How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

How can you best package and post your work to an agent or publisher?

To submit nonfiction you need a query letter, a book proposal and sample chapters. The chapters can be part of the proposal or stand alone. For fiction, the synopsis replaces the proposal in your pitch, but it’s a good idea to review your book in a similar way to optimize its chance of success.

Think of your book proposal as a business plan for your book. It explains your book’s content, the need it fills and where it fits in the market. Further, it positions you, the author, as the most qualified person to write and promote the book.

Below are the topics a typical book proposal covers. As every book is unique, so every proposal should be tailored to suit. Adapt the headings and order of information to match your case.

1. Brief Synopsis

Give the title of the book and a 1-5 sentence overview. This is your ‘elevator pitch’ to describe the purpose and essence of your book. Think of it as the back cover blurb.

2. Author Bio

What qualifies you as the best person to write and promote this book? Give us your writing credits (including sales details where applicable) and/or the expertise that makes you an authority on the topic. You can include a photo.

Describe your author platform. Outline any relevant social media (include number of followers), such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a website and/or blog. List experience speaking or writing – clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.), relevant industry groups, media outlets (newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV), any relevant promotional platforms for your book.

3. Chapter Outline

Give a brief description of each chapter to show the overall flow of the book. Essentially, this is the table of contents with a paragraph under each heading.

Chapter 1

One paragraph outline.

Chapter 2

One paragraph outline, etc.

Note: For memoir, you can write a synopsis without listing every chapter. It is critical that you show your story structure. Hopefully, it has a story arc that mimics the three-act structure used in fiction. If your memoir is anecdotal in nature, show the thematic thread that ties the stories together, the goal, motivating force or struggle. We want to see personal growth.

4. Audience

Who would buy your book? Define your markets by categories such as age group, interests, book genre, geography, etc. What is the market size and growth potential?

5. Competition or Related Titles

List 4-5 similar books including title, publisher, date of publication and a brief description. Identify the gap your book can fill – how is it the same or different from the published titles?

6. Marketing Rationale

Why did you write the book? Explain how your book matches the markets listed in Audience and fills the gaps identified in Competition or Related Titles.

7. Publicity Plan

How can you tap into your existing author platform described in your Author Bio, or create new opportunities to promote your book? eg. if you have a blog, you might plan a series of posts about the research you did for your book, or the process of writing it. Describe any upcoming media engagement, industry events, comments or reviews by prominent people in your field, or professional milestones that can be leveraged.

8. Key Features

List any unique features that give your book sales potential, eg photos, links to other media, a potential sequel, a foreword or book blurbs by prominent people.

9. Books Specifications

What is the number of words? Do you require any special format such as photos, diagrams, etc.?

Additional tips:

  • Let your voice shine through. If your book has humour, compassion or intellectual rigour, demonstrate this tone in the proposal, particularly in the chapter summaries.
  • Write in third person. Exception: if the manuscript is written in first person, the chapter summaries can be in first to show your voice.
  • The length will vary, but keep it as succinct as possible.
  • Keep the format simple, but photos are okay.

Best of luck with your proposal. If you have any suggestions or tips to improve this resource, please let me know in the comments.

In my editorial role for the literary agency NAC, I am accepting pitches for memoir. If you have a life story with a compelling story arc, please contact me.

Next time: I continue my Mansfield interview series in Barb Grant’s Tough Transition to Mansfield

2 thoughts on “How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

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