How to Write a Book Proposal (as best I know how)

Note: this article was created as a presentation for the 2020 Business of Art conference put on by Arts Partners of Central Illinois and held at Bradley UniversityThis is the experience I have gained in getting my own book, Celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas, accepted and published. This is the third article in a series on completing a book from proposal to publication. The other articles are:
12 Days of Christmas Book Marketing Blitz!
How to Market a Book (as best I know how)

The buildup to the proposal
In my short career as an author (depending on what you mean by short), I have written one successful and one unsuccessful book proposal. Each of them took me months and months of preparation and work and both were essentially formatted the same. With the unsuccessful book I truly played the lottery, as it was written for a specific book series (33 1/3 with Bloomsbury) and was specifically about the band Arcade Fire's album Reflektor. With around 500 submissions, my proposal made the first cut to around 80 proposals, but it did not make the final cut of being accepted for publication. Knowing there was not much of a place in the publishing world for a book like this (at least that I could see), I regrouped and attempted to figure out what kind of book I could get published.

Through a various set of circumstances (which you can read about in the book itself or in interviews I've done) I came to have an idea for a book on the 12 Days of Christmas. Sending a book proposal out to a publisher is always like playing the lottery, but a book on Christmas is much less so. Had my book not gotten accepted at Wipf and Stock, I most likely would have kept trying until I found a publisher who wanted to publish it. I believed in the idea enough and thought it should be given the opportunity to get out there into the world.

My book did end up getting rejected by a number of publishers. For most of the "no"s I received from them the reasoning was vague. That is, I got back a typical rejection letter saying something similar to "we don't have a need for a book like yours right now." OK, well, thanks, I guess. But one publisher actually gave me some great advice, saying they liked my book but that they are looking for titles that have the potential to sell year round, rather than a season-oriented book on Christmas. Their response gave me a bit of an epiphany on how publishers think. I thought my book idea had about as much universal appeal possible, but to them it resided too much within a niche.

Well so be it. What I ended up doing was using my connections and social circles to find a publisher who puts out books based on content and quality rather than pure marketability and that also prints their books in small runs according to demand. In other words, Wipf and Stock has a model that supports up-and-coming authors just looking for a chance. Would I have rather had my book published by a Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, IVP, Moody, or Crossway? Well sure! But I was also thankful for the opportunity that opened up, and I took it!

The only problem with the book deal I received was that I had to raise my own funds to pay for Wipf and Stock's editor to edit the book and for them to typeset it for publication. I did not have the money to do this and so I decided to do a Kickstarter campaign, which ended up being successful! Describing how I did the Kickstarter is for another article, but it is important to note the campaign served as my initial marketing campaign for the book, drumming up interest in it about a year before the book came out.

Also, please note that this article is not focused on which type of publishing you want to choose or how to find a publisher. For that I recommend researching different publishing market guides, such as for the general and Christian markets, or other great books giving advice on how to find a publisher. For the most part this article assumes you are looking to find a publisher, hence the need to write a great proposal.

Now on to the proposal! First I will offer an outline of what is typically expected and then I will flesh out my outline with some of the content I was proposing. Please note that this proposal is for a nonfiction book that is geared for a Christian or religious demographic. It could also be considered educational, historical, or self-help/practical like a cook book. I have not yet written a proposal for a work of fiction, but my impression is that most authors turn in a completed work to a publisher along with their best synopsis of the plot and why they think readers will be drawn to it.

  • Proposed table of contents

Book Proposal Content
Here is a lot of what I wrote in my proposal, though some of it I have paired down into more of an outline.

Celebrating The 12 Days of Christmas: A guide for families and churches
by Chris Marchand

Celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas has a lofty aim: to encourage church communities and families to shift how and when they celebrate the Christmas season. That instead of seeing the season as the days leading up to December 25—which is the season of Advent—to seeing it as the days from December 25 through January 5, that is, the actual 12 days.

The hope is to inform people of:
1.) When exactly those 12 days fall on our calendar
2.) What individual holidays occur during the 12 days along with their history and meaning, and
3.) How the 12 days can be celebrated with a number of fun and worshipful ideas.
The book is not a mandate for how Christmas must be celebrated, but is instead an opportunity to shift our perspectives and practices—to peek into the history of Christmas while also enriching and enlivening the ways we celebrate together. The aim is to encourage 21st century people to make a number of seemingly out-of-date practices seem as normal, fun, and alive as opening presents, singing carols, and watching our favorite Christmas movies.

