Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. My next guest blogger, Tina M Cho, is a dear writerly friend and the author of many nonfiction books so who better to tell us how to write a strong nonfiction proposal?
How to Write a Nonfiction Proposal
By Tina M. Cho
Thank you, Donna, for having me on your fabulous blog! I just finished writing a nonfiction book in which I had written the proposal. In fact, the way I pursue and write a proposal might be slightly different from others.
I was taught by a wonderful mentor, Nancy I. Sanders, who showed me how to get a book contract BEFORE you write the book. And so before I even write a proposal, I send a simple query to the editor to see if they are even interested in my topic. Why bother researching for several months if editors aren’t interested? Furthermore, I select book ideas that will fit in with a publisher’s existing line of books. After I hear back from the editor that yes, they’d like to see a proposal on a certain topic, I reply by saying I’ll send them a proposal in a month or list a date. This way of querying before writing the proposal is a good way to get published. This book may or may not be near and dear to your heart, but it’s a way to get published and build your resume. I’ve written three books this way and have one more being seriously considered.
So once I get the green light to write the proposal, I do the research on my topic for the book. From there, I write the proposal package. I’m calling it a package because a proposal is more than one item. A proposal consists of the proposal itself, a table of contents (TOC) or book outline, and sample chapters (1-3). For all of my proposals, I only wrote one sample chapter but very detailed TOC’s. You’ll want to check the submission guidelines for the publisher you’re targeting. Sometimes they have very specific guidelines.
Now I’ll explain the seven components of the actual proposal document. Other web sites will have the same information but maybe in a slightly different order. This is what works for me.
This is the introduction to your proposal, the overview, general summary and essence of your book. You want to hook the editor by showing why your topic is relevant and important. My overview sections have been 3-4 small paragraphs. Why did you choose this topic? Is it popular right now? Is it in the news? Here is where you can give a tiny bit of historical information if needed as well. The next little paragraph can show your passion and excitement for the topic. Why is it important to you? And lastly, what can your book offer or do for people?
For example, for my proposal The Girls Guide to Manners and All That Good Stuff, which is forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids, I first gave an overview of how the topic was popular and in the news as Prince William and Kate were getting married. I noticed many articles on etiquette. Even Barbie came out with a movie about etiquette. And universities have added etiquette/manners classes! So I used those as a background and hook. Then I told my passion of why I thought this topic was relevant. My own daughter could use a book about it, along with other girls her age. (This book idea fit into the publisher’s existing line of books.) And my last paragraph explained what this book would have to offer to the specific audience, who are 8-12 year-old-girls.
About the Book
This is just a small paragraph explaining a little more about your book and target audience. What components will be in your book? Will each chapter have crafts, activities, recipes, or stories? This is where you can hint at your general plan and make-up of the book.
This is where you explain in 2-3 small paragraphs why your book is needed in today’s market. Does it correlate with Common Core Standards? Does it fill a need? Share the research and show or prove why your book needs to be published. You can also share statistics or demographics of your audience if need be.
For one of my proposals, I discovered that no other books existed on the topic for the target age level audience.
You need to list titles, authors, and publishing information about comparable books to yours. Use the search function in Amazon or Barnes and Noble and find comp books. Even though there might be many on your topic, an editor at another publishing house might say, “Hey, this is a popular topic for school, and we need one in our catalog, too.” However, after listing the comparable books, write a sentence explaining how your book is unique and different from the ones listed.
How can you help promote the book? What do you already do? Blog? Twitter? Facebook? Book Reviews? Speak? Share your platform of what you already do and maybe list statistics of how many followers. Perhaps you already are an expert on this topic and lecture or speak about it.
Here is where you list your bio, credentials, other published works, and why you should be the one to write this book. If the book is about science projects, and you’re a former science teacher, then show the connection!
This is just a 1-2 sentence summary of the proposal. For example, “I look forward to seeing the potential “Title of Book” out in the market someday so that it will [whatever need it will fill or offer to do for people.]
After you write the actual proposal, you’ll need to sketch out a book outline or table of contents. How many chapters do you envision? Give a sentence summary for each chapter and then list detailed points for the components of each chapter. In my experience, the more detailed, the better. If the chapter involves activities, crafts, recipes, or other things, then name them. Tell the editor exactly what the reader will be doing. This makes you as a writer more knowledgeable and organized. And, having a detailed TOC helps for when you later go back to write the actual book after the proposal has been approved. This could be a couple months to a year!
And lastly, write your sample chapters and make sure they follow your book outline. When you have your proposal package ready, follow the directions on your publisher’s web site and either snail mail or email it to the correct place. I hope this has been of some help to you all! Best wishes on your future proposals!
Tina is an author of 25 guided reading books from Lakeshore Learning and Compass Media. A coloring book, God Is So Good, from Warner Press was published in 2013. Three nonfiction books are forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids. She is a former elementary teacher who currently homeschools her 5th grade daughter and 2nd grade son. Though she grew up in Iowa, she is now living outside of Seoul, South Korea.