Nonfiction Proposals: A Primer
September 21, 2009

Good morning, class! While most of our blog posts consist of fiction-related matters, we have at least a few nonfiction authors in our midst. For that reason, I’ll occasionally devote a blog post to the issues of writing and publishing nonfiction. As the title indicates, today's lesson will serve as a basic nonfiction primer, and I’ll break down the various parts of the nonfiction proposal—and their importance—in subsequent posts.Be sure to take notes—there may be a pop quiz later!Writing, representing, and selling nonfiction is much different than representing fiction in many ways, with one of the main differences being length of the project. With fiction, publishers generally require a completed (and polished!) manuscript before they’ll consider it for publication. For nonfiction, however, publishers will often buy a project based on a 50-page book proposal.Sounds great, right? After all, throwing together a 50-page book proposal is a breeze compared to writing a full-length manuscript. Heck, maybe we should all write more nonfiction! While putting together a nonfiction proposal sounds like much less work in theory, in practice, a certain alchemy is required to bring the various parts of a nonfiction book proposal together.If you’re unsure what information comprises a nonfiction proposal, I’ll list it here (in order of appearance):

  1. Overview
  2. Author platform/expertise
  3. Marketing plan/publicity connections
  4. Competitive title analysis
  5. Writing sample

Still sounds pretty good, right? Still sounds like a much easier gig than writing a 100,000-word manuscript, right? Before you chuck your novel for the world of nonfiction writing, consider this:When editors read your book proposal, they are scrutinizing your author platform and competitive title section just as closely as they are looking at your writing sample. Why? Because a harsh reality of nonfiction publishing these days is that great writing sometimes isn’t enough to get a project published—or sell a finished book.As a writer of nonfiction, you have a set of responsibilities that fiction writers do not. You must be able to establish yourself as an “expert” or “voice” in your subject area. You must know your competitive titles inside and out, and you must be able to point out why your book is different/better than any of the books already on the bookstore shelves.Taking care to do these things will give you a definite edge over the competition. And of course, signing with a literary agent with experience in your subject area can also help you focus your proposal in order to meet the needs of the marketplace. And in nonfiction publishing, meeting the needs of the marketplace is paramount.Okay, class! That concludes today’s lesson on nonfiction publishing. I hope you found it useful and informative.Now for the Q&A portion of our lesson: Post your questions about the nonfiction market here, and I’ll choose several and provide answers later this week.Happy Monday!