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Ask the Publisher: How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal⎯Part II

Ask the Publisher

Happy Monday, everyone and welcome back to Ask the Publisher! Last week, in Part I of this series, we talked about what a nonfiction book proposal was, why you might need one, and book proposal ‘must-haves’. Today’s post looks at the sections you need to cover in your proposal.

In order, they are:

  1. The Overview

  2. The Target Audience

  3. About the author

  4. Your Marketing Plan

  5. Competitive Titles

  6. Chapter Outline

  7. Sample Chapters

There is a lot to cover and you don’t have all day to read blog posts, so I am going to break it into two posts. I’ll cover the first three on the list today and the final three next week.

1. The Overview

This is the 50,000-foot view of your book encapsulated in an elevator speech. It needs to establish only three things and it needs to do them well.

First is the concept of the book and it needs to answer the three W’s: what is the book about? who is going to read your book? and why would they want to read it. Make it punchy and powerful. Distill the essence of your book into one sentence and show why the book is needed in the marketplace. Think of it like the blurb you’d like to see on the back-jacket of your book.

And second, it needs to contain a great hook to lead it off. Consider how a reader’s attention is grabbed in the first line of a newspaper or magazine article and aim for this effect.

Finally, end with a strong conclusion. This is a good place to reiterate the significance and reach of your subject matter.

Each of these three points will be developed thoroughly in the body of your proposal.

2. The Target Audience

AKA: Who is going to buy your book and why will it sell?

You need to be able to

  • Describe your reader in detail; e.g. if your book is about creating serene spaces in the home, your typical reader would be someone with interests in the decorative arts, and/or interior decorating/design. They might be someone interested in self-discovery that unearths what really matters to them in their personal spaces and why.

  • Identify the research that you have done on the subject. This is where you cite media studies on that demographic; e.g. media surveys indicate that at least 50% of women over the age of 45 plan to spend $2,500+ on home décor this year and 70% plan to buy a book on interior decorating.

  • Identify where your book fits in an existing market. Look at recent reviews on your comparator books. See where reviewers are complaining that the comparator books leave unanswered questions or appear dated.

A logical progression of ideas would be something like this:

  1. Demographic

  • Who’s needs are you meeting? Men? Women? Children? Other?

  • Age range of your audience

  • Urban or rural dwellers (if it matters)

  • A verifiable size of your audience. This means researching the market of people interested in your subject.

  1. Main interests

  • People who enjoyed

  • Typical bookstore placement

  1. Subcategory interests

  2. Purchasing trends historically and a future projection

  3. Geographic impact. Is the book targeted at a limited geographic area that might limit sales?

3. About the Author

This is where you can really strut your stuff and show your prospective publisher exactly why you are the perfect person to write this book that will fill a need in the marketplace. Polish up your academic qualifications, previous publications, media appearances, speaking engagements, and press coverage. You can also give a broad overview of your current platform, its reach, and how it already contains your target audience. If this isn’t a strong area, highlight connections to experts in the field and any media influencers. Don’t forget to include a high-quality author photo!

Pro Tip: Keep this area crisp and succinct. You have the opportunity to highlight more of your accomplishments and how they will help sell books in the Marketing section.

This is where we wrap it up for today. Come back next Monday for my coverage of Your Marketing Plan, Comparator Title, Chapter Summary and Sample Chapters. Until then, have a great week!

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