PropFirst, the happy news: you do not have to write your entire book before you sell it. In fact, you only have to write an outline of it and a few sample chapters.

Unlike novels where an author sweats out the manuscript for years before it makes the rounds of potential publishers, for non-fiction books like cookbooks, publishers actually buy your idea. You present your idea in a proposal, a publisher buys it, and then pays you to write it! Fun, huh? And a lot less risk and time on the part of the author. But your proposal has to be perfect.

There is a specific formula for a non-fiction book proposal. And it looks like this:

On average, most cookbook proposals are
30 to 40 pages (6000 to 8500 words).

Sound like a nightmare? Never written a paper that long in your life? It may seem long, but remember it’s all you have to write before you get paid. Fiction authors have to write their entire manuscripts first — usually around 80,000 words. You will get a big, fat check for just 40 pages.

I’m not going to lie though, writing the proposal is the hardest part of the whole book. It’s only a fraction of the total book, but it’s the heart and soul outline of it. You have to impress someone who doesn’t know you, you have to be concise and clever at the same time, and you can’t waste a word. But it’s well, well worth it because once you’re done, your book will practically write itself, and your publisher will have signed off on your direction.

You might have heard of some people who don’t use proposals. It does happen, yes. Generally for celebrities who have book deals handed to them. And there are slick agents who prefer to do all their selling verbally and don’t require proposals, even of first-time authors. I have written books without proposals. And it was a near disaster. A verbal agreement is a dangerous way to start a relationship with anyone.

Writing a proposal for your very own book is tough, but it’s also an amazing experience. It’s putting on paper what you’re passionate about, breathing life into your dream. It’s not an assignment about someone else; it’s all about you. If you can write an excellent proposal, you can definitely write a great book!

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