How to Write A Book Proposal | Ann Shen | Skillshare

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How to Write A Book Proposal

teacher avatar Ann Shen, Illustrator & Author

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

12 Lessons (20m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Class Orientation

    • 3. Proposal Components

    • 4. Book Summary

    • 5. Author Biography

    • 6. Defining Your Audience

    • 7. Finding Comparable Titles

    • 8. Marketing & Promotional Opportunities

    • 9. Manuscript Specs & Outline

    • 10. Sample Work

    • 11. Searching for Agents & Publishers

    • 12. Good Bye & Good Luck!

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About This Class

Have you always dreamed of writing and publishing a book? Do you have a story or idea that you’ve always wanted to tell? But you don’t know how to bridge the gap between dreaming and doing?

This is the right class for you!

In this course, I will go over:

  • Why do you need a book proposal?
  • How to write a book proposal and the exact components it needs to include.
  • Setting up your proposal for success.
  • How to research agents and publishers.

This class is great for both people who already have a project finished and for those who are thinking about starting one because it helps prepare you for the road ahead. You’ll need a book proposal whether you are approaching literary agents or publishers.

My goal is to help you prepare a strong book proposal that will help you get noticed and present your idea in the best way possible - by thinking through important things like your audience, market space, and what sets you apart from the crowd. 

Let’s get started! 

Meet Your Teacher

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Ann Shen

Illustrator & Author

Top Teacher

Hi there! I'm Ann Shen and I'm an illustrator, author, and hand-letterer based in Los Angeles. I have a degree in Writing from UCSD and a BFA in Illustration from Art Center College of Design. I've worked in the art and design industry for over ten years, taking the leap to work full time for myself in 2014. My artwork has been on everything from doll packaging, digital stickers, book covers, editorial illustrations, calendars, theme parks and more for companies like Disney, Facebook, and HarperCollins.


I've written and illustrated three books: Bad Girls Throughout History, Legendary Ladies, and Nevertheless, She Wore It, all published by Chronicle Books. My work's been featured on Forbes, HelloGiggles, The Cut, and so much more.See full profile

