Yesterday, I completed chapter 2 of my new nonfiction project that I’m writing under a pen name, Gina Hunter. The subject of pen names deserves a post all its own, but not today. With the completion of chapter 2, I now have two sample chapters to send with the proposal.
But what’s a book proposal?
A book proposal is a sales tool. The writer puts it together in order to interest a literary agent in representing the book to publishers. The agent will use the writer’s proposal, often, to interest editors. I did not know much about proposals in the past because they are used for nonfiction books. I was focused on my fiction. So, I began to go through my reference files of saved articles from The Writer and other writing magazines, and my literary agent files to see if I may have printed out an article or two posted on an agent’s website. A couple years ago when a cousin approached me about co-authoring a nonfiction book with her, I’d done an internet search on book proposals. I was certain I had ferreted away what I’d found at that time. (I just googled “writing nonfiction book proposals” — 1.6 million hits of sites that want to instruct you, sell you a book about it, sign you up for a class, or hire them to do it for you.)
In my files, I found detailed instructions that I’d printed out from the Publish or Perish Agency, which is now New England Publishing Associates, Inc., and I could not find the instructions at the new website (which led me to the google search). I also found in my files a reference to a nonfiction book proposal at Manus & Associates, and I found that document under “Info for Writers” at the website. Instructions from a literary agency impresses me more than a writing website. Agents know what they want to see, and what editors want to see.
Armed with these two instructions, I feel confident that I’ll be able to put together a persuasive proposal to accompany my sample chapters. Here’s an outline of what the proposal needs to include:
- Introduction or Overview: your concise sales pitch for the book
- Market and Audience: your assessment of who your readers are for the book and where they are
- Competition: your assessment of books in competition with yours that are already in the stores. No long bibliography necessary, just the top 5-10. Or maybe there’s none?!
- Your Book: now flesh out the introduction with details about structure, themes, organization, key elements, newsworthy elements, and conclusions.
- Methodology (optional): you include this section if your project involves a lot of research, interviews, etc., as with a biography. You detail how you will do it.
- Chapter Summary or Annotated Outline: you include an outline in which you’ve written short, pithy summaries of each chapter and its sections.
- Qualifications: you detail why you are the perfect person to write this book.
- Promotional Possibilities: you outline what you can do to promote the book before and after publication.
- Manuscript Delivery: you include a timetable for completing the manuscript and delivering it to the agent and/or publisher.
- Sample Chapters: one or two
The completed proposal should run 20-30 pages long, not including the sample chapters.
A nonfiction book proposal is a sales tool created by the writer to pitch her book to literary agents and/or editors at publishers. It’s like a job interview: you are making a first impression about your professionalism, thoroughness, your writing skills, and your qualifications. No gimmicks! If your book includes photography or illustrations, it’d be a good idea to include a sample in the proposal. If you’re not, say so. Photography or illustrations can affect design and production, as well as getting permissions to use them if they’re not original to you. Each of my proposal instructions includes a section on formatting and presentation. Since they are from agents, I will pay close attention to those sections to make my proposal as professional and easy to read as I can.
My next task? I need to complete the annotated outline. I plan to take the table of contents that I’ve already written out in minute detail and revise it for this section of the proposal. Then I’ll polish the sample chapters as I work on a draft of the proposal. Sound like a lot of work? Yes, but it can save a lot of time down the line…..