Subscribe to Lisa’s Blog

Weekly writing & publishing news, tips, and events — straight to your inbox!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

What Makes a Book Proposal Compelling to Agents and Publishers?

I’d already started writing this post on what makes a book proposal compelling to agents and publishers when this email hit my inbox:

“Friday I signed my book contract!  Thank you Lisa for helping me to get to this place. I still can’t believe this is happening.  I have a feeling this will open so many doors for me, things I never even thought possible. Thank you so much Lisa for all your thoughtful guidance!”

Lisa Tener on Book Lover's Day
Your Book Proposal Coach in “Summer Mode”

This is “Jane’s” first book and she received a healthy advance on the high end of the five figure spectrum with a dream publisher.


And also “Whew.”

It took a lot of hard work on her part to get to this point.

It took “platform building” as well as brainstorming, writing, editing, rewriting, coming up with a marketing plan and more. It took learning to become a stronger writer. It took experimenting and trying new things.

The Analysis

writing a book proposalLet’s break down our analysis of what Jane did right into these categories:

  1. The strategies Jane employed to build her platform
  2. The actions “Jane” took when it came to the writing
  3. The qualities she possessed or nurtured in herself
  4. Jane had done original research and extensive personal interviews to bring new information to the market.
  5. Jane demonstrated the need for her book, with a particular market

Actions “Jane” Took to Make her Book Proposal Compelling to Agents and Publishers

The Strategies Jane Employed to Grow Her Platform

While Jane was in the enviable place of being contacted by journalists and documentary producers about her research, she still had a modest platform. So we went to work:

1. Agents and Publishers Like to See Strong PR in a Book Proposal

On my website, I include logos from press that has interviewed or quoted me. You can do the same.

I suggested that as a university researcher, Jane let the PR department of the university know she was interested in speaking to journalists about her research and in brainstorming ideas for pitches to the press, without necessarily giving away all the juice that was in her book.

This is usually important–to leave some of the exciting research or information for when the book launches, yet get some publicity for tangential work now and develop relationships with journalists before sending a proposal out.

2. Agents and Publishers Love to See a Healthy Speaking Schedule in a Book Proposal

One of the best ways to sell books is in person at a speaking or training gig. Jane had spoken at a couple of conferences to very large audiences in the past. I encouraged her to contact the conference organizer to discuss being a keynote speaker in 2021, mentioning the topic of her book. I also suggested she line up additional speaking gigs. She did!

3. Innovative Research Grants Can Get Media Attention and Lead to Greater Visibility in Your Field

During our discussion, Jane mentioned some grants she planned to apply for, including one to be a national model for cities. Seeing how this could help her platform, she moved this up in priority and has already been approved for one of the two new grants, and is eagerly awaiting to hear from the second.

The Actions Jane Took to Improve Her Writing

As an academic, Jane needed to learn how to write for a trade audience in a conversational style. Early on, she had told me two very funny stories about herself that painted a picture in my mind. I added these two stories to her introductory sample chapter and helped her tell the stories in a humorous way. Here are the elements that helped make these stories so entertaining that publishers and agents could envision a very popular book:

  1. Paint a funny picture! Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

    They painted a very funny picture. The descriptions helped readers see the scene unfold.

  2. The stories were personal and showed a vulnerable side of her, her foibles as a parent, being challenged to take her own advice, advice that she provides other parents on a daily basis. This vulnerability and authenticity serves multiple purposes. It helps readers relate to the author and provides a connection. It makes the author believable–that she too felt challenged by the subject. It makes her trustworthy. They also added some self-deprecating humor, without eroding the author’s professional creds. It also helps readers feel that everyone struggles with this issue but they can overcome that.

The Value of Fresh in a Book Proposal

Jane’s original research included extensive interviews. Being a researcher with very fresh information definitely added to the cachet of her proposal. If you don’t have your own fresh research, perhaps you can identify new research by others and highlight several scientists or medical researchers. Or you can have a researcher contribute to each chapter.

There are other ways to be fresh though:

  • a new perspective on an evergreen topic
  • addressing an audience that had not been addressed specifically in previous books
  • a fresh voice
  • unusual stories
  • exciting features that help readers integrate the material, such as exercises, journal prompts, videos or audios that can be accessed by QR code, cartoons or some other ways to engage readers and help them experience your material more deeply

Demonstrating the Market Need

Look what just came in the mail! a few days ago! Congrats Carla Naumburg.

Originally, Jane targeted a more general market. After I introduced Jane to the woman who became her literary agent, the agent suggested she address some general market publishers with one proposal and tweak the proposal slightly for the Christian market, a natural fit for Jane’s book. Jane did so and ended up signing with a Christian publisher.

When addressing markets for the book or audience in your book proposal, be sure to include the size of each primary and secondary market. I often use census data for this section.

If an acquisitions editor wants to acquire your book for his or her list, they will bring your proposal to an acquisitions board meeting. The board will attempt to estimate the number of copies they expect to sell and the expected income from your book sales. If

You Have to Sing Your Own Praises

This is not a time to be modest. Jane struggled a bit with “bragging” but she learned the importance of it quickly enough.

Another client I worked with this summer during a VIP Day with me had a similar struggle. It came up in our conversation that she’d won a prestigious award, yet nowhere in her proposal or her “About the Author” section did she mention this. “I didn’t even think of it,” she told me.

This is your time to brag. Include awards, honors, achievements (even those that are tangential but impressive), famous people you’ve shared the speaking stage with, original research you’ve done, anything you can think of.

Share your book proposal and book writing questions as a comment below.

And please join me for an absolutely free, information-rich, enlightening and fun teleseminar “Fast Track Your Book Proposal” on September 18 at 8:30 pm ET, 5:30 pm PT.

Sign up here! (it’s free!)

book cover become your childs sleep coach
Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach just arrived in the mail a couple of days ago as well! Congratulations Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD

On the free teleseminar call, you will learn to…

  • Increase Your Chances of a Book Deal.

  • Start Your Proposal for Maximum Impact.

  • Avoid the Dreaded Slush Pile!

  • Include 3 Must-Haves Every Publisher Wants.

    I’ll also share the strategies that just helped my client sign a high 5-figure book deal.

    PLUS: Learn 2 top platform-building tips!


Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Indie published Joy of Writing Journal.

Get Lisa's Award-Winning Book

The Joy of Writing Journal:

Spark Your Creativity in 8 Minutes a Day

Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award & IPPY Award

Subscribe to Lisa’s Blog

Weekly writing & publishing news, tips, and events — straight to your inbox!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Screen Shot 2020-09-07 at 10.05.50 PM
Share This