How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Want to sell your nonfiction book to a publisher? For that, you’ll need a book proposal. But if you’ve never written one, you have much to learn. So this article teaches you how to write a nonfiction book proposal. It also contains images from successful book proposals that were picked up by a publisher.

Book proposals are challenging and can take weeks to months to create. So take your time. Do not rush the process. Do it right. This article will help.

First, you must understand that a book proposal for a nonfiction book contains the following sections:

  1. Title Page
  2. Book Overview 
  3. Target Demographics
  4. Competitive Overview
  5. Estimated Delivery Time 
  6. Table of Contents
  7. Sample Chapter

Now, let me walk you through what you need to know about each component so how to write a nonfiction book proposal is no longer a question for you.

Title Page 

Your title page contains the title and subtitle of your book. It also presents your name and contact information, and your agent’s name and contact information.

Yes, you need an agent. Most publishers don’t look at proposals without an agent acting as the intermediary. For more info on securing an agent read: What are the types of publishing?

Your title page should look like this:

Pretty basic, right? It’s like the cover pages you might have created in grade school for your book reports and essays.

Your title page is your first impression with the editor at the desk who is either going to sling your package in the trash or type up an email and send it straight to your agent.

So, your title and subtitle are pretty darn important.

You might have an idea for your title before you start your proposal or book. If you don’t that’s fine too. Wait until you’ve written the table of contents and your sample chapter. Doing this work will help you come up with an epic headline.

Also, keep in mind, that the title you propose might change later. Same with the table contents. Small tweaks later as you write are expected. 

For instance, your book proposal might show that your book is broken into Parts 1 and 2. But then, as you write the book you might decide the content should actually be divided into three parts.

These types of changes later are okay. If your book is picked up by a publisher you’ll work with a development editor to finalize a structure that you and the publisher are happy with.

Book Overview

The book overview is the most important section of your proposal because it contains your pitch. It should be concise, to the point, and written in a style that mimics the tone of your book.

This section should also be in written in a copywriting style of writing. Copywriting is what advertisers and marketers use to sell products. Usually they only have a small amount of space to make concrete enough arguments to encourage their target reader to buy.

Think of your target reader as the editor at the desk who will receive your book proposal. How are you going to hook them, keep their attention and impress on them that you’re book needs to be written.

A common hack for copywriting is AIDA. It’s an acronym that stands for

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

It’s a popular writing framework that you can use as a guide for how to shape your book overview. First, you want to get your readers attention. Then you want to get them interested in what you have to say by supporting your idea with solid arguments. Next you agitate them. You build tension. This creates a burning desire in your reading. Last, you leave with an action to take. In this case, the action is read this book.

Here’s a excerpt from a book overview so you can see how AIDA works…

This is complex work for newbie writers. Be patient. Play with your content. You can also hire someone to do this work for you. But let me caution you, if you hire someone at this stage you’ll need to have resources to keep them along for the entire book.

The book proposal is a sign of what you’re in for for the book. If you don’t like the process, you might want to consider not writing a book, altogether.

For the book overview section, my best advice here is to study the AIDA formula. Then practice it over and over and over. And read other successful book proposals to get a sense of how to craft yours. 

Target Audience

Who are you writing this book for? Don’t say everyone. While you’re book could probably benefit everyone book narrow it down to 1-4 reader groups.

How do you do this? Do your research. Hypothesize about who should read your book. Then validate your ideas by using tools like Google, Quora, social media, Reddit.

Does who you think you wants your book already searching for it? It helps to demonstrate this in your proposal. As you do this basic research you may uncover a demographic you didn’t think of. 

Competitive Landscape

What books  have already been published that are similar to the one you write? This is what you showcase in this section of your book proposal. It’s important you present:

  1. Similar books that have sold really well 
  2. Why your book will be better/different – what is your unique selling point and why is it needed now? Why is the information currently available not enough?

Estimated Delivery time

This section is simple and straight forward. It’s where you tell the publisher how long you estimate it will take to deliver a finished manuscript. 

Traditional nonfiction manuscripts are 60,000-80,000 words minimum. There’s a reason for this.  If you walk into a book store and see books on a shelf stacked vertically you can read the title on the spine. This entices buyers to engage with the book. 

Table of Contents

In this section, you present your table of contents (TOC).

Each chapter should include a brief paragraph that explains what its about. Once again you want to think of each as a mini pitch. Use the AIDA formula again here. 

How do you create your table of contents? The best way is to reverse engineer your content. Think about what the reader will have learned by the end of your book. Then consider what they know when they start. Then you track back from end to start. What does the reader need to learn at each stage.

Reverse engineering your content eaiser than think forward. And the good news about doing this work, is that you then have a solid outline for your book. You will need that to start writing. Structure is critical.

It’s always a great idea to review similar books. Evaluate what is already out there. Consider what your book will contain that these books don’t. Review their structure. It will give you a starting point.

Sample chapter

Your book proposal must contain one chapter of your book. Approximately 7,000-10,000 words. This should be written in the tone of your book so the publisher gets a sense of your writer’s voice and ability to write. 

The sample chapter can be any chapter you want to showcase. It doesn’t have to be chapter one. Always lead with the content you think (or have tested and) is most attractive.

Final tips

Set a book proposal deadline for yourself. Give yourself ample time so you don’t rush your proposal but have a target to shoot for. This is so you get it done in a timely manner.

Get a professional to edit your proposal. You might also want to hire a book collaborator to help you write it. Keep in mind that if you do this, you’ll likely need their support to help you later. The book proposal will immediately show you how good you are as a writer. If you can’t hack a proposal, writing a book will be a challenge.

If you can’t get an agent here’s how to get published…One way to get closer to your name on or in a book is to work with an already published author who needs support. You can get credit which might help you get your own book deal later.

Start with a Book Vision Document. This is a document you generate for internal purposes. It’s similar to a business plan a company would have, but it’s for your book. Going through this work helps you do the thinking required to flush out your entire book writing and sales strategy. It also makes your book proposal process simple because you’ve done most of the work.

Now you know how to write a nonfiction book proposal. It’s complex but it’s a good preparatory step for what it will be like for you to write an entire book.

If you’ve read the article and you’ve move from wondering how to write a nonfiction book proposal to should I write this book? The place to start is with a Book Vision Document. It’s a internal guiding doc that helps you nail down your whys and end vision for your book. It also prepares you for a book proposal if you decide to move forward.