Nonfiction Proposals

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Dec 02 2009

I’ve found that quite a few agents who are open to representing nonfiction self-help books request a query and the proposal in the same email. My query contains a brief description of the book, how it differs from competitive titles, and a little about me. The proposal contains the same information, although in more detail (as well as sample chapters, marketing plans, competitive titles, etc.). A friend (a published narrative nonfiction author) said there should be no repetition in the proposal of anything that was in the query, so if I’m sending the proposal and the query at the same time, I need to remove all repetition of information. Is my friend correct?

A reminder to everyone, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction: there are guidelines to submitting material and there’s advice on making your submissions stronger, but there are very, very few “rules” and, believe it or not, very, very few things that authors do to result in “instant rejection.” Why am I reminding you of this? Because ultimately the answer to your question has no right or wrong, and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Anytime you submit anything to anyone you are going to be required to write a query. I represent nonfiction self-help and my standard is that I want a query first. If I like the query then I’ll typically ask for the proposal to be sent as an email attachment with the query included, just as you describe. Having the query helps me refresh my memory and reminds me of who you are.

In my mind, there’s no way to write a query without including the same information. Your proposal should include everything about you and your book that you deem important to showing agents why your book is needed, how it’s different and what makes you the only author to write such a great and necessary work. Your query is what’s going to grab my attention and make me want to read more. To properly write that you’re going to have to condense what you’ve written in your proposal. In other words, it’s the best of the best of the proposal.

To make the answer short and sweet: there’s no way to write the query without repeating the same information that’s in your proposal. Hopefully, though, you’ll find a new way to write some of it.

And one last note, something I really feel the need to say . . . make sure you understand where your advice is coming from and how the advice giver knows. Querying, selling, and writing narrative nonfiction is extremely different from self-help nonfiction. While I’m not saying your friend doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I am saying that her experience will likely be very different from yours.


3 responses to “Nonfiction Proposals”

  1. Avatar Voidwalker says:

    Are there good sites, that YOU recommend, for proposal information including sample proposals for genres?

  2. Avatar Mira says:

    This is really helpful, Jessica. When I'm ready, I'm definitely going to look this up, as well as all your information for non-fiction proposals.


  3. Avatar Gina says:

    Thanks so much for the response, Jessica. It confirms what I felt to be true. And thanks also for the reminder to always look at where advice is coming from; while my friend was well-intentioned, her experience has indeed been very different.