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How Do I Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal?

By S. McCumber
Updated May 23, 2024
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A nonfiction book proposal is a summary of an idea for a book that is used to pitch the project to an agent or publisher. Based on the proposal, the agent or publisher can decide if it is a book that he would be interested in selling or publishing. A non-fiction book proposal normally includes a summary, analysis of the market, author information, outline of the book and sample chapters.

The summary of a nonfiction book proposal explains the main thesis of the book. It explains what the author is trying to relay to the audience and what response or solution is expected. The summary must also sell the idea in a compelling way. If the agent or publisher is not sold on the idea via the summary, he will not read the rest of the proposal.

The author is expected to offer in a nonfiction book proposal a market analysis of the need for the book and how well it might sell. Comparisons to similar books that have sold well should be listed. The topic may not have been written about much, but it may be trending well in popular circles. If that is the case, the author should include it in the analysis and make a case as to why the topic would sell well.

Once the author has used the nonfiction book proposal to explain the idea and why it will sell well, he should include information about himself, his previous work, qualifications to write about the topic and his platform. The platform is a broad term that describes the amount of built-in sales an author can bring to the table. This is generally figured through examining the amount of fans and followers the author has established through social media sites, previous sales and other marketing and self-promotional activities.

An author will often include an outline of the book in a nonfiction book proposal. The outline is often considered an optional addition to the proposal, though some agents or publishers prefer an outline to see how the author plans to present his topic. Outlines can vary from simple point-by-point summaries to detailed chapter listings.

The last part of a nonfiction book proposal is sample chapters. Even though most nonfiction books do not have to be completed at this stage, agents and publishers require sample chapters to determine whether the author has the necessary level of writing ability. The author’s writing ability will be judged on technical competency, such as grammar and sentence structure, and on the ability to relate ideas in a compelling way. After the summary, the sample chapters are considered the most important part of a nonfiction book proposal.

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Discussion Comments
By anon965206 — On Aug 10, 2014

This is a good site with some good information I needed. Thanks and keep it up that way.

By MrsPramm — On Jul 24, 2014

@bythewell - I'd say that biographies and autobiographies wouldn't need as much of a social media presence (depending on who we're talking about), but there are other subjects that would. And it's actually not a bad idea to just deliberately decide to create a platform.

If your writing is good enough to be an author in the first place, and your topic is fresh, you should be able to create a following. If you can't manage that, then maybe you shouldn't be writing this book in the first place.

By bythewell — On Jul 23, 2014

@clintflint - A platform is definitely important, but I don't think it's essential. There are other elements to consider as well. If you do happen to have a high level of experience or a degree in a particular area, then your publisher might be willing to work with you to develop a platform.

If you have had a unique experience then you might not need a platform at all. Basically the publisher wants to know if you will make money. A book proposal has to be realistic about the chances for that.

By clintflint — On Jul 22, 2014

The platform is one of the most important parts of this proposal, particularly in the modern world. You have to have a social media presence, or publishers just won't consider you to be a risk worth taking.

This seems to be where most aspiring non-fiction authors make their mistakes. It's perfectly possible to write a book about, say, weight loss even without nutritionist or other medical credentials, as long as you have enough followers. If you have a lot of people who interact with you on Facebook and Twitter or a blog, then you will be able to sell books because they will know you and trust you enough to buy them.

If you don't have that presence, it doesn't matter if you write the best book in the world. A publisher isn't going to want to take the risk of putting money behind someone who may never sell more than a handful of copies.

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