Overview: Step 9 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

How do you learn what a book is about? If you’re like most readers, you read a synopsis—maybe the back cover, perhaps you read the description online. But how do agents and editors find out what a book is about when they receive a proposal? They begin by reading the Overview.

Your Overview is a synopsis of the book and why it should be published—its purpose is to give the editor as much information as possible while being as concise as possible—like an executive summary or a précis. A tall order? Yes, but think of it as advertising for your book: it grabs the reader’s attention and gives the basic information that highlights the most intriguing points. Continue reading “Overview: Step 9 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

Table of Contents: Step 8 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

How to Write a Nonfiction Book ProposalAuthors often forget the importance of the table of contents when they construct a nonfiction book proposal. Some authors treat it as an afterthought, but it is actually an important part of the proposal package.

A complete proposal actually has two tables of contents, and each serves a different and important purpose:

  • One for the proposal itself
  • One for the actual book
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Let’s begin with the TOC for the proposal itself. Continue reading “Table of Contents: Step 8 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

Chapter Summaries: Step 6 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

chapter summaries for nonfiction book proposalWriting a nonfiction book proposal can feel overwhelming. You have a great idea for a book, you’ve written a chapter or two and are excited about shopping it to an agent or publisher, and now it’s time to create your proposal.

Your book proposal includes sections that outline everything your (eventual) publisher needs to know to position your book in the marketplace. In the first five parts of this series, I’ve outlined what you should include in your proposal in the following sections:

I’ve outlined what you should include in the following sections of your proposal:

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m covering these sections in the order I usually read and write proposals, since each section tends to build on those that come before.

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Chapter Summaries for a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Everything you’ve presented in your proposal so far has been about you, your platform, your marketing plans, and the competition for your book. Now the rubber meets the road, so to speak, as you describe your book in enough detail to let an agent or editor understand what it’s about and why it is unique in the market—and why it will be profitable to publish.

Summarize each chapter in a paragraph or two, giving the agent or editor a feel for how your book covers the subject, demonstrating your writing ability and style, and presenting the information each chapter will cover and what questions it will raise and answer.

These summaries are the reason a nonfiction book proposal will sell an idea, even before you’ve written the entire manuscript—they give agents and editors an idea about the arc and flow of your manuscript.

As you write the summaries, think outline or précis—the goal is to be clear, compelling, and concise. Literary agent Jeanne Fredericks suggests, “To make the summaries more appealing, include some intriguing case histories, anecdotes or data, if possible. Communicate how the chapters will build on each other and advance your thesis.” And the Bradford Literary Agency suggests, “The style in which you deliver the description should be informed by the type of non-fiction book you are selling. A how-to book chapter description would necessarily be quite different from a travel narrative chapter description.”

While it’s important to have a topic or overview sentence to begin each chapter summary, this is the place to let your writing shine, so make sure each summary reads like a mini-chapters, not like a drab and boring outline. Don’t start each one with a version of “In this chapter I’ll discuss.”

Instead, do show: Continue reading “Chapter Summaries: Step 6 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

The Divas Recommend: How to (Almost) Instantly Improve Your Writing by Candace Johnson 

The Divas Recommend: How to (Almost) Instantly Improve Your Writing by Candace Johnson (via http://writedivas.com)

Hello Diva followers! On this week’s The Divas Recommend, we bring you the fabulous blog Change It Up Editing, run by editor Candace Johnson. Change It Up Editing…

Continue reading “The Divas Recommend: How to (Almost) Instantly Improve Your Writing by Candace Johnson “

Competitive Titles: Step 5 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

How to Write a Nonfiction Book ProposalAnyone who’s written a nonfiction book proposal will probably tell you that proposal writing is more difficult than writing the actual manuscript. After all, you’re an expert on the subject you’re writing about, and sharing that knowledge is fun, but putting on your marketing hat to write the proposal often presents some unique challenges for writers, and facing your competition is one of those.

After all, you’re an expert on the subject you’re writing about, and sharing that knowledge is fun, but putting on your marketing hat to write the proposal often presents some unique challenges for writers. Facing your competition is one of those.

Your book proposal needs to convince the literary agents you query, and ultimately acquisition editors (who decide whether or not to bring your proposal forward for consideration through several vetting steps), why this book will stand out in a sea of other books about your subject, and why you are the perfect author to write this book.

This section of the proposal shouldn’t overwhelm you. This is actually another place for you to let your book shine and show your expertise about your subject—you just need to remember a few things.

