Unlike fiction books, nonfiction books, such as self-help and how-to books, do not have to be completed prior to submission to literary agents and editors; nonfiction is sold to editors via a book proposal. It’s important to know what to include in a nonfiction book proposal.
In general, the nonfiction book proposal is designed to give editors a well-organized, detailed sales pitch describing what your proposed book is about and how it will make money for the publishing company.
An additional bonus is that writing a book proposal forces the author to organize and focus the project. The book itself may go through many changes depending on editorial input, but the proposal should follow a generally accepted format.
Note: Memoir Proposals. Even though a memoir is a nonfiction book, you don’t need to write a proposal for your true story. Literary agents do not want to read a proposal for memoir. Generally, a memoir is handled the same way as a novel: the book must be complete and the writer must submit sample chapters.
Here’s how to write a book proposal for a nonfiction book to submit to a literary agent or editor so that you can get your book published!
In your nonfiction proposal, you should first include your name and contact information with an approximate word count and the proposed title of your work. Make sure your main title describes the subject matter of the book to aid in keyword searches, and don’t rely on subtitles to convey vital information—subtitles are often dropped in computerized listings and library databases. Note: the title you choose is your working title, as publishers may elect to change it.
**Optional: Summary (also known as the Overview, Synopsis, or Executive Summary) – 1 page maximum
Begin with a very short description of your book’s basic premise. Whatever makes your book stand out should be highlighted in the first few sentences. This is the “hook,” so make it interesting and unique; powerful yet concise.
Capture the editor’s attention right off the bat, and make it clear what you’re selling. If the editor or literary agent has to hunt around for the point of your book, he/she is likely to toss the proposal aside and review the next proposal in the towering pile.
Chapter by Chapter Outline – 1 to 2 paragraphs per chapter
Create a dynamic outline by highlighting each chapter’s major points. Each chapter synopsis should be no longer than one paragraph or two—you don’t want to give too much information but you don’t want to give too little either.
Emphasize each chapter’s unique and/or important function in relation to the rest of the book. By the time the editor has read this outline, he or she should have a clear idea of the overall book.
The Market For Your Nonfiction Book
This section should include information about the book’s intended audience and why the book addresses the needs of that particular audience. Make sure that your market is broad (as in “women ages 30-60” or “people who buy cars”), and provide as many demographics of your targeted audience as possible. Include observations about current trends that favor your book and highlight what makes your book unique.
Also include information about the competition. If there are other books out there on the same subject, yours had best offer a new or original take. Identify current books that are similar, and explain how yours fills a specific niche. If there are complementary books out there, show how your book can be positioned to the publisher’s advantage.
Give the editor or literary agency enough ammunition to sell your work!
Author Information In A Nonfiction Book Proposal
This is where you list your education, writing credentials, contacts, experience—anything that makes you uniquely qualified to write this book. If you don’t have a journalism degree or a list of publishing credits, highlight other things that show you have what it takes to tackle the subject.
For instance, you may be a parent of a special-needs child, and, although you have never been published, your experience qualifies you to offer a unique perspective—assuming that your writing is up to par. If you have an author website, consider mentioning it here.
Your background (including your publishing credits, your experience and expertise, your media coverage, and the following of readers that you’ve built up) is often referred to as your platform. The stronger your platform, the better! Writer’s Relief can help you build your publication credits!
You will also need to outline your own promotional ideas and resources to help market the book. Include information about affiliations, contacts, or endorsements you may have lined up. Do you have a prominent person willing to write the foreword? Media contacts? Web sites, bookstore appearances, newsletters, and possible sequels or spin-off information should be included in this section. To use the example above, you may be a member of the Autism Society of America, and with the contacts you have made within that organization you can offer greater promotional opportunities.
Specifications Of Your Unfinished Book
This is where you outline an approximate word count, the number of chapters, and an estimated completion time frame. If your book will contain a number of charts, photographs, or illustrations, say so. You may also describe the general format you envision. However, be prepared to be flexible when it comes to length and format—the publisher will have the final say.
Note: A full-length nonfiction book usually contains 9 to 15 chapters of average length. Don’t submit an outline for a book that contains less than 9 chapters. Make sure you have enough material (and time) to fulfill this obligation before you propose it.
Table Of Contents
Quite simply, this is a list of chapter titles to give the agent or editor an idea of what will be included in your book.
If you have already begun the writing process, send one or two completed chapters (Chapters 1 and 2 are preferable).
Your book proposal should be similar in style to your proposed book. In other words, if your book is meant to be humorous and lighthearted, make sure your proposal is written in the same style.
Make sure the proposal is edited and proofread within an inch of its life. Literary agents and editors admit to passing over potentially great ideas if they have to wade through a sea of errors and typos and coffee stains.
Always include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for responses. Your material will be recycled. Or know the etiquette for submitting online.
When formatting, we recommend using a 12-point, easy-to-read font like Times New Roman or Arial, with one-inch margins all around, and left justification.
We love educating writers about ever-changing industry standards. Let us know if we can help you with any or all elements of putting together a stellar book proposal.
Thanks for these great tips! I’ve been looking everywhere for some clear info on nonfiction book proposals and thank you for finally providing it.
Wouldn’t want to turn off agents before they even read my book just because I didn’t give them what they are expecting!
Good article! It’s great to have the components of a book proposal outlined for reference. Another good resource for non-fiction authors is this article that I came across that also provides valuable information about writing a book proposal and what to include in your proposal: https://scribewriting.com/book-proposal-template/