is all your experience a solid enough foundation for this book to be built upon?
  • Are you recognized as an expert/advocate/voice of your subject matter?
  • Why do we as readers want to enter into this relationship with you?

This is your opportunity to make the agent/editor feel assured that you are just the right person to write this book. Your associations with your subject matter need to be rock solid and if you’re writing anything along these genre lines, you MUST have the professional/academic background to support your efforts (i.e. letters behind your name):

· Reference

· Technology

· Health/Medical/Psychology

· Science

If you’re writing within other genres, like cooking, parenting, business, lifestyle, anything prescriptive “how-to”, you need to be able to show a track record of success in these areas – like a successful blog, you-tube videos, a meaty social media following, a successful newsletter, freelance articles, contributed pieces, professional associations, degrees are helpful, too.

This becomes your platform and all this eventually translates into who will buy your book…which we’ll cover more in the Marketing section down the road.

#4 Who is that man/woman behind the curtain…

Agents and editors want a good feel of how your book is going to be written so don’t save your “writing voice” for your sample chapters – don’t play coy; give them what they want now!

Proposals are professional documents, absolutely, but your reader would love to hear your authentic voice while being sold on your concept. If nothing else, remember this: your tone should match the material you’re writing about.

Is your book funny? By all means, give that prospective agent/editor a taste of your sense of humor (within means). Are you writing a more serious, analytical book? Then keep your tone on the more straight and narrow side. It’s totally possible to present yourself and your material professionally and authentically – really, that’s the only way to present yourself.

Finally, don’t allow the idea of capturing the entirety of your book onto a few pages intimidate you; this is the reality of a professional author. If you get stuck, just break down these elements and work on them piece by piece.

And if you find you need more information or experience to make your case, then it’s back to work you go and that is OK. There are no shortcuts in writing or publishing.

But I hope you ARE ready and have all the elements of a great Overview ready to go. I’m rooting for you. Here’s to successful Overview crafting!


Erin Reel is an editorial and publishing consultant, writer’s life coach, blogger, columnist and former Los Angeles based literary agent. Visit her website at

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