Things to Do:

  1. Research the competition and understand how your book fits in the market. Your book will be shelved next to other books in the genre; your book will come up in an online search as one of many in the genre. Here is where you discuss the differences between your book and the others. If you’re writing about a subject that has plenty of competition to choose from, list 5−10 books, but if your subject is very niche, think outside the box a little and come up with at least two or three comp titles. Even if your book is truly unique, find and list books that are similar to yours; for example, if you are shopping a book about baking gluten-free treats for goldfish, you probably won’t have a lot of competition, but compare and contrast your book to others about homemade pet food, raising healthy fish, and food allergies in pets. Continue reading “Competitive Titles: Step 5 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

Your Marketing and Publicity Plan: Step 4 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

nonfiction book proposal marketing publicity planIf you’re writing a nonfiction book proposal (and you’re following this series), you already understand the importance of your author bio and how to identify your target audience. Now it’s time to articulate your plans for selling your book by including marketing information that will grab the attention of an agent or editor.

Remember, you’re selling two things in your book proposal: your manuscript and yourself as the author-expert. A strong proposal weaves those separate pieces together in creative and compelling ways, and the Marketing/Publicity section of your proposal is where you bring together the best of those with some creative ideas of your own for making your book a success. And whether you ultimately publish traditionally or decide to self-publish, you just can’t expect publishers or booksellers to bring the readers to you.

As author K. S. Brooks writes,

Book sellers do not want to take up space on their shelves if you’re not going to push your book. They want to know what you have planned to getword out about your book. . . . If they don’t think you’re going to make an effort to sell the books they put on their shelves—well, you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.”

So how do you wow agents and editors with your marketing and publicity section? Continue reading “Your Marketing and Publicity Plan: Step 4 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

Your Target Audience: Step 3 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

 

find the target audience for a bookWriting a nonfiction book proposal can feel overwhelming, but never fear! I’ve read hundreds of them (as an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher) and helped numerous authors write them, too, and I understand the importance of including the right information in the right way that will grab the attention of an agent or editor—and now I’m sharing that with you!

 

Like most publishing professionals, I read those proposals in a certain order—but not necessarily in the order the author presented the material. As I wrote in Part 2: Author Bios, the different sections of a nonfiction book proposal (find a list of them here) are dependent on each other; in other words, what you write in one section will be elaborated on in the others.

Nowhere is this truer than in defining your target markets and the ways you convey your ideas for marketing to those potential readers.

No one really knows who will buy your book, so be optimistic and expansive in your assessment. You’re the expert in your field, remember, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box and offer some ideas for potential readers the publisher might not think about.

You’re selling two things in your book proposal: your manuscript and you. A strong proposal weaves those separate entities together in creative and compelling ways. As you may recall (again from Part 2), I think of the Author Bio section as the hub of the wheel; all the other sections are spokes coming from that hub. And those sections first come together as you lay out your

Target Market

Think about the people who will read your book. In What’s Your Book, former acquisitions editor Brooke Warner suggests,

Think about who would benefit from your book. Think about who your ideal reader would be. List five people you know who you’d love to have read your book once it’s finished. They can be a specific person, a type of customer, or just your ideal reader.”

Brooke goes on to discuss the value of this list when it comes time to market your book, and we’ll discuss that in Part 4 of this series, so stay tuned.

There’s an old saying that there’s nothing new under the sun, and another that says every story worth writing has been written, so why should anyone read your book? Consider the following as you think about exactly who your reader will be:

Continue reading “Your Target Audience: Step 3 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

The Writer and the Platform: Guest post by Chris Mentzer

Writer platformOn the heels of my post about the importance of a strong author bio in your book proposal, author Chris Mentzer offered to further discuss that elusive author platform we hear so much about. (Chris’s book Nexus of the Worlds will be published by Tiger Dynasty Publishing in December, so he’s lived this firsthand.) Chris and I connected through social media, and we are both proponents of building those personal relationships  every author needs to create a strong platform. I know you’ll enjoy reading his thoughts, and don’t forget to visit Chris’s blog at Tales from the Fifth Tower when you’re finished here. Take it away, Chris:

*****

One of the hot topics of discussion in the world of writing concerns the writer’s platform. Some ask, “Should I have one, even though I don’t have a book?” or “I’m fiction author, so is it necessary for me to have one?” Let’s look at both these questions and some related ones.

What Is a Platform?

In simple terms, and speaking from a material standpoint, a platform is a series of planks connected together to make a raised surface for an individual to stand on. In politics, a platform is a candidate’s basis for being elected; each plank is a promise that he makes to be elected. In writing, the platform is your place in cyberspace for people to find you and know who you are among other writers. Each plank is an outlet where you can be noticed and heard.

