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.
School psychologist by day and lover of books
by night, Christine Fonseca started writing
as a way to blend the two. Her upcoming books include
Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids
Cope with Explosive Feelings(Prufrock Press 2010) and
The Ultimate Guide for Gifted Kids (Prufrock Press, 2011).
She also writes teen fiction. See her website here.
So what are the elements of a good proposal?
1. Overview. 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!
2. Market. 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.
3. Competition. 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.
5. Promotion. 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
When the proposal is complete, it will usually be anywhere from 20 to 50 pages or more—just like a partial with fiction writers!
To 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.
The 2011 Writer's Market, completely updated,
has thousands of markets for nonfiction writers.
Want more on this subject?
- Want to pen a guest column? Write me at email@example.com
- See a successful nonfiction query here.
- Nonfiction words of wisdom from agent Ted Weinstein.
- Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
- Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
- Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!