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Query letter or book proposal? The answer may surprise you

In the process of submitting my memoir to agents, most advice I’ve been given led me to believe that I should treat the submission process as if my book were fiction. Specifically, I should send a query letter. But at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference I attended in August, the agents who wanted to see my book requested a full book proposal. And I’m glad they did.

By writing the book proposal, I was able to put together an outline of my promotional plan and other information I’ll need to market my book. In the process, I discovered some good information about the core of my book. (It’s most helpful if you write your proposal before you actually finish the book and then tweak it as needed. I wish I had).

Below are some guidelines for creating your own nonfiction book proposal.

Keep in mind if you’re writing memoir, to check the guidelines of each agent you’re submitting to. If you’re unsure, go with the book proposal–it will put you ahead of those who don’t do one.

Proposal format:

  • One-inch margins
  • Double spaced
  • Pages numbered consecutively
  • Each section starts on new page
  • Not bound
  • Times Roman, 12-point font (or similar).

Parts to Book Proposal:

1.  Cover Page is the title page of your book. Include:

  • title
  • author’s name
  • contact information in lower right hand corner
  • word count in upper right corner, if book is finished.

2.  Proposal’s table of contents

  • Lists all sections in proposal (this is not your book’s table of contents).

3.  Overview

  • Creates a context for the agent to convince an editor that your project has a reason for being—that what is inside is interesting and sellable.
  • Identifies the market/audience.
  • If memoir, gives a concise overview of your book (this is not a synopsis).
  • Note here if your book is completed or how long it will take to complete.

4.  Marketing 

  • List any niche markets, websites, newsletters, etc., where you can market your book.
  • Is there anything that relates to your theme you can market to? Example: maybe you’ve written a book on autism and April is National Autism Month.
  • List any special contacts or groups you belong to that will help you promote your book.
  • If you have any blurbs from impressive contacts, be sure to mention them here.

5.  Audience

  • List your potential audiences.
  • State demographics of your audience, if possible.

6. Spin-offs

  • List any spin-offs, other books or articles you will write to support this one or that might go along with it. Example: my memoir is about growing up intuitive in a dysfunctional family. My next nonfiction book is going to show people how to become more intuitive. My fiction book is about a young woman who is a natural healer but rejects her gift and the consequences of that decision. Both of these books build on my original theme.

7.  Competitive Analysis

Agents and publishers, of course, like projects with little or no competition in the market, but this is hard to find.

  • Who or what is your competition?
  • List names and dates of publication of any competition or books like yours.
  • List what makes your book different.

8.  About the Author

  • In one page or less, describe why you are qualified to write this book.
  • List your prior publications and/or speaking abilities.
  • This is not a resume, but an opportunity to highlight what makes you special relative to your book.

9.  Your book’s Table of contents

  • Include chapter titles and at least a one-sentence description of that chapter. This is very important in nonfiction. Make it interesting so your reader wants to read the chapter.
  • In memoir, chapter titles help show progression of the story.

10.  Sample Chapters

  • Include your first chapter and if there’s another key chapter include that one, too. In memoir, submit your first two or three chapters instead of going out of order.
  • Writing has to be stellar, especially in memoir.

For more information on how to draft a book proposal, I recommend:

How to Write a Book Proposalby agent Michael Larsen and Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. These tips are like the common tips I see in the net but a more organized one.


    October 20, 2011

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