What’s your book really about?
This is a sweet little tool to help you wrap your hands around your book idea at ANY stage of the process – before you begin, when you’re stuck in the middle, and/or at the end when you’re ready to go out into the world.
It takes the elements of a full book proposal (which is the business plan you create when you are seeking an agent for a traditional publishing deal) and squeezes them down into a one-page, super concentrated powerhouse presentation. You may only be making the presentation for yourself right now – but guess what? You are your first reader, so this matters! A LOT!
I'm going to walk you through it step by step, with some extra-added lessons for each of the sections.
A note about the origin of the One-Page Book Proposal: I made this because marketing guru Melani Dizon asked systems guru Jenny Blake if she had a template for a one-page book proposal (because Jenny has templates for everything! Check out her Ninja Toolkit!) Jenny did not happen to have a template for this, so she sent Melani to me. I thought it was a genius idea and Melani gifted it to me to create and share with the world. (Thanks, Melani!)
Okay! So let’s go through it section by section.
Click the button below to download and save your own copy so you can print it out and read it as you go through this post, and then fill it in later.
And click the button below for a plain Word version, in case that's easier for you.
Write a summary that draws the reader into your world and entices them to stay. Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on what happens. Think bigger than that.
- For fiction and memoir, think about the world of your story, your characters, and the point your story makes. What are you offering your readers? Insight? Inspiration? Education? Entertainment? You want a mix of plot – what happens – and your big-picture point.
- For nonfiction, think about the problem you are solving, the help you are offering, and the questions your reader is dying to answer. How will you help them where they hurt? What will they walk away from your book knowing that they didn’t know before? Why, in other words, should they care?
Don’t have a good answer for this section yet? Do the other sections first and then come back to this one.
Take the best line from your summary and play around with it to get a one-line tagline that sums up your big idea.
I just did this for the One-Page Book Proposal and came up with this: “Capture what your book is really about so you can grab the attention of the people who matter. ”
3. Contact information
You may think this section is a throwaway – what’s so important about contact information? But there are three important lessons hidden here.
- Unless you have a quirky email connected to your brand, you should have a professional email address. How can you expect agents to take you seriously if your email is BruisersMommy@gmail.com?
- You need a website. Even if all you have on your site is a “Coming Soon” page with your book title, short description, and an email sign-up form, that’s much better than nothing. I recommend squarespace.com because it’s intuitive, inexpensive, and they have fantastic customer service, but Wordpress is very popular too. There are also many free places to host your site. There’s no excuse not to jump in.
- Get a business card. Put your book title on one side of the card and your contact info on the other. If you can afford cards from moo.com, spring for them. They are gorgeous and stand out in a crowd.
4. Author bio
Your author bio is not the same thing as your resume. You don’t need to include that award you won in college, unless it relates to the book you are writing. You don’t need to include that promotion you got in 2012, unless it relates to the book you are writing. This is a bio about you as the author of your book. If you are a mom writing about potty training, the fact that you have 5 kids is obviously relevant. If you are a veterinarian writing a novel that features dragons, the fact that you regularly handle reptiles may be more important than where you got your degree. Use the space to sell yourself as an authority on your book.
5. Author photo
Before you start to pitch, get a good photo taken. It doesn’t have to be expensive. A good photo can be taken on your neighbor’s cellphone or even at one of those photo mills at the mall where they can pull down a white backdrop. Pay attention to the background and to lighting. Choose a look that conveys what you want to convey, which might be very different if you are writing a thriller than if you are writing a cookbook.
Below are photos of a writer I know who recently posted two dynamic author photo choices on Facebook for her fans to vote on. (This is a smart move, by the way – a great way to engage readers. Vicki Abelson got 1,587 responses to the question, and having that many followers is far from a random accident. I’ll talk about that in the Marketing Edge section, below.)
So back to the photos. Based on these looks (notice the feathers, the hair, the jewelry, the casual/sexy clothes), what kind of book do you think she’s writing?
Vicki Abelson photos ©Carlos Alejandro Photography
Would you confuse it with a book this person is writing?
Not in a million years, right? Daniel Pink (the guy above) writes nonfiction books about business and human nature, so it makes sense that his author photo looks the way it does.
Vicki Abelson’s novel, Don’t Jump, from Carl Reiner’s Random Content, is a “gritty tale of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and celebrity.” So it makes SENSE that her photo would look the way it looks.
Paying attention to your appearance at a writers' conference is equally powerful. Your look is part of your brand, part of the way you sell yourself and your book. Don’t ignore the power of what you’re wearing.
