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Nonfiction Book Proposals

As BookEnds builds our nonfiction list I am getting an increasing number of questions about what goes into a nonfiction book proposal.

Prescriptive nonfiction, unlike fiction or memoir, is usually sold on proposal. Typically because you are selling the author’s platform as much as you are selling the idea. It’s not as much about telling or plotting a story.

This outline of what I expect and hope to find in a nonfiction book proposal is based on years of both experience and success selling nonfiction. This is what BookEnds has used and continues to use to as our nonfiction proposal format.

Overview

Your overview is the introduction to your proposal. A one-paragraph to a one-page summary of your book and what makes it different from the competition. This is, in some ways, an expansion of your query blurb and highlights the selling points of your book.

Personally, I always like an overview that’s personal. That gives me your personal story and insight into why you created the book and how it’s needed. I also want it to be a sneak peek at what I can expect to find in the book.

Author Bio

Who you are in nonfiction is just as important as what you write. An author’s platform matters, and so does the author bio. In many cases, in my proposals, the author bio is as long as the overview–one page or more. It includes not just your credentials and the letters behind your name, but what makes you marketable. What sort of media exposure do you have, how many Twitter followers do you have, what are your podcast numbers. All of this matters when it comes to who you are in publishing.

Marketing

After the author bio comes marketing. The trick to an effective marketing plan is knowing it’s not about what you will do for the book, it’s what you have already proven to have done. In other words, saying you’ll pitch articles to Forbes magazine means nothing. The publisher will also pitch to a number of magazines and media outlets. What matters to the agent and the publisher is what do you bring to the table that others don’t. Where have you published.

If you’ve already been published in Forbes or appeared on major news networks you prove that you bring marketability and connections to sell the book. This is a platform. Other things of importance to your marketing include workshops, speaking engagements, and connections to major industries or names that can help promote your book.

Competition

While any good agent should (and will) know the competition for your book it’s also expected that you’re aware of this business you’re entering. Knowing how your book differs is not only important to selling your book to agents and publishers but should also be part of your business plan in creating the book in the first place.

When I look at the list of competitive titles I want to see recent titles (preferably published in the past 2-3 or 5 years). Anything older, unless it’s an absolute classic, is not representative of the current market. I’m also not looking at just a list, but at the differences between your book and others. How is yours better or special?

Lastly, my ideal competition list includes pub dates and publisher names. All of which can easily be found online.

Detailed Outline

Most proposals will not include the full manuscript. In its place, I want a detailed outline which includes 1-3 paragraph descriptions of each chapter. Please consider the tone and style for which the book will be written. I don’t want a repeated “in this chapter…” outline. I want real writing that synopsizes the chapter and shows what it will contain as well as gives me insight into your voice and writing ability.

Writing Samples

Each proposal needs at least 1-3 sample chapters. I often recommend the book’s introduction, chapter one and at least one chapter from later in the book.

A book proposal is not much easier from writing a book, but it is necessary for both agents and publishers to properly consider whether your book is a financial invetstment they can make.

For more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Viff3jcQpAQ&t=1s

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2 comments

  1. Hi Jessica,
    I have had the pleasure of your company when you were a guest agent on Kathy VerEcke’s Facebook writer’s group.
    You have been such a great help to all of us.
    I am writing a memoir about my eccentric Southern Belle Mother. My question for you today is what do you expect in a nonfiction book proposal for a memoir? And second, how important is it for me to have a platform? And third, are memoirs presently in publishing having a hard time? That is a rumour I heard.
    Thanks so much,
    Anne

  2. Does one even need the letters PHD behind their name as proof of intelligence?
    What if said author has broken up over 75 of these letters that have eluded academic scrutiny for over 224 years that expose what is often referred to as being the American experiment but one devised by Benjamin Franklin.

    “History may distort truth, and will distort it for a time, by the superior efforts at justification of those who are conscious of needing it most. Nor will the opening scenes of our present government be seen in their true aspect, until the letters of the day, now held in private hoards, shall be broken up and laid open to public view. What a treasure will be found in General Washington’s cabinet, when it shall pass into the hands of as candid a friend to truth as he was himself!”

    https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-3562

    As they say never judge a book by its cover. These letters are founded in mathematics and science. I am just honoring the labors of very specific framers. Benjamin Franklin knew that 18th century society would not recognize that just one sentence was constructed in the form of a literal algebraic equation which explicitly describes a context that has never been perceived before.

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