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How to Create a Nonfiction Book Proposal That Gets You a Publishing Contract by Nancy Peske
To sell a nonfiction book to a publishing house, you do not have to have the entire book written, and even if you do, you must submit a book proposal (usually via a literary agent) to procure a book deal. The reason is that the publisher needs to know if investing the money in publishing your book will pay off. Your book proposal must make a compelling case that this book, written by you, is needed in the marketplace.
Here are the core elements of a successful book proposal:
Start with a 3-5 page overview describing the book, why it fills a hole in the marketplace and is needed now, and why you are the right person to write it. Describe the audience for the book and the benefits it offers.
Add an author biography. Include what you have done and what you are doing right now to maintain and build your platform: your visibility and credibility that allows you to have a loyal following that will be eager to buy your book. Note any relevant writing experience you have, and any media experience. Include information about the number of followers you have thanks to your newsletter, website, blog, and social media outreach. Note where you live (no, you don't have to live in New York City to get a book deal, but it's good for them to know what time zone you are in and whether you live in a strong "book town").
Include a marketing statement. Tell the publisher what you are willing to do to get the word out about the book and sell copies. Offer suggestions for easy, low-cost things the publisher can do, such as submitting to specific types of magazines (for example, they will know to send it to Parents magazine, but they might not know to send it to Adoptive Families magazine). Suggest niche media outlets. The idea is to give them a wider range of ideas and show them what you're willing to do, too (such as research all these wonderful niche markets).
Do a short Table of Contents for the book followed by an expanded table of contents, also known as a detailed outline. Offer at least two paragraphs about what will be included in each chapter. (Also, don't describe any chapters you are actually including in the proposal as that would be redundant. Instead, just note that the "Sample chapter is included.")
Provide a writing sample. Some say you should include an introduction and chapter 1; I think that the overlap between the book's actual introduction and all your descriptive material in the overview and expanded outline makes that overkill. Send in chapter 1, and a section from another place in the book if it will read quite differently from chapter 1 (for instance, if you have a recipe section in your health book, provide some recipes).
Work in the specs of your proposed book. Somewhere in the proposal, note your proposed delivery date, length, and the format (hardcover or paperback) if that is very important to you and both are options. Publishers generally want the book delivered within six to nine months, maximum, unless you're writing a work requiring substantial research. As for length, you can specify page count based on the number of words that fit on a typical page (take a look at a book that is about the size, shape, and length of the book you envision, count the words on a page and the number of pages, then do the math). As an in-house editor, I was taught it's best to specify wordcount in contracts so that's what I do in book proposals as it's much more accurate than a page count. A typical length for a self-help book these days is about 70,000 words (it used to be 100,000 back in the day), but how many words fit on a given page will vary based on the design of the book.
Include endorsements if you can, and even the promise of a foreword by someone with an impressive name if you can procure a commitment. You might be surprised by who will agree to write an endorsement or foreword at an early stage of the book! And if they say no, you can always come back to them later when you have more material to show them (but don't promise what you can't deliver; wait until you get the thumbs up from your foreword writer or endorser before including it in a proposal).
Before submitting your proposal, consider having it evaluated by an industry professional who can help you tweak it, fill in any gaps, and make it as strong as possible, whether that professional is a literary agent or a freelance editor with extensive book publishing experience who can help you polish your proposal before it is sent to the agent. Spell check it, have another set of eyes proofread it (this is where a friend with great grammar skills is a terrific asset), and double check that you have included all the important elements.
Make sure your book proposal is as strong as it can be so that anyone who reads it will be eager to take on your nonfiction book project!
Copyright © 2010 Nancy Peske
About the Author
Nancy Peske is a bestselling author, ghostwriter, and developmental editor with over twenty years' experience in the book publishing business. She has worked with well-known authors, been an in-house acquisitions editor, and achieved success with the coauthored Cinematherapy series (over 340,000 copies in print in all editions) and the award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child Her website is http://www.nancypeske.com