Thayer Literary Services ~ Book Editing

Nonfiction book proposal

Nonfiction books are often sold on the basis of a book proposal, not the completed book. The length of a proposal  could be 10 pages or 100 pages or more, depending on the book. All proposals contain the following topics.



Title Page

This page should have the headline “Book Proposal” and include the full title of the book, your name and contact information, and the address of your website, if you have one.


Table of Contents

Include a TOC for the book proposal itself.



Explains what the book is about generally. What is the overall concept and mission of the book? This is where you state the central thesis of the book and give the agent a clear idea of its basic structure. Include the estimated total word count; any additional elements that you plan to include such as sidebars, charts, and photo illustrations; the target audience; how this book will differ from similar books; and how the book will help or interest readers. You should also state your credentials briefly in this section. You will expand this information in the next section.


Biographical section

This is where you sell yourself. Explain who you are and why you’re the perfect person to write this book. Highlight all your relevant experience; include media and public-speaking appearances; and list any books/articles that you have published. Because your credentials and life experience are so important, you could include a complete résumé with the proposal package, but this is optional.


Marketing section

Here you have to justify the book’s existence from a commercial perspective. You must answer the question Who will buy this book? and other related questions: Is there a need for this book? Is it timely? If you can include the estimated number or percentage of potential readers, so much the better. Publishers always like to have some idea about the size of the market for a book.


Competition section

This is where you name the major published titles with concepts comparable to yours. You don’t need to include dozens of titles. The leading half-dozen or so is fine, including backlist classics as well as recent books. Here you will briefly describe what each of these books is about and then explain why your book is different and better.


Promotion section

Here you will suggest possible ways to promote and market your book, including your ideas for self-promotion. Describe your various contacts and any media connections. Mention your website, if you have one, or say that you plan to launch a website for your book. If you plan to send out a newsletter, say so. Also mention the possibility of selling books when you do guest talks, seminars, and such and say how available you are for book signings and book tours.


Table of contents

Do this like the TOC you see at the beginning of most nonfiction books. You will create this from the chapter outline.


Chapter outline

Here you will provide specific information about what will be included in the book. Title and summarize the contents of each chapter. No rules here about length, which may vary from chapter to chapter. May be fewer than 100 words per chapter—or a lot more.


Sample chapters

Including at least one sample chapter is a good idea. This will indicate to an agent that you have the ability to write the text.


Other things you could include (optional)


• A head-and-shoulders photo of yourself. Publishers like authors who are “mediagenic” and who can sell books to the public

• Laudatory letters and comments about you

• Laudatory publicity about you

• Copies of published articles you’ve written

• Any other information that recommends you in a relevant way


You could even include a video of TV or speaking appearances, but you may want to wait on that. If an agent loves your proposal, he or she may ask you for a video like this later. This can be a nonprofessional home video, about five to eight minutes long, just so they can get a look at you. A more professionally done video may be required later. Just keep this in mind for the future. Also consider the possibility of meeting with your agent and editor face to face.


Book jacket endorsements

Naming some names of known writers of books similar to yours who promise to write an endorsement is a plus. Providing prewritten blurbs is even better.



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