7 Elements of a Great Nonfiction Book Proposal: A Guest Post from Nick at Grammarly

Today,we have a guest post from Nikolas Baron at Grammarly. Not sure what Grammarly is? Watch for a review post coming soon. In the meantime, if you’ve ever thought about writing a nonfiction book, you’ll find Nick’s guest post below helpful.

7 Elements of a Great Nonfiction Book Proposal

Writing a nonfiction book isn’t as simple as sitting down to the typewriter, pounding out two- or three-hundred pages of brilliant work, sending it off to a publisher, and waiting for the checks to start rolling in. In fact, most nonfiction books aren’t written until the idea is sold to a potential publisher. The book is sold on the strength of a book proposal. The book proposal greatly streamlines the writing process, allowing the editor to make any required structural changes early, before the author has invested a great deal of time and effort into the writing.

The book proposal is the author’s opportunity to sell the idea of the book to the publisher. Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar are critical, as the proposal presents the publisher with not only the idea and details of the potential book, but also a sample of the author’s writing skill. A quality proofreading software should be used to go over the proposal with a fine-toothed comb before submission, to help ensure that the presentation is of the highest quality, increasing the chances of acceptance.

There are as many opinions as to formatting, order, and parts of a book proposal as there are blogs and books on writing, but most agree that there are seven basic elements to the average book proposal. Formatting is generally accepted as double-spaced, in a 12-point classic, easy-to-read font like Times New Roman.

1) The Cover Letter
The cover letter should include a very brief but compelling selling point, also known as a “hook”. The query letter is the writer’s chance to present the editor with the “elevator pitch”. Imagine stepping into an elevator with an editor, and having only a few floors’ ride in which to sell him or her on an idea. There is no need for extensive detail, but a few compelling statistics or other points should be included if applicable.

2) The Title Page 
The title page should include a paragraph strengthening the sales pitch, along with an approximate estimated word count of the finished manuscript. The title itself should be brief, informative, and attention-getting. Unique, one- to two-word titles are usually best, depending on the subject matter.

3) Synopsis
The synopsis gives an opportunity to expand upon the subject matter, but should cover no more than two single-spaced pages. This is the author’s opportunity to delve deeper into the subject matter and sell the book based upon the more detailed points.

4) Author Information
The author biography is not a history or resume. The focus needs to be on the sale – this time, the sale of the author themselves. This is the opportunity for the author to highlight expertise, blogging experience, number of followers reached, speaking engagements, or other selling points. Years of experience as an expert in a particular field, consulting work, or a blog which has a solid following and daily unique view counts in the upper thousands are examples of strong points for a bio. Personal experiences that don’t include professional expertise, or plans to blog are irrelevant, unless the personal experience is extremely unique and interesting, or relevant to a wide audience.

5) Market and competition 
The writer needs to demonstrate knowledge and familiarity with the audience to reassure the publisher that he or she understands the potential reader. The marketing section should contain research and statistics on the market, as well as a brief synopsis of 3-5 competing titles, with a brief explanation of the differences in the proposed book.

6) Table of Contents and Chapter Outline
This section lays out the blueprints for the book so that the editor can get an idea of how the ideas will be presented and in which order the information will be laid out in the finished book. Each chapter should be represented by a paragraph detailing the major points to be covered.

7) Sample Chapters
Typically, three sample chapters are included with the proposal to give the editor a “taste” of the book and provide proof of concept that the writer is, indeed, capable of producing quality work. Three chapters are usually a sufficient number for the editor to get a feel for the writing.

Bio: Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Posted in Books & Resources.