Question: How can I create a proposal for my nonfiction book that agents and publishers won’t be able to resist? 



A nonfiction book proposal can be the ultimate selling tool when pursing a traditional publishing path. It serves as a business plan for your book idea and is used to pitch to literary agents and publishers. An irresistible book proposal demonstrates your expertise on the topic, writing skills, ability to reach readers, and book’s marketability. Creating a thorough proposal with all of the expected elements will greatly increase your chances of getting agent representation and a book deal.

A nonfiction book proposal is really a business plan and pitch to agents and publishers.What is a Book Proposal?

Typically 10 – 25 pages in length, a book proposal is a typed document that an author creates to organize their ideas and plans for a book’s concept. It’s not a completed manuscript. Rather, it’s a summary of the proposed content, author qualifications, and marketing strategies for a book that is not yet written.

When is a Book Proposal Needed?

A book proposal can be created for any type of book. ALC expert and presenter Cathy Fyock recommends all authors develop a proposal for their book, no matter the genre or publishing path. Having this well thought-out document and plan can greatly inform important writing, publishing, and marketing decisions an author makes throughout the process.

Bestselling fiction author Derek Taylor Kent creates proposals for his middle-grade and children’s books because it helps him secure traditional publishing deals. He has even ignited bidding wars for his books.

Book proposals are typically required for nonfiction authors pursuing literary agent representation and a traditional publishing contract, when a completed manuscript is unavailable. Agents request and review them to determine whether the author and proposed book align with the types of books they represent, and to evaluate its marketability. They want to represent authors and books that will successfully sell to a publisher because that is how they get paid. Publishers review book proposals to determine whether or not the authors and books align with the types of books they publish. In addition, they want to acquire books that will be successful in the marketplace. Publishing is a business, after all, and the goal of all decision-makers involved is to be profitable.

8 Key Components of a Nonfiction Book Proposal

As with most professional documents, there are certain standards or expectations that should be followed when creating a nonfiction book proposal. Many times, literary agents or publishing houses will have very specific guidelines on what a proposal should contain and the number of pages required. While these guidelines can differ from one submission to another, there are 8 components that are commonly requested/expected:

1. Overview/introduction: Open your proposal with a statement that sums up what your book is about. You can think of this as your elevator pitch. Follow this up with a summary or synopsis of your book in 500 words or less. You’ll want to include how the reader will benefit from reading the book, and why you are the best person to write on the topic.

Identifying your target audience is a key element of a book proposal.2. Target audience: Your book will not be for everyone, as much as you’ll want it to be. There will be a group of readers that are most likely to purchase and benefit from reading your book. Identify the specific demographics and psychographics of this group, and estimate the potential size of this audience.

3. Comparable titles and competitive analysis: Agents and publishers want to know there is a market for your type of book. You’ll want to highlight 3 to 5 titles in your genre that have performed well, and research to find what sales data you can for your genre. You’ll also want to highlight how your book is similar to the comparable titles, and how it is unique or different.

4. Your author platform: Your author platform is your ability to reach readers and sell books. It’s important to outline what you are currently doing to build a following for yourself and your work. If you have a strong presence on social media or significant website traffic, be sure to share these statistics. If you already offer services related to the book’s topic, include your business successes and reach. Agents and publishers are attracted to authors that already have a built-in audience, ready to purchase.

5. Marketing plan: This is a detailed summary of how you will use your author platform going forward to create awareness for your work and help drive book sales once published. The more specific, the better. This can include social media, email marketing, online advertising, speaking engagements, meaningful endorsements, media appearances, in-person events, and more. Give concrete ideas about how you will get your book in front of the target audience you’ve identified. Are there specific media outlets, bloggers, or podcasters that make sense for you to contact about an interview or appearance? Or, are there organizations related to your topic that might be great speaking opportunities? Think outside of the box and get creative with how you can reach your target readers.

6. Chapter outline: This is a detailed table of contents where you’ll list out each proposed chapter in chronological order, and include a brief summary of each.

