Sample Chapters: Step 7 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

how to write nonfiction book proposal
Sample chapters need to grab the readers imagination.

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.

Here are some FAQs I get from writers about sample chapters: Continue reading “Sample Chapters: Step 7 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-chapter, 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”

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. 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”

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”

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Manuscript Evaluation

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is moving forward with a manuscript that isn’t ready for submission or publication. Whether you ID-10098753choose to query agents and publishers or you decide to self-publish your work, remember the old saying:

 “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

How do you know if your book is ready to meet the world? One way is to have a professional manuscript evaluation.

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You’ve shared your work with family and friends—and they’ve all raved about your storytelling talent. You’ve shared it with your critique group and beta readers, and they’ve offered some useful, constructive criticism. You’ve tweaked this, deleted that, and rewritten entire scenes and characters.

Now is the time for an honest and objective critique of your plot, dialogue, characters and pace, or opinions about structure, coherency, consistency, and organization.

A manuscript evaluation is a big-picture look that tells you what works and what doesn’t. It is not editing: a manuscript critique is an assessment and diagnostic tool that pinpoints specific strengths as well as weaknesses you can fix to improve your manuscript.

As a professional freelance editor, I interact with many writers who struggle when they finish writing and move into the editing phase. Some just throw in the towel and self-publish their books with little or no editing; some work for weeks to self-edit and revise; some search for a freelance editor who will help them “fix” their manuscript.

Don’t struggle alone, hope someone else will fix your problems, or give up. And don’t jump into the publishing pool unprepared. Instead, have your entire manuscript reviewed; if you can’t afford that, at least have your first chapter evaluated.

Whether your readers are literary agents or members of your target audience, you have to catch and keep their attention. As New York Times bestselling author John Gilstrap writes:

Something must happen in the first two hundred words. That’s the length of my interest fuse. Billowing clouds, pouring rain and beautiful flowers are not action. Characters interacting with each other or with their environment is action.”

Be sure you choose an evaluator with experience, someone who understands what literary agents and publishers are looking for, and someone with whom you can communicate so you’ll get the most from your critique.

Don’t be shy about discussing your needs and expectations for the evaluations, as well as your preferences for how you receive feedback. As with any editing service, you should feel very comfortable that the editor you hire is someone who can help you meet your goals. As I wrote here and here, be sure you clearly articulate your expectations and make sure your new editing partner is a good communicator.

I just finished evaluating a 75,000 word fiction manuscript; I sent the author a seven-page written critique filled with specific details and examples of the strengths and weaknesses I found in the manuscript. I’m also in the midst of a memoir critique that is part written evaluation and part Skype conference. As you can see, there are different ways for an author to communicate with his or her editor, and you’ll want to work with someone who can give you the evaluation YOU need to improve your work.

Don’t be the author who papers your room with rejection slips or bad reviews because your manuscript needs work! Contact me today for a professional manuscript evaluation and let me help you bring your work to the next level.

Happy Writing!

—Candace

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Related articles:

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Developmental and Substantive Editing

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Copyediting

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Proofreading