The Non-Fiction Book Proposal

Have you written a book proposal yet? If you’re hoping to have your non-fiction book published by a major publisher, you need to get started!

Many aspiring writers begin by writing an entire book.

That’s a logical approach, but book proposalmajor publishers don’t want to see a finished book. They almost always insist that you present your book idea in the form of a book proposal.

If you’d like to watch a video on how to write a non-fiction book proposal, watch Barry talking about “Writing a Great Non-Fiction Book Proposal” on YouTube. If not, keep reading.

The book proposal has two purposes:

  1. It’s a blueprint of the book you intend to write that tells potential publishers about the topics that will be covered, the style of the writing, how your book compares to others, how you will help promote the book, and so on.
  2. It’s also a sales pitch, a billboard announcing just how wonderful your book is going to be, and suggesting how much money the publisher stands to make from the sales.

There is no standard format for a non-fiction book proposal

Fortunately, the various approaches all contain the same basic elements, including:

  • Title Page A single page with the title of your proposed book, your name, plus a few “selling sentences”—the gist of the book in a couple of scintillating sentences
  • Synopsis – Sometimes called the Overview, it’s the entire book distilled into a couple of pages—what the book is about and why people will want to read it.
  • About the Author A description of who you are and why you’re qualified to write this book.
  • Marketing Plan – An in-depth look at how you’re going to help sell the book. This may include listings of the TV and radio shows you’ve been on and/or have booked; your lecture schedule; companies or organizations that will be interested in promoting your book; your own marketing budget for the book; and anything else that demonstrates your commitment to supporting book sales.
  • Market Analysis – An examination of the potential buyers for the book.
  • Competing Books – A look at the competition. Ideally, there are already some published books on your general topic; this shows that there is a market for your book. The Competing Books section explains how your book is different from the others—what makes it stand out from the crowd.
  • Table of Contents – A list of chapter titles in the order they will appear in the book. The chapter titles themselves should reflect the book’s style.
  • Chapter Outline – Two to four paragraphs about each chapter, explaining what the chapter will cover.
  • Sample Chapter – At least one finished and polished chapter, so the publisher will be able to assess the content, writing style, and overall feel of the book.
  • Supporting Materials – Endorsements, pictures, articles, a detailed author CV, tapes of your TV appearances, website screenshots and so on—anything that can help sell the book!

Depending on the book, other sections such as “Reader Benefits” may also be added to the proposal.

Non-Fiction vs. Fiction Proposals

You may have noticed that I’m referring to the non-fiction book proposal, which is not the same as a proposal for a work of fiction. When evaluating novels, publishers do prefer to read the entire work so they can see how you handle the story arc, character development, and other matters.

However, with non-fiction works (books about facts and real events), a beautifully crafted book proposal is all the publisher will need to make a decision.

A well-written book proposal speaks volumes!

The proposal gives the prospective publisher a clear look at what you’re selling and its money-making prospects, so don’t skimp on quality or thoroughness. This is your book’s calling card and it can definitely make or break a sale.

On the other hand, if you intend to self-publish, you won’t have to write a book proposal. You may wish to do so anyway, as writing a proposal will force you to think through how you intend to structure the book, who it will appeal to, who your audience is, and other important issues.

For a comparison of traditional and self-publishing pros and cons, see our article on “Which is Better, Standard or Self-Publishing?”

Executive Summary

The non-fiction book proposal is a description of the book-to-be, combined with a marketing document.

Once you’ve completed your proposal and secured a literary agent, your agent will show the proposal to prospective publishers. Should a publisher be interested in your book, you’ll be offered a contract, and once it’s signed, you’ll write the book.

If you’re going to self-publish your book, however, you can skip the book proposal—although writing one may still be a good exercise.

If You’d Like Help With Your Proposal…

…contact us! We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters of books and book proposals.

Call us at 818-917-5362, or use the contact form on this page to send us an email.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Testimonials Page to see what some of our clients and publishers have said about our work.