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.

Bookends Literary Agency adds, “If one of your biggest marketing or advertising points is you as the author (which it should be), your credentials and the work you do (in other words, your platform) should be part of the overview. In fact, it should probably be one of the biggest pieces of the overview.”

Make it clear that you are the most qualified person to write this book (see more about writing your author bio here) and include information about your intended market to show the need for this book (see more about your target audience here). These will all be expanded upon in their own sections, but the Overview is like an elevator pitch—concise and full of highlights that make the reader want to know more.

If possible, include the phrase “the first book to . . .[fill in the blank],” because a unique approach stands a better chance of selling.

Your book proposal is, in essence, a business plan for your book. #nonfiction #bookproposal Click To Tweet

Remember that your book proposal is, in essence, a business plan for your book. 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, so make it easy for an agent or editor to find the information he or she needs to do just that.

The Strothman Literary Agency has a list of questions editors will be asking while reading your proposal:

What’s the concept of the book? What is the intellectual question driving your book? What’s your thesis? Why is the subject important?

Who is the core audience? Are they book-buyers?

What’s novel about your approach? Does it overturn received wisdom, and if so, how?

Will your approach resonate with readers? Why will they care?

Why are you writing this book and why are you the best person for the job? Are you a reliable narrator, someone with the ability to convey information clearly, to ask engaging questions, to lead the reader down interesting paths.”

And finally, close with an indication of the length of your book and your expected completion date: “The manuscript is XX,000 words and will be delivered within XX days of an executed contract.”

Don’t be afraid to repeat the highlights of the information that appear in other sections of your proposal—this is why I recommend writing the Overview last. Use this section (usually the first one read by an agent or editor) to create interest and excitement for your book and to highlight your own unique platform.

Need help with other parts of your proposal? Be sure to check out the other parts of this series:

And feel free to contact me at cyjohnson5580@gmail.com if you’d like help constructing a proposal or just need a professional opinion about the strength of your proposal and sample chapters. I’m here to help!

Happy Writing,


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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. Learn more here.

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