So much emphasis is put on the importance of a book proposal when you’re a nonfiction author. They’re pitches, marketing resources, and microcosms of your book. You know your entire manuscript—most of which isn’t even included in the proposal—will be judged by how well you write this document. So overwhelming!
Are you having trouble writing your nonfiction book proposal? Try starting with these two questions: Why now? and Why me? Every section in the proposal addresses them to some degree, whether you’re explaining who needs your book, comparing it to other available titles, or discussing your platform and marketing plan.
For most books, timeliness is critical. Perhaps your book touches on a rising trend or satisfies a growing need. Maybe there’s a newsworthy aspect, speaking to recent media reports such as the increase in child suicides as a result of severe bullying, or the number of multigenerational families living together to maximize resources in this poor economy.
If your book is about an “evergreen” subject (i.e. ever-present and non-trendy, like losing weight, or getting kids to eat vegetables), perhaps no one’s done a book for your niche before. Or if it’s been a long time since the category bestseller published, an update could be welcomed. Maybe the current books in your category just don’t do a good enough job addressing the need your book will.
Ultimately, your proposal needs to make a strong case for why your book must be published now. How will a publisher get book browsers to buy your book right now instead of leaving it on the shelf for another time? Proposal sections where the answer to “Why now?” is most prominent include the Overview, Comparative/Competitive Titles, and Marketing and Sales Opportunities.
Even if publishers think your book idea is interesting, timely, and marketable, they have to consider whether or not you’re the right person to author the book. Will they be able to market you as an author, in addition to marketing your book? Will readers trust your opinion on this subject? Will media outlets see you as an expert they can quote and/or interview? What about you would make someone choose your book over another author’s treatise on the same subject?
The answer to this question is essentially your author platform. Proposal sections where you’ll emphasize your platform include the Overview, About the Author, and Marketing and Sales Opportunities. You may also work it into the Comparative/Competitive Titles section. Finally, if you have useful connections, your Endorsements section can make a great argument toward answering “Why me?”
Where to Start
I recommend starting with the more straightforward sections of the proposal before tackling the creative, “salesy” portions. When I ghostwrite book proposals for my clients, I’ll often start with Comparative/Competitive Titles. This helps orient my brain for marketing, because meditating on what’s currently available and how the new book will fit in speaks to what’s unique about the project, the author, and the times. The About the Author section comes early in the process, too; writing a bio helps you start thinking about credentials and experience, and what is/isn’t especially relevant for the project. Asking the kinds of questions that lead to a good bio often generates ideas for the Marketing and Sales Opportunities section as well.
A List of Awesome
Still intimidated by the idea of writing a book proposal? Don’t worry—you aren’t alone, not by a long shot. Many people find it challenging to “brag” about or sell themselves in such a formal way.
List-making is often ranked as a top productivity tool, but I also like lists for ego-boosting and motivation. What else is a book proposal but a detailed, developed list of how awesome you and your book are? Write down everything you think makes you the perfect person to write this book, right now, and give yourself permission to feel good about it! You’ve worked hard to get to this point in your life; approach your proposal as a celebration of your journey and soon you’ll laugh at how nerve-wracking the whole process once seemed.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.