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The Planks of the Writer’s Platform

I read articles that say a writer’s blog or website is the platform, as that is the hub of his or her activity. In theory, I agree with this. However, looking at the definition of platform, the blog is only one part of the entire structure. It may be the main section, but it is not the whole platform. When you add your presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social media outlets, those the additional planks strengthen the entire platform. Author interviews, books blurbs, author bios, and book trailers are additional planks.

But I Don’t Have a Published Book

There are a lot of writers out there who claim they don’t need a platform since they don’t have a book to sell. I can understand this, but in the busy world of cyberspace, even with a book you may not be heard; it might take months—even years—to develop a fan base for you and your books.

Let’s look at this through the lens of a historical landmark event. Everyone is familiar with the moon landing in 1969. We are introduced to the astronauts, we follow them to the rocket, we cheer the liftoff, and then we rejoice as it lands and the astronauts walk on the surface. The significance of this (besides the event itself) is that we know a great deal about it before long before the rocket leaves the launch pad. In a speech on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy promised we would put a man on the moon before the decade was over. That was eight years before it happened.

Now, let’s suppose that you, the author, are an astronaut, and your book is the moon landing. NASA is your publisher (traditional or self-publishing). Your platform then is the announcement to the country that you are heading to the moon writing a book. The news travels around from one person to the next, interviews are posted in papers and on television, and this leads up to your departure into space book being released. If you release the book first and then develop a platform, it’s the same as landing on the moon first and then telling everyone about it. Imagine the disappointed astronaut on the moon’s surface jumping up and down and waving his arms at the people on earth—and nobody is paying attention.

Selling Yourself

Your platform sells you and your brand and allows people to get to know you and your style of writing, and from there you build a fan base of followers. That way, when the book is released, you already have the attention of a number of people who will buy your book and/or tell others about it, and you hope they will get on board and buy as well.

How do you sell yourself? That’s where the blog comes into play. Talk about yourself, the genre you write, the books you have read, and other basic things about who you are and what makes you tick. Have someone interview you asking these questions. There are bloggers out there who specialize in helping people get discovered even before a book is available. On Twitter, follow fellow authors of the same genre and pick their brains. Find out how they got to where they are right now. They may soon follow you, and from there you can develop a following of your own.

But I’m a Fiction Writer Continue reading “The Writer and the Platform: Guest post by Chris Mentzer”

Your Author Bio: Step 2 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

author bio for book proposalYou have a fantastic idea for a nonfiction book (or perhaps you’ve already written one), and because you want to publish traditionally, your next step is to write a proposal to sell agents and/or editors on your idea.

When I was an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher, I read hundreds of nonfiction book proposals. Like every other publishing professional does, I read those proposals in a certain order—but not necessarily in the order the author presented the material. (Find a list of the other sections of a nonfiction book proposal here.) When I write a book proposal, I begin with the author’s bio because this is the section I think of as the hub of the wheel; all the other sections are spokes on that hub.

In fact, there is no “right” way to order the sections of your proposal, so I’m going to present the remainder of this ten-part series the way I actually read and write book proposals.

First up: Your Author Bio Continue reading “Your Author Bio: Step 2 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

how to write a nonfiction book proposal
Your proposal on an editor’s desk

You had a fantastic idea for a nonfiction book, and now that you’ve written it, you need an agent and then a publisher to bring it to the world.

Writing the book is the easy part—after all, you’re an expert on the subject you’re writing about, aren’t you? But you’ll need to convince the literary agents you query, and ultimately acquisition editors (who decide whether or not to bring your proposal forward for consideration through several vetting steps) why this book will stand out in a sea of other books about your subject, and why you are the perfect author to write this book.

You convince them through a nonfiction book proposal.

How do I know what should go into a proposal?

I was an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher for several years. I read literally hundreds of nonfiction book proposals, many from the “slush” pile (unsolicited manuscripts) and many from agents who represented both new and established writers. I’ve read more poorly written proposals than I care to remember as well as a few that knocked my socks off; I speak from experience when I tell you that a great proposal will have an editor picking up the phone and calling the agent before the last page is even read.

Now that I’m a freelance editor, I work directly with authors to help them write compelling book proposals. I’ve also been contacted by agents who represent an author with a great concept who needs help polishing the proposal before the agent shops it because I know what works and what doesn’t.

Why and when to write a proposal

A book proposal is, in essence, a business plan for your book, and it’s all about marketing and positioning. You sell your idea, you sell your execution of that idea, and you sell yourself. A book proposal outlines what your book is about and provides facts and figures that give an agent or editor the necessary ammunition to convince the publisher that your book will make money. Continue reading “How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”