Providing the Information You Need to Sell or Publish Your Nonfiction Book

    Leeroy Advertising

    Writing a proposal gives you the opportunity to think through what your book will be, and see how well you can write and promote it, essential information whether you publish it or sell it to a publisher. Most proposals range from 35 to 50 pages and have three parts: Overview, Outline, and Sample Chapter. The first page of a proposal is the title page with the title of your book and your contact information. The second page is the table of contents for the proposal.

    Overview

    Your overview must prove that you have a salable book and that you are the right person to write and promote it. Use these building blocks in whatever order is most effective: 

    • The opening hook, ideally a paragraph, that will most excite editors about your subject

    • The book hook:

    • The title and selling handle, up to fifteen words of selling copy about the book.  (Optional) If your credentials will significantly help sell the book, before the title, add an introductory phrase describing them, for example: “Based on an article in x / y years of research / y years as a z, [title of your book]...”
    • The book(s) or author(s) you’re using as models for your book
    • The estimated (or actual) length of your manuscript and when you will deliver it
    • The book’s benefits (optional)
    • Special features: e.g. illustrations, design elements, back matter (optional)
    • Information about a self-published edition (optional)

    • Markets: The types of readers and retailers, organizations, or institutions who will be interested in your book. The size of each group and other information to show you know your audience and how to write the book for those readers. Other possible markets: schools, businesses, and subsidiary-rights markets such as film and foreign rights.

    • Platform: A list in descending order of importance of whatever will impress editors about your visibility to your readers. Online, this may include numbers for subscribers to your blog, website visitors, your contacts on social networks, and online articles you’ve published.

    Offline, your platform may include the number of articles you’ve had published in print media, as well as the number of talks you give each year, the number of people you give them to, where you give them, and your media exposure. Editors won’t expect authors of quote books to have a platform; business authors must. For certain kinds of books, an author’s platform is important for big and midsize houses.

    • Bio: Up to a page about yourself with information that isn’t in your platform, starting with the most important information. A link to a video version, up to two minutes long, of you giving the strongest information from the proposal with as much passion as you can.

    • Promotion: A plan that begins: “To promote the book, the author will:…” followed by a bulleted list in descending order of impressiveness of what you will do to promote your book, online and off, during its launch window and after. Start each part of the list with a verb and use impressive numbers, if possible. Publishers won’t expect big plans from novelists and memoirists, and the smaller the house you’ll be happy with, the less important your plan and platform are.

    • Comps:

    • (Optional) A list of about six strongest competitors for your book in order of importance—not just bestsellers. In addition to the title, author, publisher, year of publication, page count, format, price, ISBN, include two phrases—each starting with a verb—about the competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Add a sentence comparing your book to the competitor.
    • A list of about six books like yours that prove the market for your book

    • (Optional) Spin-Offs: titles for up to three related follow-up books

    • (Optional) Foreword: The commitment to write a foreword by someone whose name will give your book credibility and salability in fifty states two years from now. Obtain commitments for cover quotes as well, if you can. Provide names of the most helpful candidates, if you can’t get commitments.

    • (Optional) A Mission Statement: One first-person paragraph about your passion or commitment to writing and promoting your book.

    Outline

    A page called “Table of Contents” listing the chapters and the back matter. Then one to three present-tense paragraphs about every chapter, using outline verbs like describe, explain, and discuss. For an informational book, you can use a bulleted, self-explanatory list of the information in the chapter.

    Sample Chapter

    The one chapter that will most excite editors by proving you will fulfill your book’s promise to readers and make your book as enjoyable to read as it is illuminating. Include about 10 percent of the book, about 25 pages. Memoirs should be finished. Agents and editors will expect more chapters and to be able to read the whole manuscript.

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