Ingredients for the Perfect Nonfiction Book Proposal


Lately, we have been getting a lot of calls and emails asking what goes into a book proposal. We are happy to post on any questions, but we thought this overview might be helpful.

When you are ready to pull together your “bits and pieces” and introduce yourself to the agent and publishing community, here are the elements you need to have ready to go:

Strong Positioning Statement – this is your elevator speech. 4 sentences or less on why your book will sell, who will buy it and why you’re qualified to write it. Remember, 4 sentences or less.

Overview—You get a full paragraph or two here. Describe what the book is, the subject matter it covers and why it’s relevant. Make sure you use marketing language and put your best face forward. You’re selling here.

About the Author—Make yourself shine. Highlight your media appearances. Talk about your blog or seminars or workshops. Be specific about your expertise and experience. Convince a publisher or agent that you have something to say, people are interested in what you have to say and you know how to sell your content.

The Market—While statistics may just be numbers, the reality is that numbers matter. You need to show that there is a large population of readers that will by your book. If you have a self-help book, talk about the number of people facing the problem that your book discusses. Business book? How many business out there are struggling with a problem that you have a solution for? Percentages, populations, and lots of facts drive the message here. If you have a message that people are clamoring for, most likely you’ve found an audience for your book.

Marketing Plan—The days of the publisher doing the marketing for your book are over. Any well-crafted book proposal includes the author’s own marketing plan. How are you going to sell your book? Think strategically and realistically within your budget. Do you have a website? If so, how many unique hits do you get a month? Have you been doing any workshops or seminars? Do you plan on writing articles for your local newspaper? Do you have contacts in the media that will help you get on radio or television? Have you posted articles about you and your book online. What’s your plan to get the word out about the book?

The Book—Include a detailed outline. If explanation is needed, 2-3 sentences per chapter that provides an overview is most likely enough to get you noticed.

The Competition—And yes, there is competition out there. If there’s no book exactly like yours, what books will be shelved near yours? What books have the same purchaser? List the competition. Consider including a sentence or two under each competitive title and highlight why your book is unique or different. Be realistic when listing competitive titles and how you’re book appeals to the same audience.

Endorsements—Talk to your friends. Talk to your colleagues. Talk to your acquaintances. Call in any favors. You want to show that people are reading your book and are excited about it. If they haven’t read the book (because it’s not quite finished, which is fine), get a quote about you and your program. How are you changing lives? How have you and your message impacted the people around you?

Sample Chapters—Read the guidelines for the agent or author you’re submitting to. How many sample chapters do they request with a proposal? Remember to proofread, proofread, proofread. No typos here. Include the best sample chapters of your book. This is your opportunity to show that you know your subject, know how to write about it, and can create a polished manuscript.

SASE—If you’re submitting unsolicited proposals, remember to enclose a SASE. Otherwise, you may never hear back from the publisher or agent with valuable advice or feedback.

Good Luck!


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