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1. Trailer: Have you ever dreamed of writing and publishing your own book but don't know where to get started? Then you're in the right place. I'm Ann Chen and I'm the author and illustrator of three best-selling books published by Chronicle Books. Bad girls Throughout History, Legendary Ladies, and Nevertheless She Wore It. These three titles have collectively sold over 300,000 copies worldwide and spawned a dozen related products including journals, calendars, planners, [inaudible] and stationary, and I'm currently working on my fourth book. In this class, I'm going to demystify how to write a book proposal that will help you get started in your publishing journey. I'll be covering all the components that you need on a proposal and also some tips on things I've learned along the way. Why a book proposal? Well, if you've ever dreamed of writing and publishing a book, then you'll need a book proposal. It's your plan, your guide, and your hopes and dreams for your book and a way to communicate it to agents and editors who are going to help you make it happen. This is where the real work is, but the fun work, and you may learn something about yourself along the way. I'm really excited to teach this class because I love the business of being a creative professional almost as much as I love being an artist for a living. I want to help others achieve their book dreams too. Let's get started. 2. Class Orientation: The project for today's class is to upload one component of your book proposal, the author biography. You upload your headshot, either a photograph or an illustrated portrait, and include your biography in the caption. If your work is a written novel and it doesn't allow artwork, upload your author photo. The author photo is the image you'd imagine on the back cover of your book. If your work is an illustrated book of some form, consider illustrating a self-portrait in your style so that the whole proposal feels well branded. Need help? Take my Oh My Gouache: Introduction of Painting Portraits with Gouache class. I'll go over more details on writing your author biography in the following lessons. I just want you to know that you have two options for this. One, you can write your biography as it is right now, or two feel you're at the beginning of your career and don't have much to write about yet. I've totally been there. Don't worry about it. You're going to write your future biography, the biography you would like to have in five years. Where have you been published? What accolades have you collected? Where's your work been featured? This is great practice for why you want to manifest and the future for your career. All you need for this class is a tool to take notes with and a way to write your proposal. When you get to the stage of writing your book proposal, you'll need to have a book project in hand. For a non-fiction book, you can have sample chapters or spreads. For a fictional book like a novel, you'll have to have the whole manuscript completed. For a children's book, you'll need a book dummy, which includes the manuscript mopped up into spreads with sketches in a book layout, and at least one or two samples of the finished. I won't be covering how to create the book samples in this class. However, feel free to watch this class even if you don't have a fully formed book project in mind yet. The things that you learn in this class might actually help you develop it further. Let's dive in. 3. Proposal Components: In this section, I'm going to give a brief overview of all the components that go into a book proposal. I'll go into more details in the following videos. Number 1, Contents. This is the contents of your proposal, not your book. Number 2, Summary. You'll want to write a summary of your project. Think of this as your elevator pitch, no more than one or two pages. Number 3, About the Author. Brag about yourself. Write about your unique life experience that makes you the best qualified to write this book. This can be one of the hardest parts. So consider asking a close friend to help you come up with ideas of all the things you've done. Past work experience, life experiences, goals, interests, and background that makes you uniquely you. Four, Audience. Who are you writing this book for? At the end of the day, you'll be doing yourself a major favor if you do the work to figure out who your ideal audience is first. Five, Competition and Market Position. This is where you show you've done your research and know where your book would sit on the shop. Six, Special Marketing and Promotional Opportunities. What social connections are unique ideas you have that can help you promote the book once it's out. Seven, Manuscripts Specifications. This is your idea for how the book will be formatted. Eight, Outline, a table of contents outlining your book to give the reader a better idea of how your whole book would flush out. Don't worry about committing to have her life. It may evolve as you work with your editor. Nine, Sample Chapters. Examples of what pages in your book would look like, 2-3 spreads would be great to give the reader a taste or the first chapter of your manuscript. Just some final thoughts from me. The look of your proposal is very important. It should be neat, spell-checked, double-spaced, paginated, and each section should start on a new page. Now, let's take a deeper dive into each section. 4. Book Summary: In this lesson, we'll go over writing the summary for your book project. Think of this as the summary you read on the back or inside jacket of book covers. How would you describe your book to compel a reader to buy? Step 1, research. Go through your own favorite books and books that are similar to yours and read the summaries to get an idea of how to write one. Number 2, write that first draft. It should be no longer than one or two pages double-spaced and then revise, revise, revise. Now that we have a summary of your book, let's go on to writing about you. 5. Author Biography: Writing a bio can be really hard, but this is the time to brag about yourself. Explain why you are uniquely qualified to write this book and your passion for it. Share your experiences, your life path, and your accomplishments. It's better to toot your own horn too loudly and let your future agent help you tone it down if need be. Don't know where to start? Let's break it down into some exercises to help you think it through. Number 1, where did you grow up and what was your experience growing up there? Number 2, how does your personal experience relate to the subject you're writing about? Number 3, what is your educational background and how does this support your ability to write this book? Number 4, what jobs or volunteer experience do you have that is relevant to the book? Number 5, have you won any awards or been mentioned in any press, blogs, podcasts? Do you have a social media following? Share them all here. Number 6, do you have any special skills or talents? Number 7, what is your interest in this particular subject for this book? If all those spelled, start thinking of these as micro goals that you'll set to start getting ready for your proposal. Start sending your writing out to get published, share your own work online and start building that social media following. These are all tiny steps you can take to make your bio all that more compelling. Now that we've spelled out the work for your bio, let's dig in to who you're writing the book for. Join me in the next video about defining your audience. 6. Defining Your Audience: In this lesson, we're going to talk about defining our audience. Who are you writing the book for? In Business School, they call this an ICA, Ideal Customer Avatar. Think of who your ideal readers. Where do they live? What work do they do? Where do they shop? What other books do they read? What do they buy? What do they love? What do they care about? What are their favorite TV shows, movies, or podcasts? I'm including a worksheet with these questions and more that you can download in the class resources. Then do some field research. Ask people you know, who may fit your ICA. Is it a millennial activists whose passionate about their cap? Is it a parent of young children who are the perfect demographic for your children's book? Ask them the questions in the worksheet to get more real-world information. One cautionary note. Do you feel like you don't have one customer type, that your book is going to be for everyone? If you make something for everyone, then it's really for no one. In reality, your book may and hopefully will have a large, diverse reader base. But you can't start out by trying to target everyone. To develop a clear concept at this stage, you have to have a specific audience that you're writing for. When you get specific about that, then you have a better idea of how to connect with that reader. It makes your concept more effective and concrete. I hope answering these questions will help you get more clarity on the purpose and vision of your book. After doing the worksheet, you can craft a clear answer of what you're doing and who it's for and for publishers to understand whether or not it's an audience they already serve. Now let's move on to competition and comparable titles. 