How to write a non-fiction book proposal
1. Overview and Description
The proposal will generally open with a two-to three-page introduction.
This is essentially an abstract, providing a thesis statement and
delineating the concept of the book. Make a strong case for yourself here:
Tell us how you came to this idea and why you think it is important.
Provide a table of contents followed by a detailed chapter-by-chapter
description of the book. For each proposed chapter, write at least a
paragraph--more if you like--summing up the major points of this chapter.
How will your book be organized? Will you provide case studies?
3. The Package
Include an estimated length of the manuscript and a projected delivery
date. Also, if there will be artwork, mention how many pieces of art there
will be and whether it will be color or black-and-white. Please list the
sources, and if you know the details, provide information on how the art
will be licensed and what reprint permissions might cost.
Whom do you think will read your book? How will they use it, and how
will it help them? Be as specific as possible. The more narrowly you focus
on your audience, the greater the chance you have of attracting an editor
and, eventually, reaching your readers. In other words, “everyone who
likes to read will read this book” is a less useful description than “this
is a book for people who like to garden.”
What other books exist in this subject area? It is your responsibility
to know. Go to bookstores, the library; check Books in Print (available in
the reference section of most libraries). An editor reading your proposal
may or may not know the market for this specific area; nonetheless, she
will depend on you to describe the competition. Then explain briefly what
each competing book tries to do, and describe how yours is different. (In
the case of many competitive books, stick to only those three or four that
you consider to be the most important and the best.) If there is little or
no competition, explain how your book fills a gap in the market.
About the author
Why are you the right person to write this book? What are your relevant
experiences? Tell us about your background and your present occupation.
Mention anything interesting about yourself that is relevant to this book.
Have you written any previous books? (If so, you should collect all
information about sales, subsidiary rights, reviews, etc., and submit that
to me.) Do you have any media experience? The prospective publisher will
want to know this. Press clips and videotapes should be included. You can
also attach a CV if you have one.
It is essential that the proposal include a writing sample, so the
editor can get a sense of your style. You may have great ideas, but that
is not enough if you cannot effectively convey them.