If you’re querying literary agents with a nonfiction project, there’s a good chance that you’ll be asked to submit a proposal for your book. It’s true that for nonfiction you don’t have to write a complete manuscript before looking for representation; and so, it’s important to have a strong proposal that outlines everything an agent needs to know to consider your project.
While most literary agents will work with you to build up a proposal, having a solid document put together before you’re someone’s client will help sell your book and yourself. There are six sections that should be included in any nonfiction book proposal. I’ve listed them below, with short descriptions, in no particular order (you may want to shuffle sections around depending on the content of your book).
1. Title Page: This is so easy to overlook. Your title page should include the title (and subtitle, if applicable) of your book. Do not underestimate the power of a great, informative title! You should also include your contact information on this page.
2. Overview: This section should summarize the project. You’ll want to include a brief overview of the book, but also the approach you’re taking with the content, why it’s a good time for a book like this to be published, why you are the right person to write this book, etc.
3. Author Bio: You want to include a full-page bio to let agents know more about you and your expertise. This bio should be longer than what you’d include at the end of a query letter or on your social media profiles.
4. Comparative Titles: There’s a good chance that there are other books, already published, that fall into the same category as the one you’re pitching. Tell us what these are and how your book is similar and/or different.
5. Marketing & Publicity: This is where you focus on your platform. Where can you promote this book? What contacts do you have for endorsements? What media outlets are a good fit for a book like yours? Possible topics you may want to cover: website, blog, and social media stats; related online and print publications; and special events, conferences, conventions, etc.
6. Table of Contents: Show that you have a solid idea of your book’s structure. A full table of contents is always required so agents know exactly what to expect.
7. Sample Chapter(s): You should have somewhere between one and three chapters already written and included at the end of your book proposal. Even if agents like your idea, they still need to know that they will love your writing!
There are also two optional sections depending on your professional history:
[Optional] 8. Previous Publications: Let us know if you’ve been published before. These publications could be books, academic articles, contributions to online publications, etc. This is really important to include if your previous publications relate to the content of your proposed book.
[Optional] 9. Media Mentions: Have you been mentioned on websites? Interviewed for podcasts? Make a list of the places you’ve been mentioned. We want to know as much as possible about your platform and reach!
I hope this post has helped you understand the structure of a nonfiction book proposal. This list should be a good guide to get you started, but if you need even more help, there are paid resources available online that will help you craft a great nonfiction book proposal.
If you are interested in querying me with a nonfiction project, I am currently looking for projects in the following categories: pop culture, geek culture, entertainment, pop psychology, design, and lifestyle. If you have a nonfiction project in a different category, the other agents at P.S. Literary are also looking for nonfiction; you can view our interests and submission guidelines here.