7. Finding Comparable Titles: One of the key things agencies and publishers want to know is how you see your book fitting into the bookshops. In general, publishing is a industry that likes to play it safe. Demonstrating that your book fits amongst books that have done well in the past is extra assurance. It also demonstrates that you know your demographic and audience. How to find comparable titles? Go to your local library or bookstore and browse the shelves of where you think your book would belong. Make a list of all the books that feel comparable to your title. It doesn't have to be the same type of book. It's actually better if it's comparable in terms of format, for example, an illustrated non-fiction book, but as a different topic, demonstrating that there's an opportunity for a new blue ocean. Additionally, look at where you shop for books online to see what other channels come up as recommended. Are any of these comparable to your category? Have they been successful? Have they been best sellers or have a lot of positive reviews? Include those. Now that you have your list, sit down and look at what sets your book apart. But don't off the competition. Publishers are not looking for the same author they already have. They're looking for something familiar yet new. Now write the following in your proposal under the comparable title section, list four or five titles, including the title of the book, author, publisher, and year it was published. Now, don't fall into the comparison trap that so many authors and artists have done before that everything's already been written under the sun. Use this as an opportunity to think about what makes your book unique. Every person could be given the same subject, but the book they create will be different from the others. That's because everyone has a different point of view and experiences that shape the lens they see the world through. Write the thing that only you can write, the world needs it. We're over halfway through the proposal. Now let's keep up the momentum and put on our marketing hat for the next section. 8. Marketing & Promotional Opportunities: In this lesson, we're going to talk about the special marketing and promotional opportunities section of your book proposal. This is an opportunity to share all the connections that are unique to you. Does your position or background offer any opportunities for promoting your book? Do you have a blog, social media following, YouTube channel, podcast, or any other outlet that can help you promote your work? Do you belong to any organizations or groups that can draw more readers? Is your work likely to be used by schools, library groups, other membership organizations? Does the book have seasonality that would be used year after year? Are there any possibilities for foreign sales? Do you have connections within your community to bookshops, journalists, publications, independent retailers or more, that can help you boost your book once it's released? Be as specific as possible. Think of how you'd plan your ideal book launch. Now is the time to pull all the strings. No more than 1-3 pages. This is once again an opportunity for future planning. Feel like you don't have any of those connections, then it's time to start doing some research and connecting with your community. Join groups that share your same interests, develop relationships with members of your community, and start building your own outline. Now that you've thought through all the marketing support, it is time to jump back into the substance of your book proposal, the manuscript. 9. Manuscript Specs & Outline: In this video, I'll cover two sections that are related: the manuscripts specifications and the outline. In the manuscript specification section, you'll answer the following questions. How long do you propose the length of your book to be? How many photographs or illustrations will be in the book, if any? Are there any special details you're interested in? Like book size, format, or style that are important to your idea. When do you anticipate you'll be able to deliver a completed manuscript? In the outline section, you'll be listing a preliminary table of contents for your book. You want to give the agent or publisher an idea of how the book will unfold. Don't worry, you're not committed to it for life. It may evolve when you get a book offer and start working with an editor. The outline should include section and chapter headings, if applicable. But in each chapter, write a short sentence or paragraph explaining what the chapter contains and if necessary, how it moves the book forward. You may not need this if you're writing a children's book, instead you'll have a book dummy as a book sample. Now that you've written the meat and bones of your proposal, it's time to move on to your sample work. Join me in the next video for more info. 10. Sample Work: Congratulations, you made it through the proposal and now you just have to show the actual book you're working on. For non-fiction books, this can just be sample chapters from the book. It doesn't have to be a first chapter, but it can be. Whatever is the best example of your book written, illustrated, if applicable, and laid out as you see it. For fiction books, you do have to have your complete manuscript finished. If you're submitting to an agency with a query letter, typically you'll include the book proposal and the first 50 pages of your manuscript. Requirements may vary so check the guidelines of the agency's website for specifics. For children's books. You may have a book dummy that has the text laid out with the sketches and one or two examples of what the final art would look like. Note, this is only if you're writing and illustrating the children's book. If you're only writing, just submit the manuscript. Most of the time, publishers will pick their own illustrators. We're almost there. Join me in the next video for what to do with the proposal now that you have one. 11. Searching for Agents & Publishers: You've written a book proposal. Now, what? The process of looking for a publisher may start with finding an agent. I highly recommend a literary agent and love mine because they know the ins and outs of the industry, have relationships with editors, will negotiate your contract, and will always be your number 1 advocate. They will almost always get you more money than the initial offer and help you protect your rights to your work. Agents only get paid when you get paid and the typical cut for literary agencies is 15 percent. It is really important though to find an agent that connects and believes in your work, not just any agent. Advice for looking for an agent. Go back to your list of comparable titles. Most authors will thank their agents in their acknowledgments. That will give you a lead. Look up that agent and find their agency. Now, this is where you're going to decide if you want to go the boutique agencies, say one that only serves children's books, or a broader agency that serves all titles. Look at the agency's website for query instructions and start drafting a query letter to introduce yourself. It may take awhile to hear back, but don't give up. Keep querying with the agents and you may even get helpful feedback at the very least. Another route is going directly to the publisher. Editors and publishers are more likely to read proposal sent directly to them from agency now, but they may also read proposals that are submitted through the publisher's website. Make sure that the publisher you submit to is a good fit for your work. For example, it doesn't make sense to submit a children's book to a publisher that doesn't have a children's imprint. To find publishers, once again, go back to that comparable titles list you made and look at which publishing houses publish those books. Then make a list and go to each publisher's website to figure out the submission guidelines. We're almost done. Join me in the next video for some final thoughts and extra tips to make your proposal really sparkle. 12. Good Bye & Good Luck!: Congratulations, you've made it. In this class, you learned all the contents that go into a book proposal, the planning and research that goes into writing a book proposal, how to define your audience and who you're writing for, how to write an autobiography and create a marketing plan for your book, and how to find agents to query and publishers to submit to. A final thought on writing a proposal that really stands out: think of your strengths. If you're writing an illustrated book, consider including spot illustrations throughout the proposal that exhibit your talent, a lettering expert, letter all the headers inside the proposal. Adding thoughtful little touches like this will really make your work stand out. Make your proposal as unique as you are. If you're comfortable, please feel free sharing any aspect of your proposal in the class project section. I'll be giving personal feedback as much as I can to every project in there. Thank you so much for joining me for this class. I look forward to seeing your book on the bookshelf.