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How to write a non-fiction book proposal

Organization

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.

2. Outline

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.

Market

1. Audience

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.”

2. Competition

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.

Writing sample

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.

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