Many new writers are daunted by the prospect of writing a book proposal. And not without reason. A good proposal requires a substantial amount of work. But if you do it right, you’ve also done some of the hard work of writing the book itself. You’ll end up with a solid, detailed outline, a polished chapter or two, and a clear sense of what your book will look and feel like, as well as who your audience is. You’ll even have an idea of what you need to do to sell your book.
Sell your book? Won’t the publisher do that? Yes and no. Even if you do get a publisher, rather than publishing your book on your own, you will need to do a lot of the promotion. And much of that promotion will begin long before your book is published. In fact, the promotion should begin even before you approach an agent; this early “promotion” is called building a platform.
Are there ways around writing a book proposal? Well, first of all, book proposals are primarily for nonfiction (though many agents are now requesting query letters, which are a sort of mini-proposal, for fiction as well). The only way around writing a proposal for a nonfiction book is to independently publish, which is now a viable and respectable alternative (but is itself a lot of work, since you’ll be the sole promoter).
To find out more about writing a proposal, including what kinds of information you need to include, check out this article by my colleague Christina Blackett Schlank.