The Nonfiction Proposal: What You Need to Include

Sunday, March 26, 2017
Way back when I first started writing for children, I was told that agents wanted to see a proposal on nonfiction vs the entire manuscript.  I didn’t submit to agents back then so I didn’t write proposals.

Now that I’m submitting to agents, I was happy that the first several I approached wanted pages 1 – 10, 1 – 30 or the first three chapters along with the query letter.  But when I didn't get a "yes" from this first group of agents I realized that batch 2 all wanted a proposal. I didn’t panic.  Much.  

I don't have a proposal ready to go although I do know what goes into one. It isn’t nearly as scary as you might think. Here are the basic sections:

Overview: This section is several paragraphs long and includes the specs (title, word count and hook), short description of the subject, target market and why the book is needed. Since I write for young readers, I include the age of my reader (8-10 years) as my target market information.

Markets:  This broader look at the target market discusses who will by your book. You are proving that there is a large enough market to interest a publisher.  My current book deals with a STEM topic so I will mention that. Maybe your book appeals to gardeners, doomsday-preppers or 4th grade teachers.  Say that and give the publisher some numbers.

Promotion:  What methods can be used to get your book into the hands of those discussed in the Markets section?  Include cyber-methods, public speaking, and traditional media.  What are you willing to do to help market your book?

Competing Books:  You should know about the other books on your topic published in the last 5 years.  What is already out there and how does your book differ?

About the Author:  What in your experience and expertise makes you the ideal author for this book?  Include a professional head shot if you have one. 

Outline: List your chapters and summarize each.  When I do an outline for Abdo, I include chapter subtitles and sidebars as well as a brief description of each section.  And I do mean brief.  Each outlined chapter is normally about 12 lines long.

Sample Chapters: Advice on what to include varies, but what I’ve seen listed most often is 3 chapters or 25% of the finished book. And, yes, it means you have to have written that much.

A proposal isn’t a herculean task although it is something we writers seem to avoid whenever possible.  Hopefully this information will help you get started so that you can get your work in front of the many agents and editors who want a proposal vs a finished manuscript.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--I am going to file this post in my writing livebinder for future reference. For writers like me--writers who are stuck in their writing box and write mostly personal narrative stuff--proposals ARE a bit scary to consider. However, your clear guidelines will help.

Thanks, Sue. Your posts are always jam-packed with the lessons you've learned from your experiences.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Thank you! I am pretty much entirely a functionalist. "What can I take from this that I can use? How will this work?"

Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks, Sue! This is a helpful and succinct post. :) Let us know how it goes!

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