If you’re writing a non-fiction book, trying to find someone to publish it is a different journey than a regular novel. With fiction, you will normally have to have a completed manuscript ready to go before you start trying to pitch it, but non-fiction books can be picked up on the back of an idea. Here are the things you need to include when submitting your non-fiction book proposal.
General non-fiction books, concepts, text-books, arguments, etc, can be pitched to publishers in advance of writing, but you need to sell the idea to them. There are certain things you need to include, to give your book idea the best chance of being picked up.
Writing a book proposal isn’t something you can just knock out in a few minutes. It needs to be crafted, written and rewritten, edited, tested, and tried. Remember, you are selling an idea that will make a publisher money, every part of your proposal should reflect that. If you’re not selling your idea as a money spinner your proposal will end up in the bin.
About your book
This will be your working title as the publisher would have final control over the final title.
This is where you start selling your book. Your summary should be a short description of your book, and by short we’re talking about one sentence. Sum up the scope and content of the book, remembering that this is a sales pitch, a way for the publisher to make money. This sentence needs to compel the reader to continue reading your proposal.
Now you get to expand on your idea a bit more, describing the book in more detail. Include your approach, main topics, and the subjects discussed. This could be the blurb on the back cover, it needs to make someone want to read the book.
The description is the what, the rationale is the why. You need to justify your book. Why does it need to exist? What needs will it fulfil? What questions will it answer? Where does it fit with existing works? What are you doing with your book?
A brief description of each chapter, showing that your book is well thought out and organised. Include the chapter titles, main topics covered, and the theme of each chapter.
Length and delivery
How long do you expect your manuscript to be, in words? Include all notes and bibliography. How long will it take you to submit the first draft? Remember to be realistic, don’t try and sell your book as being able to be prepared quickly if you can’t deliver it in time. Are illustrations required, and will you be providing them yourself? Will it need any accompanying elements, like a website?
About your readers
Market and readership
Describe the demographic of your expected readership. Who is the book written for? Their disciplines and levels. Why would they buy your book
If your proposal is for a textbook, details what courses your book will be suitable for, where it could be recommended as essential reading for students. If you have them, it would be beneficial to list who teaches the appropriate courses and where.
For monographs, give information on the research context and any relevant organisations, associations and networks.
List where you expect your book to market well, i.e. UK, USA, Europe, etc. If you have any information that would help market your book in those areas, also list them here. These could include case studies, endorsements, author profiles, etc.
Here’s where you need to list other books that yours will be competing against. Provide details of comparable books, including the title, author, publisher, and publication date of each. Explain how your book will be similar or different for each, the strengths and weaknesses of competing books, and what advantages your work will have over others.
Don’t be tempted to try and discredit other works, or talk them down. You need to sell your book on its own merits, describe why yours is better, not why the competition is worse.
Make sure you definitely list some competition, if there truly aren’t any other books out there that do the same thing as yours it could imply that your work is too niche and won’t sell. Competition doesn’t necessarily need to take the form of other books, but could include websites, blogs, magazines, or other media.
List your author details as you’ve like them to appear on the book, as well as those of any contributors.
Include your title, full name (as you would want to appear on the book, in catalogues, etc) and affiliation/job title. Also provide a short biographical note (up to 50 words). For edited volumes, include a list of contributors including the title, full name, and affiliation/job title.
Include your short biography. If you don’t have one, have a look at our tips for writing a short bio. It should include things that help promote you and your career, explaining why you’re the best person for this job. Up until now you’ve been selling the book concept, here you have to sell yourself. Include any relevant qualifications and experience.
In this day and age a publisher is not expected to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to promotion, you will need to get personally involved and help shift copies yourself.
Here you need to list all the things that you will do to help market and promote your book. Mention if you’re an expert in the field and regularly speak at events, if you have a significant following on social media, if you have a well trafficked blog, and any other resources you have at your disposal that will help to sell your book.
Don’t list ideas you have for marketing, or things that you think you might be willing to do, explain how and why you would be able to sell your book in numbers with what you have right now. What kind of audience you currently have as opposed to what you hope to achieve.
A nice and easy one, simply include your email address, telephone and mobile numbers, and your postal address where you would want all formal correspondence to be sent.
Include anything else that might be relevant that wasn’t explicitly included elsewhere. Things that would help a publisher decide that your book is worth publishing.
Up until this point you’ve been selling a concept, an idea for a book, and you as the person to deliver it. Here is where you do that. This is an example of what the publisher can expect with regard to content, writing ability, style and tone. This needs to be spot on perfect.
Include an introduction, and one or two chapters. They don’t necessarily need to be the beginning of the book, and you might want to consider including what you feel is the best and strongest chapter instead.
Let the publisher know if you have submitted, or intend to submit, your proposal anywhere else, and to who. It may work to your advantage if there’s a lot of interest in your book.
- Make sure you do your research and submit your proposal to the right person. If it goes to an inappropriate agent or publisher, it’s wasted effort and will get no where.
- Different agents and publishers have different proposal guidelines. Make sure you know what they are and that your proposal ticks all the boxes. Tailor each submission for the person or organisation you are submitting it to.
- Write your proposal in the same style in which you expect to write the book. If it’s a formal text book, keep it in that same factual tone. If it’s a relaxed, easy read, match it in your proposal.
- Remember that you are pitching a business proposal. Everything about this needs to explain that your book will be sold and make money.
- Don’t sell the book as something for you as the author. Your idea needs to fulfil a need an be of use to others.
- Make sure your book idea is not too general an has an interesting angle. Too broad and it will end up someone’s trash.
- Your book idea has to be somewhat unique, and not a clone of something that already exists. Explain why your book is different and worthwhile.
Let us know what you include in your book proposals below, and be sure to sign up to our newsletter which includes tips and tricks, and special offers for our services, including ready-made book covers and designs, eBook formatting, and promotional tools.