Nonfiction Proposal Guidelines

We work very hard with our clients to help them create their proposals and because we think this part of the publishing process is so very important, we wanted to share our basic formula for putting together a non-fiction proposal.

The proposal is broken down into several parts:

The first is the Overview. This begins with a brief dramatic anecdote which is meant to get the reader, in this case the editor at the publishing company, interested in the material. Immediately after this anecdote, you should describe in two or three sentences—no more—what the book will be about. This is followed by another brief paragraph on why it is being written and then another on why you are qualified to write it.

After this, you need to describe your audience who will buy your book—both demographically and statistically. The more numbers you have here the better.

The final element of the overview is a comparative section where you compare your book to others that would be found in the same place in the bookstore. In each case, you must provide the author, the title, the publisher, and the year of initial publication and, book by book, tell us how your proposed book will be as successful as those or more so.

The next element of the proposal is the Annotated Table of Contents. This consists of chapter heads and no more than a couple of sentences on what each chapter will contain.

Then you need sample material:

  • If you’re writing a general nonfiction book, we need at least one sample chapter that matches a chapter described in your annotated table of contents.  The sample chapter is meant to do two things: show off the writing and tell us things we don’t already know.
  • If you’re writing a cookbook, there should be a section of sample recipes, which can be labeled as such. There should be 10-12 recipes from all parts of the book (i.e., one or more from the appetizer section, one or more from the soups and salads section, one or more from the entrees section, etc.). Each of these recipes should be accompanied by headnotes (about a paragraph of text introducing the recipe). Each recipe should be in standard cookbook format and should clearly state the number of people it will serve.  In addition to the sample recipes, you’ll need to include introductory text from one or two different sections of the book so that editors get a sense of your narrative writing style.

Finally, there should be a more formal narrative Bio of the author.

This is followed by links that serve as Support Material—reviews of previous books, recent articles by and about you from national publications, a schedule of speaking appearances, any national media appearances, etc.