7. Chapter samples: Many agents and publishers will request at least the first chapter, possibly the first few, to give them a snapshot of your writing skills and author voice. Make sure these are your very best writing and that you have the work professionally edited or at least proofread by someone with writing experience.

8. About the author: Unless you are a well-known or accomplished author, this section should be last in your proposal. This biography will not be the same as what you would put on the book’s cover. This version needs to sell YOU as the best person to write this book. Clearly outline your credentials and experience that make you an authority on the topic. Don’t include personal information that isn’t relevant to the success of the book.

How to Make Your Proposal Irresistible

Literary agents and publishers receive an overwhelming amount of query letters and book proposals each week, making it difficult to thoroughly review every document. Your submission will first get a quick glance to make sure you followed all of the guidelines outlined by the agent or publisher. If you didn’t, you will most likely be weeded out without further review. So, most importantly, be sure to review each agent or publisher’s submission guidelines and follow them exactly as outlined. You may need to submit a query letter as well as the proposal. Here are 5 additional tips for making sure your submission receives the time and attention it deserves:

In your nonfiction book proposal, you need to make your authority on the topic clear.Make your authority on the topic clear:

If you are writing about a subject related to your career, lifestyle, or area of expertise, it’s important to back your information and solutions with your credentials. For example, have you spent decades in the industry about which you are writing? Or, are you an avid traveler sharing wisdom from your years of adventures? Like a resume, you need to outline the jobs or experiences that make you an authority on the subject matter about which you are writing. The more accomplished you are, the more an agent or publisher is going to pay attention. This is especially important in how-to categories such as health, self-help, business, and parenting.

Show there is a significant audience for the book:

Literary agents and traditional publishers want books that will sell. Even better if the book has a chance of becoming a bestselling title. In order to sell, books need readers that are interested in the content. Before you start any writing, we recommend researching books like yours in the marketplace to confirm there is an audience looking for the type of content you are proposing. This is where your comparable titles and competitive analysis become important. If you can show there is the potential for a significant readership for your type of book based on how similar books have performed, you will greatly increase your chances of getting positive results.

Demonstrate how your book is different from what’s already out there:

All authors want to believe their book is unique and different from anything that’s been published. The reality is, there are likely many books on the subject matter about which you are writing that are already in the marketplace. Literary agents and traditional publishers aren’t interested in publishing a copycat book or one that resembles another book too closely. They want to publish a book that has a unique take or perspective on a subject.

Not only do you need to show there is a readership for your type of book, but also how your book offers a new or interesting perspective these readers will be eager to purchase. For example, does your viewpoint differ from others that have already covered the subject? Or, have unique life circumstances given you a new perspective on a topic?

An integrated marketing plan is the best way to get an agent or publisher's attention.Review the skills you have that will contribute to the book’s success:

New authors often hear that they need to have an "author platform" in order to be successful. As noted above, your author platform is your ability to reach readers and sell books. To create a meaningful author platform, you must put effort into both online and offline initiatives, and this may mean continued learning or expanding your skillset.

The various book marketing knowledge and skills you bring to the table will make a big difference in whether an agent or publisher will be interested in working with you. They want authors that are ready and willing to collaborate.

Show that you are eager to go above and beyond by outlining all the things you’ve done to build your current following, and all of the things you plan to do to continue growing your reach. If you have special skills, experience, or knowledge that will enhance those marketing efforts, be sure to highlight them.

Ensure your enthusiasm for the book is contagious:

A great way to stand out to literary agents and publishers is to let your passion shine for the topic about which you are writing. You’ve invested a lot of time and effort in the idea already and are determined to see your book through to the end, so make sure that motivation and enthusiasm show. Agents and publishers want to work with “go-getters” that can take the excitement they have for their books and share it with others.

When pursuing a traditional publishing path for a nonfiction book, the best way to present yourself and your book idea is to create a dynamic proposal that demands attention and consideration. A book proposal is not the time to modest; it’s an opportunity to showcase your ideas, skills, and determination. If you don't feel you can adequately create the proposal yourself, you can hire an experienced company or individual to help.

Use your proposal to “wow” those agents and publishers and land that book deal! 

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