NONFICTION PROPOSAL GUIDELINES
A nonfiction book proposal is a structured, methodically presented outline of your book project. It is a business plan for your book. Virtually all nonfiction books are sold on proposal. The book proposal, for all intents, is a separate item from the book (completed or not). Nonfiction book proposals usually range between 10 to 20 pages, not including sample material.
Because publishing is a business, your proposal must convince publishers that your book is needed, wanted, and can sell. A strong proposal must outline what the book is about, state why anyone would be interested in reading it, identify who has written other books like your book, and show how your book is similar to, yet distinct from, competing titles. Finally, the proposal must demonstrate to the publisher that you have the qualifications and/or background required to write the book.
It is not enough to have a good idea to write about in your proposal. To be effective as the selling tool that technically is, the proposal has to be written to industry standards and contain the required information. The more time you take with your proposal, the more likely it is that it will be thorough and compelling. For excellent guidance on how to write nonfiction book proposals, see Getting It Published by William Germano and How To Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen.
ELEMENTS OF A NONFICTION BOOK PROPOSAL
Section 1: About the Book
Minimum 4 pages, maximum 10 pages
Provide a working title (and subtitle, if applicable) for your book.
State that your book is a work of literary nonfiction.
How would your book be classified relative to its subject matter? For example: memoir, travel writing, literary journalism, etc?
Briefly summarize the premise, main arguments, and conclusions of your book in one or two paragraphs. The overview should be strong and exude confidence, making the case for the book’s originality, uniqueness, and relevance.
Provide a detailed description of the project in one to two pages. It may be helpful to develop the narrative around the following questions: What is the book about? What are its unique angles? What does it offer the reader? In what way is it distinctive?
Outline/Table of Contents:
List working chapter headings with a sentence or two summarizing each chapter or section.
Will your book contain figures, graphs, tables or other illustrative material? If so, describe them and say how many.
Anticipated Manuscript Length:
What is the anticipated word count for the final manuscript? Bear in mind that an average nonfiction book contains between 60,000 and 100,000 words.
Describe the progress on the manuscript so far.
Anticipated Manuscript Completion Date:
What is the projected completion date for the manuscript? The average publishing contract gives you 12 months to deliver the manuscript.
Section 2: About the Market
Minimum 2 pages, maximum 4 pages
Why is your book important? What will it offer readers? Why will it sell?
Describe the primary audience for your book (who will buy the book). Is there a secondary or crossover audience for the book? Does your work have international sales potential by virtue of the subject matter? Please provide detailed information.
List books published in the past 5 years (with author name and publisher, if known) that are similar to yours. What makes your book different or better than these titles? If significant work has been done on the topic, you should explain why you have chosen to write another book in this area. This is the place to show why your book is different and needed.
Section 3: About the Author
Minimum 1 page, maximum 5 pages
Name, phone number, and email address.
Website, blog, and social media presence.
Frame yourself and your background in an interesting way. Who are you and what are your qualifications for writing this book? How has your background contributed to making you an expert on your subject? Please provide a concise biography, including current occupation and title, general background, experience in your field, awards, and credentials relevant to your book. Be sure to emphasize why you are best placed to write the book. Feel free to include any other information that would be pertinent to the readers of your book.
List any previous books you’ve written, including title, publisher, year of publication, and sales history if available. List any other published material that is pertinent to the book.
Section 4: Author Platform and Publicity/Promotional Considerations
Minimum 1 page, maximum 5 pages
Opportunities for Publicity and Promotion of the Book:
Define your author platform or other connections that will enable you to reach a wide audience. If you haven’t started building your author platform, what are your plans for building one? If you have a promotional plan for your book, provide details. If not, indicate if there is something about your position or background that will help create awareness about your book. For example, are there notable names in your field who would be willing to endorse you by way of a blurb? Have you got any connections in the media? Do you give lectures, appear on TV or have a large social media following?