Question from a Writer about Nonfiction Book Proposals

I received an e-mail from a writer asking if I could give him advice on catching the attention of a publisher. He has been working with an agent for about a year on a nonfiction proposal and doesn’t have a contract yet.

I don’t know anything about the proposal or the market for the subject matter; a good agent will know much more than I do. But I gave the writer a few questions to consider:

– What kind of feedback are you getting from publishers through your agent? Your agent should be sending you information on a regular basis including where she has submitted and what responses she has received.

– Are you seeing a pattern? If you are getting similar comments from editors, perhaps you need to revise your proposal based on what you’re hearing.

– Does your proposal demonstrate there is a market for the subject matter and that your book offers something others on the subject don’t? Publishers have to make a profit to stay in business, so they need to be convinced that enough people want to read about the subject and that your book meets a need that other books on the subject don’t.

– Can a publisher see from your proposal that you have a platform? Publishers are more apt to contract for a nonfiction book whose author has a platform: venues to speak and promote the book, a high-profile in the community/industry/interest group, or other ways to reach a large audience. 

Only a small percentage of proposals ever sell, and part of getting a publishing contract is a numbers game – submitting to enough suitable publishers until you find the one that is a match for your project. But you can improve the odds of success with a well-written proposal that includes a good analysis of the market and a marketing plan for your book.

You can find more information about writing a nonfiction book proposal at the following sites:

Peter Rubie Literary Agency, Writing a Book Proposal chapter from Telling the Story

Small Press Center for Independent Publishing, Ten Basic Steps to Writing a Non Fiction Book Proposal

Small Publishers, Artists & Writers Network, The Seven Vital Elements of a Successful Nonfiction Book Proposal

Also check to see what the publisher wants; some have specific items they ask for or formats they prefer, so check the guidelines before submitting.

[tags]publishing, nonfiction book proposal[/tags]

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