16 January 2015

How to write a non-fiction book proposal

By nonfictioness

Notebook and pencilA great starting point when writing a non-fiction book proposal is to create a one sentence description of your book. This will help you to crystallise your idea and focus on the essence of your book.

Think carefully about what your book is going to do and who you are trying to reach. Condense your thoughts into a well-crafted, one sentence blurb that encapsulates your work and it will help you to grab a publisher or a reader’s attention.

There are times when I have had what I thought was a good idea but as I tried to formulate my thoughts into a pitch it became clear that my idea was muddled and unclear. There was no single sentence to sum it up, it turned into a sentence with a couple of sub-clauses because my idea was just too complicated. By stripping back my thoughts to the very nub of the idea I was able to get a much clearer vision of my book.

In general non-fiction books are pitched to a publisher via a proposal which should include one or two sample chapters. Because the book is not completed before it is commissioned it means that a lot of the thinking and planning is done as the proposal is created.

Remember that at its heart a book proposal is selling your book idea.

Key elements of a non-fiction book proposal

The elements of a non-fiction book proposal are as follows:

  1. The hook: This is where the one sentence blurb comes in. A simple description of the book and its title. Use this to grab attention.
  2. Outline of your book: Include a short description of each chapter with what each chapter brings to the book as a whole. Estimate the final word count.
  3. Market overview: Answer the questions: who cares? And, so what? Identify a specific target audience and demonstrate why this audience would buy your book.
  4. Author biography: Who are you? What is your background? And why are you the best person to write this book?
  5. Competitive analysis: Identify the rivals to your book. Which titles are similar and have done well. Demonstrate knowledge of your sector and where your book would fit into it. You need to prove there is a market for a book like yours.
  6. Marketing plan: How will you help sell your book? Do you have useful contacts that could be used? A good news hook? Do you have a website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed? Could you do a talk at a local library, bookshop or book group?
  7. Sample chapter: Provide a sample chapter of your book. Try and choose a chapter that will show off what is special about your book. Avoid sending the introduction.

Proposals should generally be written in Times New Roman, 12 point and double spaced so they are easy to read. Make sure you edit the proposal with a fine-toothed comb, you want to come across as someone who chooses their words carefully and can write an engaging and interesting book.

Once you have created your proposal you will have done a great deal of research (which will come in handy later) and got your book fully planned out. Then you can think about whether you want to approach an agent or a publisher directly. This calls for yet more research because you are going to need to tailor the proposal to each agent or publisher you approach but by creating the proposal in the standard form first you’ll have a clear idea to sell.

Writing a book proposal takes a lot of work and research, but it is a great way to focus your thoughts and begin to think like an author who needs to sell their work.

Read my blog post ‘How to find an agent or publisher for your book’ to find out what to do with your proposal next.