Sunday, August 23, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 1

If you’re new to the world of publishing, you need to know not only what a book proposal is but what it is for. Most books are sold to publishers via a book proposal. Also, you usually submit a book proposal to an agent when you’re seeking representation, and then your agent submits it to a publisher. Therefore, the proposal needs to have all the information an acquisitions editor and/or an agent needs to make a good decision about whether to publish your book.

In case you didn’t notice, take note that books are almost always sold by a proposal. Books most often are not sold by submitting the entire manuscript.

With fiction, a first-time author will probably have to submit the entire manuscript before a contract is offered, but the thing that opens that door is the book proposal.

In other words, don’t write the book first! Especially if it’s a non-fiction book.

(One exception: Children’s books, where the manuscript is only a couple thousand words max, is often submitted as a completed manuscript.)

Many authors new to publishing set out and write their book and, once they have the manuscript completed, ask, “Okay, how do I get it published?” Stop!

Professional authors normally write the book proposal first…for more than one reason:
  • Allowing a publisher to have input into your book may increase your chances of landing a publishing contract.
  • If a publisher is interested, but would like your book to be a little different (different focus or organization or whatever), then you can make those adjustments (if you choose) and you haven’t wasted valuable time and work in writing the whole manuscript.
  • If you never find a publisher interested in offering you a contract, you haven’t wasted a lot of time writing the manuscript.

So just what needs to go into a book proposal? We’re going to talk about the different parts of a proposal one part at a time. I believe if you walk through each part I describe and write that part for your book (in any order), then by the time you’re finished you will have a fine book proposal ready to be submitted.

How do I know that? Well, one book proposal I wrote landed me an agent. When I sent her a second book proposal I asked her how I did with it and her response was, “The proposal is excellent.” So, I feel I figured this out pretty well.

Now, let me say that there are probably a lot of different ways to write a book proposal—and there is probably not one right way. But the information I am going to give you here will get you where you want to go. Feel free, of course, to tweak this information to fit your book.

There are some differences for fiction proposals and we’ll cover those after we cover all the elements in a non-fiction proposal (with fiction-related notes along the way).

Here we go. See you next time.

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