Wrapping Up the Details: Step 10 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps

nonfiction book proposalI’ve been blogging tips for writing a nonfiction book proposal, and here we are at the last step. As we’ve been discussing, the purpose of a nonfiction proposal is to sell an agent or editor on the concept of your book. Writing a nonfiction book proposal is all about marketing yourself, your writing, and your idea. Each section of your proposal answers the questions, “Why will this book stand out in a sea of other books about this subject?” and “Why are you are the perfect author to write this book?”

Over the previous few weeks I’ve covered each part of a proposal and offered specific ideas for what should be included and why. Today I’ll focus on tying up some loose ends by giving you tips about details that can be the difference between a proposal that’s ignored and one that agents and editors can’t wait to read. Continue reading “Wrapping Up the Details: Step 10 of How to Write a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal in 10 Easy Steps”

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.

How to Write Chapter Summaries for a Nonfiction Book Proposal #bookproposal #nonfiction… Click To Tweet

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”

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 the marketing and publicity plan 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”

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”

Should Fiction Writers Bother with Blogs and Websites?

I’ve been evaluating fiction manuscripts lately.should writers blog

Most are by authors who are yet to be published, and some are by authors who have published nonfiction and want to break into fiction. The genres vary, but one of the common statements I hear from all these authors is,

“I’ll start blogging and get a website when my book is published.” 

If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you are already a blogger, so forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir. But based on several recent posts I’ve read in the blogosphere, fiction writers are beginning to ask themselves (and others) if blogging and other types of social media are really worth the time they take. Will a blog really help an author sell more books? Will a website really make an author look more professional—and does that even matter? Isn’t success really about writing a good book? Continue reading “Should Fiction Writers Bother with Blogs and Websites?”

Win-Win: Teaching Through Writing

collaboration writersRecently, an independent author who hopes to land a publishing contract this time around hired me to write a book proposal for her latest nonfiction book. She’s an experienced author, but she also knows what she doesn’t know. In her own words, “There is no point in reinventing the wheel when someone else already does it (writing a proposal) well. I think my time would better be served doing what I do best, teaching through writing.”

That sentence got me to thinking about how (as writers) we learn not just from reading, but also from the writing we do. One of the things I love most about my job is the collaborative work I do with authors. There is always a takeaway for me, and more important, there is a takeaway for my author/client.

The author who hired me to write her book proposal understands her personal strengths and weaknesses, and she appreciates the value of hiring someone to do something that might take her weeks of extra time to learn to do well. She’s willing to invest in her writing career by hiring a professional who has the expertise she doesn’t, which frees her up to do what she does best—write. She’s actually making money by spending money.

But there is an added benefit to her: once we’ve completed our collaboration on her book proposal, she will have a very clear idea of how to write a complete proposal for her next book if she chooses to do so.

You see, I too love to teach through writing. As we work together to create and sculpt her book proposal, we both learn. The author spends many hours researching a subject and sharing all her knowledge in a manuscript that she hopes will teach her readers something useful and valuable to them; I spend hours helping her choose just the right words and phrases and putting them together into a package that we hope will catch the eye of an agent or publisher.

And we each come away from this collaboration enriched by the other person’s strengths, because together we can accomplish something neither one of us could do, or do as well, without the other writer.

Collaboration is such an important part of a writer’s life. #writers #writerslife #IARTG Click To Tweet

Collaboration is such an important part of a writer’s life. Many articles have been written about the solitary nature of writing, but when we collaborate with others—through writing partners, critique groups, beta readers, blog followers, and editors—we enrich our writing lives exponentially.

By the time I finish writing this proposal, I’ll have a great deal more knowledge about a subject that interests me, and my client will have a killer proposal and the skill to write the next one on her own if she chooses to . . . and we’ll have both gained something of real value through teaching and writing.

Happy Writing,

Candace

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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be.

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