How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal That Will Impress Publishers

proposal.jpgIf you’re trying to interest a publisher in your nonfiction book, you know that it takes a lot of effort, skill and creativity to stand out from the crowd. Publishers receive thousands of proposals each year and publish only a handful. It’s essential that yours catch their attention immediately. Follow these steps to write a proposal that will get noticed by publishers:

1. Title and Subtitle: Check out the books on the current bestseller lists. Most of them have unusual – sometimes outrageous – titles. Think of a title that’s really going to capture the imagination. And make sure your subtitle accurately summarizes what’s in the book.

2. Author(s): This one’s a no-brainer. List your name and that of any co-authors. Advanced degrees should also be listed after the name, if applicable (e.g., Jane Doe, Ph.D.).

3. Foreword: If you’ve secured a well-known person to write a foreword for your book, be sure to indicate it.

4. Premise: What problem exists that needs to be answered by your book? Why did you set out to write this book? What need did you see in the marketplace?

5. Overview: Summarize your book, but make it compelling. What does your book have to offer? Why won’t readers be able to put it down? How is it unique and wonderful?

6. Format: How will your book be set up? Will you include sidebars, quotes, celebrity interviews, resource lists, etc.?

7. Table of Contents: Lay out your proposed table of contents so publishers get a feel for the content of your book. Formulate clever chapter titles, and write a few sentences about the make-up of each chapter.

8. Number of Pages: Give a range of the length you expect the printed book to be, such as 200–250 pages.

9. Date of Completion: If the manuscript is not finished, when would you expect it to be ready? Ideally, you should be able to complete it within 3–6 months.

10. Competing Titles: What other books in the marketplace are similar to yours? Don’t claim there’s nothing else out there like yours. List some titles, but then explain how yours has more to offer.

11. The Market: Who will this book appeal to? Publishers want to know that there’s a large audience for this book. Give a description of the typical reader(s) of this book and provide statistics as to how many people are in this market. Be creative. If you’ve written a parenting book, it might also appeal to grandparents, educators, daycare providers, and so on.

12. Marketing and Promotion: This section is very important. Publishers count on their authors to do their share of book marketing and promotion. What public speaking do you do? What organizations do you belong to? What contacts do you have in your field? What ideas do you have for promoting this book? What connections do you have? Do you have a website and/or business through which you can sell your book?

13. Endorsements: Do you know anyone famous or influential in your field who would be willing to write an endorsement for the book? Are you affiliated with any organization that will endorse the book to its members? Don’t say, “I’m sure that Rachael Ray would love to endorse this book,” if you’re not acquainted with her. Just say, “I will seek endorsements from prominent cooking professionals.” Never promise anything you may not be able to deliver.

14. Author Bio: What are your credentials for writing this book? Have you authored other books? How well have they sold? What other writing do you do? What degrees do you have? Do you have a colorful background to share? This is not the time to be bashful. Make yourself sound as experienced, professional and interesting as possible!

15. Sample Chapters: Include two sample chapters from your book. Ideally, include your first chapter, and make sure it really grabs the reader from the first page! Your other chapter can be the second one or any other chapter that you feel will be persuasive to the publisher. Never send the whole manuscript for a nonfiction book unless you’ve self-published the book already.

Additional Tips:

Always proofread for typos and repetition. Your proposal is also a sample of your ability to write. A sloppy proposal will get you a rejection letter, no matter how good your idea.

Don’t say that your book is a perfect fit for Oprah. Everyone claims this, and publishers roll their eyes.

Try to include all 15 items in your proposal, but if, for example, you honestly can’t think of anyone influential to endorse the book, better to leave that item off the proposal rather than say “No one.”

Don’t try to win over the editors by sending gifts with your proposal. They’ll see right through it.

Never call an editor to check on the status of your proposal. They don’t like to be bothered. Allow about three months to receive a response. If you haven’t heard anything by then, you can follow up with a polite and non-intrusive call or e-mail.

Always check a publisher’s website for their submission guidelines and include all of their requested information in your proposal. (If the information is not on their website, call to ask for a copy.)

See Susan M. Heim’s blog at