Writing a strong nonfiction book proposal can seem a daunting task at first. However, once you understand the elements required, you can create a proposal that compels agents and editors to want to see more of your work.
So what are the elements of a good proposal?
The overview presents the reasons why your book is needed in the market place. It may state facts and figures regarding wholes in your particular niche that you believe your book will fill. This is the section that will initially sell the agent or editor on the topic of your book. Make sure it is a strong hook!
The market section tells the agent/editor the specific markets your book serves. Remember, the publishing industry is first and foremost a business. Therefore, it is important to give the agent/editor a broad sense of all interested parties in your specific book.
My book, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, for example, is primarily a parenting book. However, it has secondary markets that include teachers and counselors. I made sure to include that in this section of the proposal.
The competition section is one of my favorite sections—both as a nonfiction and fiction author. This section provides a detailed analysis of competitive titles and why your book is needed. You will need to openly talk about the books most similar to yours and indicate why an agent or editor would want your book instead. Does it meet a specific need not addressed by the other books you mention? What does your book uniquely offer the reader? This is the section to address those concerns.
Sometimes you will find a book that mirrors yours in most ways. If this is the case, find a way to add something unique to your idea and clearly indicate the differences in this section. I have used side-by-side comparisons when my idea was very close to a similar book on the market. Such visuals can be very compelling as a reason for an editor to choose your book for publication.
4. Author Bio.
This is your platform—and trust me, you are not going to sell a book without a strong platform in this market. This section explains in clear terms why you are the right person to write the book. If your experience and education contribute to your platform, be sure to say that. If it is something else, include that as well. It is important not to be shy in this section. Equally important—don’t stretch the truth. Just present the reasons why you are an expert on the topic of your book.
You're an author on a tight budget. Or, maybe you've got some money, but you're tired of wasting it on marketing that didn't work. You've poured everything into writing your book hoping to move thousands of readers with your words. You've dreamed, hoped, maybe even prayed, that your book sales would take off. But, that reality has yet to come true. It doesn't seem fair for your dream to die just because you don't have thousands of dollars to spend on marketing. Is selling a lot of books only reserved for the elite authors with big budgets? No. It's possible to sell a lot of books - even on a shoestring budget.
This is another one of my favorite sections. This is where you discuss your promotional plan for the book. Things like your social networking, platform building activities, speaking engagement, etc all go into this section.
An important thing to remember when subbing the proposal to editors, especially with small niche-markets, is the conferences in which your potential publisher will most likely exhibit. If you are willing to try to speak at those conferences that can go a long way to convincing your publisher to buy your book.
Again, this is a business. The more you are willing to help with the promotion of your book, the better—for you and for the publisher. As with the other sections, it is important not to over-promise. If you do not want to speak at conference, do not say you will.
The next three sections related directly to the actual book you are proposing.
6. Chapter Outline.
Provide a detailed table of contents for your book, including any ideas you may have regarding book packaging or other details. You do not need to indicate the contents of each chapter—though you may want to mention format. Content will come in the next section.
7. Chapter Abstracts.
This is where you have a paragraph or two summarizing the content of the chapter. It can be relatively lose, though my recommendation is to have your project as clearly thought out as possible, Many times agents and editors have specific questions about your work. Being clear on the project enables you to confidently answer those questions.
8. Sample Chapters.
This is where you get to show off your writing skills. Most proposals include the first 2-3 chapters. If your book has sections that vary, you may wish to include a chapter from one of the other sections. In Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, the first part is more descriptive while the remaining two sections include different tips and strategies. By including chapters from each section, the agent/editor got a clearer picture of my vision for the book.
When the proposal is complete, it will usually be anywhere from 20 to 50 pages or more—just like a partial with fiction writers!
A word to my fiction friends: Although fiction writers don’t typically need to create a proposal for their novels, the process of analyzing the market, looking at what makes your books unique within a tight marketplace, and plans for promotion are all things that can only help the fiction writer. Doing the market research can help you better position your book when it comes to securing an agent, selling the book, or promoting it once it is published. It can also help clarify your ideas if you are writing a book on a very tight topic (think vampires), helping clarify how you can make your book stand out and represent something fresh.
Nonfiction proposals are a lot of work—but worth it in the long run. Not only does it enable you to sell an idea to an agent or editor, it clarifies your project in your own mind. The clarification makes the writing process that much easier.