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The Seven Vital Elements of a Successful Nonfiction Book Proposal
© 1996 Mary Embree
Whether you have already written a nonfiction book or are contemplating writing one you will need to know what it takes to sell it. A book proposal can be prepared no matter what stage of writing you are currently in. In fact, the preparation of a book proposal is recommended even before you start writing because it can become a guide to the process, an outline for your book and a checklist of what your book should contain in order to have a chance for success.
There are seven major factors that make for a best-selling nonfiction book. There are also seven major parts to a book proposal. If you address all of these issues carefully and your book meets most of the following criteria, your chances of getting published will be greatly improved. Even if you are planning to self-publish, your book will sell better if it is well organized and has a professional appearance. Your standards must be as high as any other publisher.
What Makes a Nonfiction Book Successful?
The Query Letter
Although this is not usually considered part of the book proposal, a cover letter should accompany every submission. Some agents or publishers will ask you to query before you send them your book proposal; others want a book proposal with a cover letter on first contact. Either way, this letter must be only one page with at least one-inch margins. As it is the first thing that is read, it is important that it be interesting and informative. The first paragraph should tell what your book is about and contain the "hook"¾your sales point. In the body of your letter, show that you know your subject well and are qualified to write about it. Also explain why you think your book will be a big seller; include demographics or statistics if applicable. In the last paragraph, ask for what you want, representation, an invitation to send a book proposal (if this does not accompany a book proposal) or a publishing contract. It is recommended that you write this letter after you have completed the book proposal because you will have a better idea of what the cover or query letter should contain.
The Book Proposal
NOTE: The entire proposal should be double-spaced with the exception of the Synopsis which should be single-spaced. On each page, place the book proposal item number, subject and the title of your book on the upper right-hand corner; for example: II. Synopsis: Challenges.
A. Title and Basic Sales Point (Title Page)
C. Author's Background and Promotional Skills
Also called Biographical Information, this is a narrative statement of your qualifications, experience and reasons for writing the book. Do not send a resume or curriculum vitae. List other books you have written and explain your promotional skills such as public speaking, television or radio appearances or seminars you have conducted on the subject. Suggest the names of prominent figures or authorities who may endorse your book. If you already have contacted them and they have reacted favorably be sure to mention it.
D. Market Potential
Research the demographics and statistics of potential readers. For example: "The number of women living with children whose father was absent was over 10 million as of spring of 1996." This number will be significant if your book is about how a single mother can help her child feel secure, excel in school and make positive choices. These single mothers are all potential readers. If your book is about motorcycles, you would want to have statistics on how many people own motorcycles. You would also want to tell how many motorcycle clubs and dealers there are because they are also potential readers.
E. Competitive Works
Research other books on the same subject; this is your competition. Borrow or buy books which may be similar to yours and read them. Choose four or five and list each by title, author, publisher, the year published, the number of pages and the price. Write a brief synopsis of each one and explain how yours is different.
F. Table of Contents and Chapter Outline
G. Sample Chapters
Send three completed chapters. Always send the first chapter because publishers usually want to know how you get into your subject. The first ten pages of your book are crucial. If you don't grab the reader right away, your book may not have a chance. Study the opening sentences of best-selling books for ideas. The other two chapters should be the ones you believe are the most important or most interesting. Don't worry about giving away the ending; this isn't a mystery novel. If you have a dynamite closing chapter, let the agent and/or publisher know. Your goal, remember, is to sell your book.
BOOKS IN PRINT and FORTHCOMING BOOKS, published by R.R. Bowker & Co.
WRITER'S MARKET, Where & How to Sell What You Write, published by Writer's Digest Books each year. Always get the most recent edition. New in 1997: Writer's Market on CD-ROM.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY magazine
WRITER'S DIGEST monthly magazine
WRITE THE PERFECT BOOK PROPOSAL; 10 Proposals that Sold and Why by Jeff Herman and Deborah M. Adams; published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen; published by Writer's Digest Books © Mary Embree, 1996
NOTE: Mary Embree is a free-lance writer, ghostwriter and editor. As the author of a published nonfiction book, network television scripts, magazine articles and educational material, she is familiar with various genres. Many of her client's books and magazine articles have been published by major publishers. She has also edited a number of self-published books. If you have any questions about book proposals, you may contact her through her Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 1996-2013. Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network