Last week was an interesting week for me. Motivated by a dear friend, I decided to stop procrastinating on my nonfiction book, Walking on the Rim of the Volcano, and work on the proposal. After immersing myself in the world of fiction – writing, editing, polishing, querying – I found it a little hard to shift gears.
I started by rereading a couple of my favorite books regarding nonfiction and book proposals: Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz, and Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman.
Both helped put my head back into “nonfiction” mode.
Next began the actual book proposal. These animals are different than anything else I had written. Sections on the overview, market, and competition, in addition to sections about the author and promotion are included in the proposal itself. The chapter synopsis and sample chapters complete the package sent to prospective agents and publishers. In fiction you don’t query until the manuscript is ready to go. In nonfiction, you don’t query without a strong proposal.
The first three sections of the proposal are basically a market analysis. The overview is the “big picture” reason for writing the book. The market is the establishment of the niche or niches this book can address. And the competition is the analysis of the other books already on the shelves and how yours is different. Now that I have written this section I can understand why Christna Katz feels that this is a good exercise for fiction writers as well – it really helps you identify what is unique about your particular project.
The second section of the proposal deals with platform. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you have no doubt noticed that agents have been blogging this a lot. The two sections that make up this part are the author’s bio and promotion. The author’s bio is a breakdown of exactly why you are qualified to write this book. This is not the section to be modest on. At the same time, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t claim things that are not true. This is where you would list experience related to your niche, your expertise in the subject and any validation you may have. The promotion section is an opportunity to list your “marketing plan” for your book. I am a strong public speaker, so my section deals a lot with speaking opportunities related to the book. I also listed cross-promotional ideas and future book tie-ins.
The final part of the proposal consists of a chapter outline, chapter abstracts and sample chapters. This is an opportunity to not only show case the content of your book, but your writing style as well. And as with fiction, this section needs to be perfect.
All in all, I found the writing of my book proposal to be enlightening – not just for this and future nonfiction projects, but also for fiction. I think it is a matter of time before this approach is modified for use with fiction authors. I know it has certainly clarified things related to platform and niche for me.
I am happy to say that my proposal is finished and I have again dipped my toe into the querying pond.
How about you guys? Ever written a book proposal? Any suggestions you could add?