How to Craft a Winning Nonfiction Book Proposal

21 Mar

From the FinallyFast Help Desk:

You conquered the unconquerable foe: you’ve actually completed your nonfiction book! Self-publishing’s an option, but you’d also like to put your hard-fought masterpiece in front of publishers and literary agents. Here are the elements, in order, of a well-assembled nonfiction book proposal that will help you separate your submission from the rest.

Overview (500 – 700 words): What is your book about? Rise above the fourth-grade book report and find a meaty, exciting, or otherwise compelling start that will draw them in. Start specific: ask a question, cite a startling statistic, or share an intriguing detail you cover in the book. Once you grab them, maintain their attention through the strength of your authorial voice, and demonstrate your passion for the material.

About the Author (300 – 500 words): Who are you? Speak in the third person – never in the first person – and emphasize any life experience you have that relates to the subject of your book. Stay away from hyperbole or purple prose—“Jane Doe’s life has been one breathtaking adventure after another”—but don’t be afraid to brag about yourself and your accomplishments, including any writing-related accolades you’ve received.

Chapter Outline: The length of this section varies, but essentially you want to list each of the chapters/sections in your book, and provide a two- or three-sentence snapshot of what the section covers. The chapter outline provides an at-a-glance summary of the book.

Marketing and Publicity (400 – 600 words): Agents and publishers want to make sure that your book actually has an audience. Don’t say your book will be read by “everybody” or something trite like “the young… and the young at heart.” You’ll come across as more savvy if you are specific: “single moms under forty,” “classic rock enthusiasts,” and “tween boys” are more in the neighborhood of where you need to be. For publicity, state not only a cheerful willingness to do the usual signings and press junkets, but also state any built-in audience or promotional opportunities you might possess, whether you run a blog with 20,000 visitors every month or you have a sponsor lined up who has already agreed to tie-in with your book in some way.

Comparative Works: You may think your book is one-of-a-kind, but likely it’s similar (in subject matter or approach) to many successful books already out there. Find those successful books and make a list of five to ten comparative works. More recent books are the best for this purpose, particularly books that have received a lot of buzz.

Sample Chapter (10 – 15 pages): Your sample chapter doesn’t have to be a full chapter, and it doesn’t have to be your first chapter. Choose your best chapter, or at least one with the best combination of intrigue and comprehensibility (that is, it can be understood on its own without the other parts of the book). And please, proofread everything!

3 Responses to “How to Craft a Winning Nonfiction Book Proposal”

  1. Pat Layton March 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Loved this. Short and Sweet.

  2. Beth April 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    Thanks for the nice summary, especially the suggested word counts. Hard to know how much to say without boring the agent/publisher.

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