writingLast 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?


11 thoughts on “NonFiction Book Proposals – A whole new world

  1. I’m curious: How much of your book did you write before working on the proposal?

    I wrote a proposal for my travel memoir before starting the book. Now that I’ve written half the manuscript, I can see I’m going to have to go back and tweak the proposal. But it served a real purpose for me: Forced me to create a solid outline and theme.

    Found your blog through Twitter!

  2. It’s the self-promotion part I hate. I always feel ridiculous talking up my book, making it sound like the best thing to ever hit the agent’s desk. I can’t help thinking, “Oh, gee, like he hasn’t heard *this* before!”

  3. This is a very interesting post! I’d never thought about writing a *proposal* for fiction to help solidify why my book is different. I’ll have to check out Katz’ book… It does sound like a beneficial exercise for any type of book.

    Thanks, Christine, and CONGRATS on finishing your proposal! 😉

  4. Thanks for the shout out, Christine. It’s really gratifying to hear how you put Get Known to use in the development of your nonfiction book proposal, which was exactly what I had hoped writers would do when I wrote it. Thanks for the compliment! 🙂

  5. LOL I was just thinking about doing a post on this 😀 Your proposal is awesome and I know you are going to hear very good things soon. Excellent post!!!!

  6. You are a brave girl. Non-fiction is not something I’d even consider at this point. (I’m immersed in it 350 words at a time writing for a newspaper.) 🙂

    Interestingly enough, however, Rachelle Gardener has a fascinating post today on multiple submissions and working on more than one project at once.

    You’re opening today reminded me of that.

  7. Hey ALexis – so glad you found my blog. I had the book outlined and a couple of chapters written first.

    K.M. – yep, self promotion is hard. But I have found that figuring out where my book fits within the sea of books out there really helps!

    Rebecca – It has helped clarify things so much!

    Christina – THANK YOU!!!

    Michelle – Lo – beat you to it :D. Seriously though, THANK YOU for kicking me in the rear to do this

    Kat – I read Rachelle’s post…and I agree with a lot of it. I think it is a totally different process to edit vs writing. And I know I can work on one project for a while – let it sit while I work on something else, and then come back to the first one. It actually helps keep the “desperation” factor at bay.

  8. I am working on a book proposal right now. Do you know where I can view actual book proposals? Not the outline or how to but actual book proposals.

    Thank you for the information and good luck with your proposal.

  9. Hey Michael, thanks for visiting the blog. Jeff Herman’s book has examples of proposals. Otherwise, find some nonfiction friends and see if they’ll show you theirs…that is what I did (after I read the book). Good luck with everything.

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