A Non-Fiction Book Proposal is first and foremost a marketing tool. It is your chance to convince an Editor—who has hundreds of projects to sift through—that your book is extraordinary. It is sometimes your only chance to convince an Editor that yours is a project worth fighting for, worth paying for and worth committing a great deal of time to.
With clear and engaging prose, you must make complex ideas and events accessible, potentially prosaic details dramatic, real-life people larger than life, and your story a compelling, vital tale.
The tone and style of the proposal should be a model for the final book. It should be immaculate and professional; no typos or spelling errors, laser quality printing, etc.
While parts of your proposal will be replicated in your final manuscript, note that much of it is for an Editor’s eyes only. Your arguments for why this book is important need to be reasonable and persuasive; remember that your Editor, too, must convince a board of supervisors that your book will be an important and/or commercially successful book (or better yet, both) that can compete in an overcrowded marketplace.
While organization varies depending on the nature of your property, your proposal should include most of the following:
- Overview/Summary: Give a one-to two-sentence summary, followed by an expanded, two-to four-page summary. Outline the basic story that your book will tell.
- The Market: Explain why this book is timely, important and unique. Identify your target audience as well as specific trends in the publishing marketplace. Generally discuss aspects of the book’s content and point out why this project will stand out as original and commercial, and answer the questions Why this Book? and Why now? Provide an annotated list of competing titles already in the marketplace. Are any bestsellers? If possible, provide numbers—research how many copies the publishing house put into the marketplace. Discuss what distinguishes your book and why it will be different—and better than the rest. In short, be clear as to what will make someone buy this book as opposed to all other books in the market.
- Author Bio/s: These should read like book jackets. Highlight why you are especially qualified to author such a work. Please include a selection of book reviews if you are previously published.
- Promotability: What are you, as the author, willing and able to do to promote this book? List important media contacts, professional associates or associations, lecture activities and media appearances etc. that you plan to utilize to promote your book. List any and all awards or exposure you and/or your story has received in the media, and note any upcoming events you and/or your story might naturally plug into. Include information about your Publicist, if you have one, and highlight if any sponsors have committed to a book tour. If you maintain a website, point out its success.
- Format: Describe the look of the final book: the approach, organization, content and format. Discuss book length, any illustrations or photographs required, anticipated delivery date, etc. Describe the mechanics of your project.
- Table of Contents: List the anticipated chapters of your final book.
- Outline: Expand on your table of contents; list all anticipated chapters and provide short summaries of each.
- Introduction, Preface and/or Forward: Aim to open your finished book with this. Introduce the reader to your topic; infect the reader with your purpose, passion and enthusiasm. Read examples in similar books already in the marketplace. Point out if another person has committed to writing the introduction and provide a brief bio of that person.
- Sample Chapters: Normally, include the first three chapters or first 40 pages. You can provide later chapters if there is a bona fide reason to do so. Demonstrate that you can write professionally and deliver acceptable, publishable prose. Without compelling, well-written sample chapters, it is almost impossible to sell a Non-Fiction Proposal.