One of the most misunderstood things about a book proposal is the fact that it needs two tables of contents. Why two? Because the book proposal needs a table of contents, and so does your book. Supplying a table of contents for your book proposal shows you're organized, and it helps literary agents, editors, and other in-house publishing professionals find the sections they want to read. Your book proposal's table of contents should contain the following sections:

  1. Overview
  2. Marketing
  3. Promotion
  4. Competing Books
  5. About the Author
  6. List of Chapters
  7. Chapter-by-chapter Summaries
  8. Sample Chapters

Notice that item number 6 is the "List of Chapters," which is the table of contents for your book. Editors realize that your chapter list may change as you work on the book; they may even suggest changes themselves. At this point all the editor really wants to see is that you have a plan in mind. One of the best ways to demonstrate planfulness is to write one chapter on each topic you'll cover in the book. The following is a sample table of contents for a book about vitamins.

  • The history of Supplements
  • Vitamin A
  • The B Vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Other Vitamins
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Lipoic Acid
  • Minerals
  • Other recommended herbs and supplements
  • Glossary
  • Appendix A — How to Calculate Dosages
  • Appendix B — Where to Buy Supplements
  • Appendix C — Exercise and Supplements
  • List of Charts
  • Index

Notice that this table of contents follows an orderly pattern, dealing with the vitamins in alphabetical order, then dealing with various other supplements, and finally listing appendices and charts to be included with the book.

The key point about writing the table of contents for your book, which will be included in your book proposal, is to show that you're organized and that you'll cover all the essential aspects of your topic. If you structure this table of contents appropriately at the outset, you'll also find that when you do get that book contract, writing the book is relatively easy -- sometimes even easier than putting together the book proposal.

Final bit of advice: look at the tables of contents of some of your favorite books for ideas on how to structure yours. You might be surprised at how simple some authors keep their tables of contents.