Non-Fiction Proposal Writing – tips and technique

As mentioned in the previous post, when you’re searching for a publishing house for your book, you need to present a query to an editor that basically provides a short synopsis of your book and your contact information.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy with a non-fiction book. You still get to write a query letter – a short one with basic information. The important difference, though, is somewhere in that query letter you will say something along the lines of: Attached you will find the proposal for my non-fiction book, HOW TO WRITE A NON-FICTION BOOK (or whatever your title is). And then, of course, you will attach a proposal.

You have to write the proposal before you can attach it though, and that’s the hard part. But never fear, we have some helpful tools and advice.

Basically, your book proposal is the first sales tool you’ll create for your book. In it, you will detail why your book must be published, who the target audience is, and what makes you qualified to write it. Keep that sentence running through your mind as you write your proposal (as well as when you’re writing your book). Your proposal must convince us (or any other editor or agent) that your book is needed and wanted by a definite group of people and that you are, without question, qualified to write it.

Sound like a daunting task? It might be. To make it easier, here are the basic elements or sections every non-fiction book proposal should have:

  • A cover page with the title of the manuscript and the author name(s).
  • A table of contents if the proposal runs several pages.
  • An overview (you can even label it “Overview” or “Synopsis” in your table of contents). The overview is similar to an executive summary that would be used in a business proposal. You might be better off waiting to do the overview last to be sure you introduce and touch on the remaining elements of your proposal. Something to keep in mind as you write your overview, and really as you write the proposal, is that you want to make sure your skill as a writer is exemplified and that the voice the reader will find in your book is found there as well.
  • An explanation of your target market. Tell us who would be willing to read this book? More importantly, who will be ripping the book off the shelf in eager anticipation for what’s behind the covers? Prove to us that there are people willing to pay for what you have to say in your book. Explain what motivates their interest in the topic. Be as precise as you can. Please do not tell us that an internet search will bring up over a kazillion hits on your subject. Try to find statistics that have real meaning instead. Likewise, do not tell us that everyone in your neighborhood talks about it all the time. Present us with recent news coverage about similar themes or other information that suggests there is cultural intrigue.
  • Competitive Titles. What other books “out there” are similar to yours? The reasons behind discussing your competition may seem contradictory. In part, we want to know about the successful books in your subject area. If there are some, then we know there is a definite audience for it. However, we also want to know how your book is different from those books so we know what sets you apart and makes you, well, special. So yes. We want to know how you’re alike and un-alike your competition.
  • Marketing and Promotion. Please do not expect your book publisher (whether it’s us or someone else) to do all your marketing and promotion work. We will do what we can but you need to have some ideas and plans for how you intend to promote your book. Tell us how you intend to reach your target audience and spread the word about your book.
  • Your biography. Make sure your biography shines the way you do. Yes, you want us to take you seriously. But we want to know who the real “you” is. Tell us your work and school background and any other pertinent information that you’d put on a resume or CV. You should also mention what kind of media exposure you’ve already had regardless of whether it relates to your book. And you should discuss your platform in detail (blog presence, social media outreach, clubs or organizations where you’re a member, etc.) You should also let us know what creates the uniqueness of your personality so we know who you are as a human being–preferably one we want to know.
  • A chapter outline. Give us an outline with just snippets explaining how you have the book planned out.
  • Sample pages. You may include up to the first three chapters of your book.