The book will include:
  • a chapter answering the most frequently asked questions and controversies surrounding the celebration and meaning of Christmas.
  • a chapter on why it is important to celebrate the season of Advent which leads up to Christmas.
  • a chapter on the meaning of Christmas, the basis of all our celebrating.
  • individual chapters on all the feast days/holy days of the season: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s/Boxing Day, St. John’s Day, Feast of the Holy Innocents, New Year’s Eve/Day and Feast of the Holy Name, and Feast of the Epiphany. Each chapter will include descriptions on why each day is celebrated (the meaning behind the day) and then suggestions for celebrating those days.
  • a 13 day family devotional (to include the Feast of the Epiphany), featuring Scripture passages, brief reflections, brief written prayers, and music suggestions.
  • a list of further resources and books to learn more about the season.

            As far as I can find, no practical books currently exist that are written to churches and the general Christian culture as a guide to celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. My hope with this book is to cause a gradual shift, first in people’s thinking, followed by their Christmas traditions, with the intent of getting them to see Christmas as a 12 day season from December 25 through January 6. The idea is to give them a basic understanding of the meaning of the various feast days/holy days during the 12 days, and then give them practical ideas for celebrating those days. The idea to encourage people to institute some or all of these practices by seeing them as communal celebrations, as they are designed to work in various settings: with families, multiple families, churches, kids/youth group, church small groups, schools, and home school groups. 
            There are already numerous books on the history and traditions of Christmas, and with much discernment, some of the material from many of these books will be incorporated into the content of my book. These books run the gamut from:
  • Comprehensive, encyclopedic volumes, which attempt to give an account of all the available history and traditions of the season.
  • Fun histories of the season, which attempt to offer a comprehensive understanding of the season, but in a more concise and fun format.
  • Scholarly histories of the season, which attempt to offer a new understanding of the season, or a particular story about it, by way of the historian’s perspective.
  • Guides to celebrating particular rituals and traditions, such as a “German Christmas”, a “Pagan Christmas,” or an “Orthodox/Catholic Christmas,” often in the format similar to a cookbook, but with minimal historical explanations and a number of “recipes” for celebrating the suggested rituals.
  • Children’s books on the 12 days, containing stories, illustrations, and often brief suggestions for celebrating.
Here is how my book will be different than other books:
  • It will be written to a general Christian audience. Although it will focus on the holy days of the season which Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Mainline churches already have as part of their traditions, the approach of my writing will be to make the holy days understandable and appealing to Evangelical, Pentecostal, and non-denominational Christians as well.
  • Rather than recommending ALL of the various Christmas traditions and rituals, of which there are many—both geographically and throughout the scope of history—I will be recommending practices that are already at least relatively familiar to most everyone in Western Christian culture, from gift-giving, to Christmas pageants, to New Year’s Eve parties, to even a mid-winter Vacation Bible School.
  • Rather than focusing on the entirety of the cultural Christmas/Winter holiday season (which now seems to begin at the end of November and go until early January) I will focus solely on the 12 day season of Christmas, recommending that Advent (the buildup to Christmas) be celebrated differently.

            My aim is to strike a balance between a general audience of mothers, fathers, and church-goers interested in enriching their Christmas celebrations, and ministers (pastors, worship leaders, children’s pastors, and creative arts directors) who hope to incorporate some of the practices outlined in the book into their seasonal activities.

            This book is being written under an assumption: both families and pastors feel inadequate about how they celebrate something as universal as Christmas. My hope is for people to stop when they see the title and think “The 12 days of Christmas? Huh. I’ve always wondered if that was even a thing…”

            Finally the book will also strive to alleviate some of the overwhelming busyness in the run-up to December 25. 


This section included a list of many Christmas books, both similar and different to my own. I included an explanation of how my book would still be different than the books most similar to mine.

