How to Write an Irresistible Non-Fiction Book Proposal

You’ve done hours of research, endless interviews, and spent countless nights posted up at your writer’s desk. 

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Your next non-fiction book is certain to blow the minds of everyone who thought mermaids didn’t exist.

Now, all that’s standing between you and the clamorous public is finding a publisher for your book. 

Whatever the actual topic of your next book, your best bet at catching the interest of a publisher and reeling in a deal is to write a truly irresistible book proposal.

The ultimate point of a book proposal is to persuade a publisher to invest in your next book. 

Even if you’re convinced your book idea is the next best thing to “Chicken Soup for the Soul” (slow down there, partner), you’ve got to convince a publisher that your idea is completely water-tight, and that no one in the world is more perfectly suited to write this book than you.

But as a self-published author, you may feel like you’re treading water when it comes to writing a proposal. 

What should you be sure to include in your proposal, and what should be left out? How can you make your proposal shine amongst all the others, so it doesn’t get washed away by the competition?  

Don’t go calling for a lifeboat just yet. We’ve got your ultimate guide to writing a phenomenal non-fiction book proposal that a publisher can’t refuse. 

What is a Book Proposal?

The book proposal is 15-50 page document that non-fiction writers use to pitch their book to publishers. 

A good proposal should cover:

  • What the book is about (duh)
  • How you’re going to convey the message of your book
  • Who is the target audience for your book
  • Why you're the perfect person to write this book

What Does a Book Proposal Do?

With thousands of book proposals coming across a publisher’s desk every week, your book proposal needs to answer a publisher’s most important question:

Can this book make us money?

How do you answer this? By building an undeniable case for why the world needs your book — and why many readers will be compelled to buy it.

If you can clearly communicate why readers will benefit from your book (and therefore want to buy it), you’ve successfully answered the publisher’s most important question.

What to Include in Your Book Proposal

Now that you understand what your book proposal is trying to achieve, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. 

The following 7 elements will help you make sure your book proposal is professional, thorough and most of all, wildly persuasive.

1. Offer an Overview

This introductory section should read like a high-level, 30-second elevator speech of what your book is about and why a publisher should publish it. 

Think of this as the hook that will make the publisher want to keep reading. But keep it brief – there are plenty of other opportunities in the proposal to get more granular. 

2. Transmit to Your Target Audience

Here’s where you need to do your market research to understand who the target readers are for your book, how your book satisfies their unique desires and pain points, and how you can reach them.

Once you understand how to identify your book’s target audience, then you can wow the publisher by explaining how you plan on reaching them.

Quantify your audience with a verifiable number — if your book is about real-world mermaid sightings, and 11,000 people follow a popular blog about “The secret lives of mermaids”, and 4,000 people attended a mermaid sighting conference in San Diego last fall, then you can use these measurables to summarize the size of your book’s audience. Good luck, by the way.

3. Articulate Your Author Bio

This is not the time to be shy. Yes, we’re talking to you — we can see you behind that book!

Your author bio is your chance to explain to the publisher why you’re undoubtedly the best person to write this book. 

Keep it short and sweet, but make sure to include the following

  • Author platform
  • Past awards and recognition
  • Previous publications
  • Media appearances
  • Previous presentations
  • Connections to important contacts in the industry
  • Press
  • Author photo

Don’t worry — it’s not like you’re being forced to brag about yourself in-person. So use the anonymity of the page to add some bravado, baby.

4. Make a Marketing Plan

Publishers want to know that they’ll be getting all the help they can to sell your book. Your marketing plan is where you’ve got to confidently declare how you’re going to make that happen, in specific detail.

The golden rule of the marketing plan for your book’s proposal is to concentrate on the steps you can take to market your book right now:

  • Have you spoken as an expert at conferences before, and/or do you have concrete plans in the future to do so?
  • If you know important people in the field of your book, can you get a blurb from them?
  • Do you have an essay about your industry that’s lined up to be published soon?
  • How many social and email subscribers do you have? How will you be using that built-in audience to sell your book?

5. Compile Competitive Titles

Your publisher is going to be sizing up your book against other competing titles in your field. Using research, you’ll need to be able to:

  • Identify other successful books that are similar to yours, and therefore proving there’s an audience for your book’s content, and
  • Explain why your book provides a unique solution that your competitors’ books don’t.

In other words, keep your favorite books close, and your competitor’s books even closer. But let’s be real, the writing world isn’t that big — our competitors are usually our best friends anyway.

6. Chart Out a Chapter Outline

Here you’ll provide a brief (as in 1-2 paragraph) summary of each of the chapters in your book. This will show the publisher how you plan on framing your book’s subject, and show that the progression of your chapters is clear and coherent. 

Make sure you avoid using industry-specific jargon. Most publishers aren’t going to be experts in your specific field, so don’t bore or confuse them with acronyms only you and your colleagues understand!

7. Serve up a Sample Chapter

Now’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: walking the walk by showing the publisher a chapter of your book.

If you promised the publisher that your book would be witty, choose the pithiest chapter you can find. Or if you said it would be controversial, dive straight into the drama. 

The key is to get the publisher to want more. Ask friends and other respected colleagues whether the chapter you chose inspires intrigue when they read it, or if it elicits more of a polite shrug. 

One of the most important elements of impressing your publisher boils down to your digital footprint — aka, how Googleable you and your work are. 

Does your blog need more followers? Is the only person visiting your author website your mom

To make your proposal go further with publishers, start by making sure you’re doing these 5 things on your author site to sell more books»

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.

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