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.
Authors 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:
You’re coming into the home stretch of writing a book proposal. If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already learned about writing your author bio, the information that should go into your chapter summaries, how to handle competitive titles, identifying your target audience and how you’ll market to them, and how to make agents and editors sit up and take notice of your platform. If you’ve missed any of those previous articles, scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to the first six installments.
If you’re like most writers, you’ve probably already drafted a sample chapter or two; when the idea for your book first strikes, it’s difficult not to begin writing it. Now it’s time to take out that draft and polish it up until it sings. As the Bradford Literary Agency writes, “Draft the chapter that ‘puts your best foot forward’ so to speak. Write the section that is the most interesting, the most compelling and the one that you feel most passionate about.”
Tip: If you’re a new author, I strongly suggest you write your entire book before you query agents. Although it’s perfectly acceptable to shop an idea with a proposal and a few sample chapters, you do not want to be in a position where you are asked for an additional sample chapter or two and you have to hurry to write them. In addition, publishers plan their seasonal lists many months in advance, and if there is any doubt about your ability to finish a manuscript in time, your proposal will most likely get a pass.
Remember that in the end, everything boils down to your writing. No matter how original your book idea is, how spectacular your platform and marketing plans are, or how creatively you’ve compared your book to the competition, it’s all a foundation for the real star of the show: your sample chapter(s). As the Strothman Literary Agency recommends, “If you have not published a book, a strong writing sample provides essential evidence to the editors that you have the ability to attract and engage readers.”
Use the minimum number of words to generate the maximum amount of excitement about your manuscript; choose a chapter (or two) that not only conveys the idea of your book but also leaves an agent or editor wanting more. Revise, proofread, and go over your sample with a fine-tooth comb to be sure it’s the best it can be—a misplaced comma won’t get you a rejection, but pages filled with grammar errors and spelling errors might. You’re a professional writer who is an expert in your field, so put your best work out there.
Anyone 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:
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. This section of the proposal 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”