Nonfiction proposals

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

A nonfiction proposal is essentially a business roadmap. It details what the book is about, why you’re the best person to write it, shows that you’re cognizant of what goes into marketing and promotion, and can discuss comparative titles. By giving this information to an agent, and later an editor, you’re helping your book to advance to the next round in what I like to call Thunderdome—the acquisitions board meetings. The more information an editor has, the better prepared they are to fight for your book to become one of their titles that year.

So, let’s break down the format.

  • First page: Title: 20 pt Arial | Your name: 16 pt Arial

  • Font: Arial, 12 pt in body of proposal/sample chapters

  • Heading 3 for sections: Overview, About the Author, Marketing, Promotion, Competition, and Chapter Summaries

1. Overview: Write a 1-2-page overview of your book and how it is needed in the marketplace. Why is this book needed now, who will read it, and why is it relevant? Write tight. This area is where you convince the agent or editor to keep reading and we have very short attention spans.

2. Author bio: A 1-page bio of why you're the best person to write this book. Include publishing credentials and sales figures, your involvement in this subject, and what organizations you are involved in that are relevant to your book.  

  • Include a recent headshot.

  • Keep it professional. Family may be mentioned but it can’t be a focal point.

  • Flaunt your platform. How many people come to your website a month? Twitter followers? School visits? Guest posts? Podcast guest? Academic papers? Is your work related to this topic? Professional organizations you’ve been involved with surrounding that subject?

  • If you do not have extensive professional experience in this subject, what made this project perfect for you? What research have you done that makes you the right person at the right time for this book? 

3. Marketing: Include ideas on how you plan to reach them, then list how you plan to do it by using your established platform. Mention website hits, speaking engagements, appearances on radio or television, social media followers if substantial—give them solid numbers to back up why you're the best person for this project. If writing for children, include why your book is important for them to read. If targeting an adult market, how do you reach those readers?

  • Include gift-giving, specialty groups, etc. Think outside of the norm for whom your book will reach.

  • Who will buy this book? Break it down into groups. Get specific.

  • How will they get it? Gifts? Park bench? Impulse buy?

  • Once your target market has bought the book, think of who they will recommend it to or give as a gift.

4. Format of the book for nonfiction: How long (word count) will it be? When is the estimated completion date after signing the contract? (Usually 3-6 months.)

5. Promotion: Include website, trailers (I'd love to see more trailers for nonfiction), upcoming conferences or conventions, plus other ways you'll promote your work. Make it conversational, not a list of things you’re planning to do.

  • Add conferences that you have been to/will be planning to attend. National conferences add heft to your proposal so if you’re going, be sure to include which ones, especially if you’ll be presenting or having a table.

  • Contests, social media (add links), how your website (add link) will promote the book.

  • Which podcasters/media contacts/ television/radio/bloggers will you reach out to for promotional opportunities? Have you been on their programs before?

  • What bookstores will you be approaching for signings? Include national and regional chains as well as indie stores. Don’t restrict yourself to a 100-mile radius. Local stores are a fantastic resource but publishers would like to see that you’re willing to do the footwork often needed in promotion as well.

  • Are you able to be a part of local author events or festivals? There are festivals for everything out there, get involved and be a part of their community!

  • Don’t forget to look at conferences or conventions that don’t immediately spring to mind. Go outside your comfort zone when looking for locales to promote your work.

  • Dig a little. Get creative!

6. Competition: Include 3-4 recently published (within five years) books that compare with your project. List the title, author, year it was published, and publisher. Write a brief summary of the book and how yours would be different. Include a book cover with each comp title.

7. Chapter outline: List the chapters with titles and a short description of each.

8. Sample chapters: Introduction plus two chapters. Present as a separate document, formatted with the title page, and then chapters to follow.


  • Please edit thoroughly for grammar, links, flow, and substance.

  • Add page numbers (not the first page).

  • Use page breaks between sections to prevent overflow.

  • Agents and editors often read on e-readers or their phone so test your proposal in those formats to make sure they are easy to read.

A nonfiction proposal is an excellent tool to help writers focus on the bigger picture for their book as well as broadening a readership you may not have thought of at first glance. Get creative, think out of the box for your marketing and promotional ideas, and have fun!

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