[Podcast] Lisa Tener on Writing a Book Proposal that Lands You a Deal

4 publishing your writing 5 promoting your writing podcast post Sep 05, 2023

A good book proposal is key to landing a book deal.

It’s a business plan for your book.

It helps your book stay focused on its main idea (its thesis).

It helps you determine where your book fits in the market.

And it helps you market your book to the correct audience.

Most new writers think a good book proposal is dependent on their book idea. That’s the starting point. But writing a book proposal that lands you a deal is so much more. Book proposal coach Lisa Tener explains what publishers look for in a book proposal, and how to write a book proposal that will land you a deal.

What is the number one thing publishers want to see in a proposal? 

A platform.

Why You Need a Platform

“Publishers want to see a big platform.”


Because publishing a book is a business, and publishing houses expect to make a profit off your book. To increase the chances of book sales, publishing houses expect you to market and promote your book to an active audience. An audience inclined to buy your book. 

According to Lisa, even the best book ideas won’t land a deal if the author lacks a significant platform. But platform building can be daunting. It requires commitment, hard work, and persistence. Which is why Lisa encourages writers to use a platform they will enjoy.

If you enjoy networking via social media, then use social media. If you prefer maintaining a consistent email list, then build a platform through email subscribers.

Do what makes you happy! (Because you have to keep at it. And if you don’t enjoy a certain platform, you will give up on it.)

To submit a book proposal that lands you a deal, you need a significant platform. What exactly “significant” is—everyone wants to know.

What Makes a Platform “Significant”?

In a book proposal, publishers aren’t just looking for an author to have a platform. They’re looking for an author to have a significant platform. Lisa claims a “significant” platform depends on three things:

Publisher. A smaller publishing house is interested in a more modest platform, such as ten thousand followers on social media, or a couple thousand email subscribers. If you want to land a book deal through a major publishing house, like Wiley, Harper, or Penguin Random House, for instance, you’ll need a more substantial subscriber/follower count.

Genre. A book published within a larger, more generic genre demands far more subscribers/followers than a book published to a more niche audience. For example, publishing a health book focused on a how to improve your health if you’re 50-year-old women with insulin resistance requires less subscribers/followers than if you were to write a more generalized diet book—because it’s targeting a specific audience.

Type of Platform. Because of their targeted audience and niche content, in-person conferences and podcasts tend to have a higher book-sale conversion than other platforms. For this reason, publishers don’t expect these types of platforms to have a higher subscriber count.

Social media can increase book sales, but it varies. And it’s dependent on whether or not the audience is engaged and willing to purchase a book. So publishers tend to expect platforms on social media to have a higher follower count and to see engagement (likes, comments, and shares).

The Need for Relevant Comps

Another important piece of the book proposal is the ‘comp’ section—books within your market that are competitive and/or comparable to yours.

A quick tip: Lisa says to ALWAYS include comps. 

Publishers want to see that books similar to yours have sold well over the past two years. They want to know a market exists for your book, and that your book will sell well in that market.

Lisa recommends listing 5-7 comps in your book proposal (though she says this can change depending on your genre). You also want to list comps that have sold the most copies within your genre.

But here’s the catch: they need to relate to your book. If you’re writing a biography about a family’s start-up and then list a bestseller about the challenges women face in family-owned companies, a publisher will ignore this comp. They want to see that a market exists for books related to yours.  

It’s also important to choose recently published comps. Think books sold in the last 2-3 years. This isn’t a hard-cut rule, according to Lisa, but still recommended. Books that have a longer shelf life—and are still selling copies—can prove to publishers that there is longevity to the idea your book addresses.

When listing your comps, you’ll want to highlight the similarities and differences to your book. What similarities can be found between your book and a best seller? Can you prove to a publisher these similarities will increase your book’s chances at success? 

You also want to explain what makes your book unique from current bestsellers. What’s currently missing in the market that your book offers?

Differentiating your book from comps is imperative to a good book proposal. Here are four ways your book can differ from others: 

  1. Voice: Are you employing a fresh expertise compared to an expertise more common within your genre?
  2. Niche market: Does your book target a niche market (such as a focus on the New Gen within the family-business genre)?
  3. New research/applying research: Does your book contain newly conducted research and/or apply research from another field?
  4. Stories: Are the stories you’ve written unique compared to those already written within your genre?

Take the time to research comps and compare and contrast them to your book. A publisher will show more interest in a book proposal that highlights an existing market for your book idea and proves your book idea is unique enough to be consumed by the market.

What Sample Chapter to Include 

A final, major part to writing a book proposal that lands you a deal is the sample chapters.

Most new writers think sample chapters are the first three chapters of their book. Lisa takes a different approach. She recommends you write and submit your best chapters.

Think about submitting chapters that are the most counterintuitive. Or the most shocking. The chapters that have the most mind-blowing research. Or the chapters with your best writing.

If you haven’t written your book, that’s okay. Submit your first/introductory chapters. These chapters set the stage for your book and will help a publisher determine if your book idea is strong enough for an entire book—and, just as important, if you are a compelling writer.

But, if you have written most chapters of your book and you’re more excited about sharing a certain chapter, or if you think one chapter stands above all others, then submit that chapter. Your passion will shine through your writing.

As you work on your book proposal, consider these questions:

  • Do you have a significant platform that publishers desire?
  • What comps exist within your market you can compare your book to?
  • What sample chapters will you write?

Book proposals are lengthy projects (Lisa spent 6 months writing hers!). But they’re instrumental to landing a book deal.



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