Publish date:

The 8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Brian A. Klems shares these eight essential elements of a nonfiction book proposal from Jane Friedman that helped him land a literary agent. Read on as these tips could help you too.

In the process of writing my own nonfiction book proposal earlier this year (thanks to my Year of Amazing pledge), I searched everywhere I could for tips and advice on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. Many were great, but super lengthy and time consuming to read. 

(How to Write a Synopsis Like a Pro.)

I found this advice once offered by former Writer's Digest publisher Jane Friedman (who rejected and approved proposals over the years) not only spot on, but easy to digest. I followed her points and I landed a literary agent. Read on as these tips could help you, too.

The 8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal

1. Hook

Start by simply giving a brief description of your book, including its title.

2. Market Overview

Address the “So what?” and “Who cares?” questions (see Page 40). Never claim that anyone or everyone can benefit from your book. Instead, identify the specific demographic your book primarily targets—e.g., married women over 40 who want to feel younger and more energetic. Then, demonstrate the evidence of need for your book within that target market.

3. Author Bio & Platform

Answer the “Who are you?” question (see Page 40). There are two critical aspects to this: expertise and platform.

Expertise is related to your credentials and experience. Are you considered authoritative or trusted on the topic? Why are you qualified to write this book?

In addition to having some expertise, you also need a platform. Platform is your visibility and reach to your intended audience or market. Platform includes your online efforts, your online content strategy, and how you’re visible offline, and can involve speaking engagements, publication credits, websites/blogs, social media presence and media mentions. It encompasses relationships, networks and influence you have in the field of your topic.

Don’t expect to succeed by being the “outsider” or “everyday” person who’s going to break the mold. Nonfiction publishers today want recognized writers who already reach readers, especially online.

4. Competitive Analysis

List the key resources (in print and online) that already target your specific market. Be sure the analysis supports and strengthens the evidence of need for your book that you’ve established in your market overview.

5. Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan is one of the most essential components of your proposal. Do not write this plan in a tentative fashion, describing things you are “willing” to do, or how you will “try” to contact people for publicity. Eliminate all wishful thinking. Ground it on what you can accomplish today. Make it concrete and realistic, and include as many numbers as you can.

Weak: I plan to register a domain and start a blog for my book.
Better: Within three months of launch, my blog on [book topic] already attracts 5,000 unique visits per month.

Weak: I plan to contact bloggers for guest blogging opportunities.
Better: I have been a guest blogger at [list great blogs], which on average brings my site 10,000 new visitors each month. I have invitations to return again, plus I’ve made contact with 10 other bloggers for future guest posts.

Weak: I plan to contact conferences and speak on [book topic].
Better: I am in contact with organizers at XYZ conferences, and have spoken at three events within the past year, reaching 5,000 people in my target audience.

Your plan should be executable without the help of a publisher. You should also mention if you’ll be investing a portion of your advance (or a particular dollar amount) on marketing or a publicist.

6. Outline

Include a short description of every chapter you plan to include in your book.

7. Sample Chapter

This is your chance to demonstrate to publishers that you can successfully execute what you are proposing. Include a complete, well-written and well-researched chapter that will leave them hungry to read more.

8. Putting It All Together

This all is a very cursory overview of a complex topic. For more information on how to craft a full book proposal, consult a resource such as How to Write a Book Proposal: 4th Edition by literary agent Michael Larsen.

Thanks again to Jane Friedman for this great publishing advice that I found inside a copy of Writer's Digest magazine (I don't know about you, but I save all of mine).

*****

Sell Books on a Shoestring Budget

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.

Click to continue.

Clare Chambers: On Starting Fresh and Switching Gears

Clare Chambers: On Starting Fresh and Switching Gears

Award-winning author Clare Chambers discusses the fear and excitement of switching genre gears in her new historical fiction novel, Small Pleasures.

Poetic Forms

Exquisite Corpse: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the exquisite corpse (or exquisite cadaver), a collaborative poem that would make a fun poetic game.

How Opening Ourselves to Other People Can Make Us Better Writers

How Opening Ourselves to Other People Can Make Us Better Writers

The writing process is both individual and communal, as receiving constructive feedback and outside encouragement helps our drafts become finished manuscripts. Author Peri Chickering discusses how opening ourselves up to others can make us better writers.

What Forensic Science’s Godmother Taught Me About Writing Mysteries

What Forensic Science’s Godmother Taught Me About Writing Mysteries

Stephanie Kane discusses the impact of Frances Glessner Lee, the godmother of forensic science, and her crime scene dioramas on writing mysteries.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Still Alive

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Still Alive

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, reveal that a character who was thought deceased is actually still among the living.

Mark Anthony: On Destigmatizing Paranormal Communication

Mark Anthony: On Destigmatizing Paranormal Communication

Author Mark Anthony hopes to educate and normalize paranormal communication with his new spirituality book, The Afterlife Frequency.

Ways Animals Have Interacted With Writers Through the Centuries

Ways Animals Have Interacted With Writers Through the Centuries

Across the globe and spanning lifetimes, animals have always operated as more than simply animals within the stories they reside. Author Richard Girling discusses how animals have interacted with writers throughout the centuries.

Margaret Verble: On Combining Facts and Imagination in Historical Fiction.

Margaret Verble: On Combining Facts and Imagination in Historical Fiction.

Pulitzer Prize-finalist Margaret Verble discusses the process of writing her new historical fiction novel, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 586

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a scary poem.