Note: I have not included my resume, though you can ask me to email you one if you really want to read it. What I have included though is the biography I wrote about myself, as it features my approach and focus as a writer as well my circles of influence and platform, which publishers are interested for the marketability of the proposed book. Also note that my biography has changed a little over the last few years, especially my work experience and number of children.
            Over the years, I have managed to balance a number of titles and responsibilities. Currently, I am the headmaster of Aletheia Classical Christian School (www.peoriaclassical.org), the Music and Worship Pastor of Epiphany Church (www.epiphanypeoria.org), and a blogger/podcaster at www.postconsumerreports.com and www.betweenthesongspodcast.com. I am also in the process of being ordained as a pastor/priest in the Anglican Church of North America. My life consists of thinking, teaching, writing, and building relationships surrounding: art, music, theology, worship, liturgy, and education. The other titles I keep are husband and father: I am married, with three children, ages 8, 6, and 4 (and one on the way).
            I have been blogging at www.postconsumerreports.com since 2011, and have been consistently podcasting since February 2016. A few of my articles have been published in various publications and I have had the honor of interviewing a number of prominent artists and thinkers (Fernando Ortega, Stuart Garrard, Jimmy Abegg, Andrew Greer, Reed Arvin, Lester Ruth, Douglas Wilson, Ted Yoder, David Leo Schultz, Michael Danner, and Michelle Van Loon).
            My approach as a writer is to be an academic populist, that is, to frame somewhat heady or scholarly ideas in a way that most everyone can understand, and to write in such a way that both the general public and the more academic-minded will be engaged in what I do. Therefore, in writing a book on Christmas and in having to carry multiple titles throughout my life, I naturally consider multiple perspectives at once: that of a father, an educator, a pastor, a worship leader, a church member, a scholar, and a fan of art. My various titles have also taught me a consistent work ethic and how to get tasks done within the busyness of life.
            Attending seminary and earning two master’s degrees gave me the foundation and good habits for doing proper research on a subject. My goal with this book is to incorporate a widely varied field (the history and practice of celebrating Christmas) into an easily digestible book that people love to read and put into practice. My research will include reading the other literature as well as conducting first-hand interviews.
            Finally, over the years I have had to learn how to work on a team and to listen and consider the needs of others, whether it’s been my school board, church board, my staff of teachers, or the members of my family. This has prepared me for the editing process, making me able to take suggestions and listening carefully to the perspectives of others.

Proposed table of contents.
You will have to read the book itself to see the actual table of contents, but what is important to point out is that the number and titles of my chapter changed slightly in the process from proposal to publication. Some chapters got combined into a single chapter, a few smaller chapters were added, and in one case an entire section was not included. This last change occurred because I had intended to write a daily devotional at the end of the book, but the day approached for me to turn in my final draft, I realized I did not have time to write that section and that the book was already too long. So I decided the devotional was not a good fit for this book, which leaves the opportunity to turn it into another book! The important point here is that it is alright to makes changes as you complete your book, but not too drastic of changes. Thankfully, my publisher did not mind that I did not include the devotional, and the changes in chapter titles only improved the book, in my opinion.

One final important element to include in this section is the proposed page length of your book. Some publishers even want an estimated word count. Here is what I put for mine:

Estimated length: 150 pages
(but it ended up being 196 pages!)

Note: this is an outline of my marketing plan. The full versions of my approach and follow through can be found on these two companion PostConsumer Reports articles: 

A description of my “social network”
How I will utilize my podcast and blog to promote the book
A list of podcasts/blogs/publications/radio stations where I will attempt to get the book featured
A list of Churches, conferences, bookstores, and libraries where I will attempt to talk about the book or get it included for sale or in their collections.
An idea for an official website for the book (which I have not as of yet done)


There is not much worth including from this section, except to mention that I included a full chapter, my introduction, and a couple of other small excerpts from the book. This let the publisher know what my writing capabilities were as well as that I had actually begun writing the book!

Hopefully this description of my process and content of my own book proposal can be used as a guide for your own. The key elements to consider are:
  • to make sure you have an idea that publishers will want to get behind.
  • to make sure you can actually follow through and get the book written.
  • to show the publisher that you have done (or are doing) your work to know how your book compares to what has already been published.
  • to show the publisher you have or are developing a public platform for yourself and a plan for how you can help market the book.

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