Strengthen Your Nonfiction Book With A Strong Proposal

Are you an aspiring author who wants to write and sell a nonfiction book? 

If the answer is “yes,” then get started on your book proposal right now. Really, don’t wait. You’ll discover that a proposal is a valuable tool, and the process of preparing it serves to bring your concept into tighter focus. It clarifies the steps forward, giving you greater understanding and direction about how you will approach marketing and content, how to reach your specific audience, and the competitive landscape.

A solid proposal will help persuade a literary agent to represent you and your project. In turn, your agent will use the proposal as bait to fish for the best publisher. A tantalizing proposal could mean a commercial publisher and solid advance for you.

Let’s say you have more modest aspirations — perhaps a small commercial publisher, university press, or self-publishing — the proposal still helps. You’ll get a good grasp of what you’re undertaking, a valuable sales tool, and a working blueprint for your book.

What makes a nonfiction book proposal strong?

The most effective book proposals are clearly written, demonstrate a compelling “hook” or need that is addressed by the book, and show a clear plan for success.

Plan to include these 7 sections (or some variation on them): Overview, About the Author, Marketing Plan, Competitive and Comparable Titles, List of Chapters, Chapter Summaries, and Sample Chapter. It will be up to you to add the sizzle and substance to each section, as described below.


Here is where you dazzle the agent/editor/publisher with your project and “hook” them. Open with an immersive scene or startling information, share your compelling message, and describe what the book will cover and how it is organized. Show why this book is needed and timely, and why you’re the right person to author it. Say how long the book will be, in number of words (usually 65,000 to 80,000) and when you expect to deliver the complete manuscript. This section could run 3 to 6 pages or so.

About the Author

This section provides a bio of the author, or the author team. Share details about your background, expertise, and experience and convince the reader that you’re the perfect person to author and promote this book. This section may run 1 to 3 pages or more.

Marketing Plan

In this section, examine the nitty gritty of who will buy this book and how you will reach and entice those buyers. This section could run 2 to 5 pages or longer. Include separate sections, as appropriate, on the following:

  • Audience – Profile the most likely reader(s) of this book. What are their interests? What is their demographic? (Quick way to get your proposal tossed in the trash is to say “everyone will be a reader.” Be more specific.)
  • Promotion – Will you hire a book publicist? Do publicity yourself? Provide any supporting advertising? Have you pre-arranged any sales of the book?
  • Web Presence and Social Media – Do you have an online following? How big is it? How will you increase or maintain it?
  • Endorsements – Will any high profile individuals give you a blurb? A foreword? Other support?
  • Speaking Engagements – Do you currently make public appearances? Will you? What types and how many?
  • Media Coverage – Do you have experience being quoted in media like TV, radio, print, web media?

Competitive and Comparable Titles

Describe a few select titles that dominate your book’s niche and explain how your book is similar, but brings something special to the conversation. If you can, include sales information or Amazon rankings for the competing works, to show that there’s significant interest in this topic. This section may run 2 to 3 pages or so.

List of Chapters

Here you provide a table of contents for your book. This section will likely run 1 to 3 pages long.

Chapter Summaries

In one or two paragraphs per chapter, describe the book’s entire contents. This section could run about 3 to 5 pages.

Sample Chapter

Here you provide roughly 5 to 15 pages or more of the finished manuscript. This typically works out to be one chapter of the finished book, but could be more. Include a memorable scene or section to whet the readers’ appetite for more!

For more insights on book proposals, check out:

Jane Friedman’s introduction to book proposals

(c) 2018 Wendy Lyons Sunshine. All rights reserved.