6. Target audience
One of the most powerful things an author can do is to understand their audience. Who is your ideal reader? How would you describe your target audience? How big is that audience? These are the kinds of questions publishers are going to ask, and if you’ve gotten there first, you will look like an author who wants to actually reach those readers. That’s the kind of writer a publisher wants to team up with. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is your target audience? Do they fall into one main group, or several subsets? How big are these groups? (Yes, you want to include stats where stats exist.)
- Give your audience context. Is it a group that is growing? Gaining prominence? Hungry for what you are offering?
- Where can you find your ideal readers in person and online? Where do they go? What specific blogs do they read? What sites do they love?
7. Marketing plan
When agents and editors talk about author platform, they are talking about marketing – about how you are going to connect with your target audience. There is no correct way to do this. It doesn’t have to be that you have a massive Facebook following or that you’ve blogged for 10 years. It just has to be something that you authentically enjoy and something that effectively draws readers in. It could be workshops, events, a contest, or something no one has ever done before.
The story I began to tell about Vicki Abelson, above, is a perfect example of innovative book marketing. For many years, she has run a literary salon in her Los Angeles home. She became quite well known for her salon, and attracted some pretty spectacular celebrities to read in her house. Her whole reason for doing it was to build a platform for her novel. She had been a music promoter and she knew how to bring people together in person, and she thought – that’s what I’ll do. She transferred that superpower into a network on social media, which is why when she posts her author photo, she gets nearly 2,000 votes in about an hour. She has 5,000 friends on Facebook. She has 3,000 followers on Twitter. She no doubt has a massive email list and when her debut novel came out, she let all of those folks know. Do you think she sold a lot of books on opening day? You better believe she did.
You may not do what Vicki has done, because that might not be your thing, but you’ve got to do something to connect to your future readers, and in this section, you’re going to explain it.
- What will you do to reach your readers? To connect with them? To entice them to read your book?
- Will you blog? Speak? Give readings? Workshops? Where, specifically, will you do this?
- What influencers can you partner with to get the word out about your book?
- Why is NOW a great time for your book? What is going on in the world to make it so?
8. Competitive titles
Describing the books that are similar to yours helps agents see your book in context. Will it sit on the shelf next to Harry Potter, or next to The 4-Hour Workweek? I like to tell clients to imagine what other books their ideal reader has on her bookshelf, and then to think about what your book would add to the mix.
- What is the universe of existing books your book will be born into?
- What books will it sit next to on the bookstore shelf and on your ideal reader’s bedside table?
- Pick three titles and very briefly explain how yours is both like and unlike them.
9. Published works
If you have already been published (even if it’s on a blog), showcase your awesomeness, and the fact that you know how to meet a deadline and work with editors.
John Robin, one of our Author Accelerator coaches, took time out from writing his epic fantasy novel, Blood Dawn, to write and revise a short story, which was included in an anthology called Tantalizing Tidbits.
The short story is a prologue to the book and is now a great calling card for him when he goes to pitch his novel. Here’s what John says about the experience:
“While I sit here writing a long fantasy epic, knowing I will have to build my readership slowly, this opportunity showed me how I can connect with readers beforehand….
The most exciting part for me was creating an Amazon Author Central page and realizing that suddenly, I’m a published author! It showed me that you don’t need to wait until you have a stellar debut novel that hits the NYT to start doing all the things that authors do, to start thinking like an author and building a readership.”
I have another client whose essays on wilderness have been published in a wide range of environmental journals, both regional and national. She is about to start pitching a memoir set in wild country, and this puts her in a great position. She could select a few choice journals for her “Published Works” section on the One-Page Book Proposal.
If you don’t have any published works, fear not. Everyone has to start somewhere – and agents are always on the lookout for the next big thing. Maybe it’s your book.
10. Social media
Love it or hate it, you really need to do it, because that’s where the readers are. E-book sales are skyrocketing, and many readers find their books online now through services such as Bookbub or Oyster. You don’t have to participate in every social media platform (Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, hey!) but it would be smart to choose a few whose philosophy and reality you enjoy, and teach yourself how to use them to your advantage. (I recently took Alexis Grant’s Twitter Power User Course, for example, and found it to be enormously helpful.)
Social media numbers are just a shorthand way of talking about your author platform, but remember that social media is just a tool – and only ONE tool – to help you connect with readers.
What should you do if you don’t have meaty social media numbers yet? Again, don’t panic. Everyone has to start somewhere.
11. Manuscript specifications
If you are pitching a book before it is finished, this is the place to guesstimate your word count and your date of completion. That can be good motivation to you – put a “finish” date down and just do it! If you are finished, you can include real numbers.
And that's it! Your book in one page! Use this tool to help hone your message and your story at every stage of the writing process.