Sign up to the newsletter

Tips for your Specialist Non-fiction Proposal

Like any other product, your content has to satisfy a market need. So your non-fiction proposal should begin by addressing this, as it is the first thing your editor will look for.

Explain what is driving the demand for this type of information and how your content meets the need. It could be changing exam requirements, new technology, or the need for professionals to re-skill for example.

Know your target market

Knowing clearly who your target market is and their information needs will help you understand how to shape your content. What specific approach do you have that will make someone buy your book? Your editor will base his or her own in-house pitch (to get your book approved) very much on your initial proposal, so it is worth spending time on.

Don’t forget your editor will be pitching to a group of publishing professionals in house, not experts on the chosen subject area, so do explain any technical terms or acronyms.

How to differentiate your book from the competition

The competitive angle comes next. It isgood to consider the strengths and the weaknesses of competing titles. The strengths will tell you a lot about what works. The weaknesses will point to where to differentiate.  Remember the competition may not be in book form – so consider what you are actually competing with. Just because there isn’t a similar title on Amazon doesn’t mean that there is no competition – it could be in the form of a course, or a free internet resource.

Having worked out in your mind what the market wants and your angle on the competition, now you can think about the structure of the content. In addition to chapter headings, describe the topics you will cover in each chapter and what your particular approach will be. This will help your editor get a real feel for the book.

Also think in terms of special features (case studies, interviews, tables, graphs) and the benefits of those features to the reader. What will the reader be able to do as a result of having read your book? What special features of your content help them to do that? Again in the sales copy, these things will translate into what the industry calls USPs (unique selling points).

Use a table of contents as the basis of your writing plan

Remember that a good table of contents will also form the basis of your writing plan. It is the skeletal backbone if you like, onto which you will hang your genius! Map it out, with topics listed under chapter headings, find regular slots for writing time, tick off completed sections as you go along and in due course you will see your content build and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Your editor will also have a very good sense of how you’re getting along if you send regular status reports. Halfway through your deadline for example, they will expect you to have half the manuscript complete. You editor may like to look through your early chapters and provide comments or peer reviews at this stage.

Thinking about illustration

Other things – try to give an indication of the level of illustration. Is there any material that you would like to include that is not your copyright and for which permission will need to be sought and paid?  What about video or web resources?

Not sure how much material to write? You’ll need to provide a ‘guestimate’ (grab a similar title off the shelf, count the rough number of words per page and you’ll get a feel for how word count translates into actual pages). Your editor will put together an initial cost for the book based on this information and their estimated first print run, so this detail is necessary up front and your eventual contract will also state the rough number of words you are aiming for.  If you have answered all these questions in your proposal it saves the editor having to come back and ask, the project will move along more swiftly at the publishing end and you will look more professional.

Marketing help and ideas

Can you help with marketing? Can you suggest organizations or websites that would be interested in featuring this type of book? Do you have contacts and leads that will help your publicist? Put these ideas in, as a clear route to market is as important as good content, so try to include this information.

Include a good biography, a few paragraphs will suffice. List previous relevant publications if you have them but most of all your biog should support why you are the best person to deliver this necessary content for the intended readership.

Peer reviews

Most specialist non-fiction proposals will be peer reviewed. Your editor will seek one or two industry experts to comment on your outline and provide feedback. This is usually done anonymously and most authors welcome this constructive early input. It can be an early indicator as to how your book would be received in the market place and so it is worth taking seriously.

You don’t have to agree with everything, (your editor will often have filtered out all but the most sensible comments) and the process usually results in some helpful ideas to make your book more relevant to the market place and sell more widely.

Realistic deadlines

Finally think hard about how long it will realistically take you to put your book together. Most people underestimate how long it takes to write a book, and most people have to do it alongside a day-job and family etc. If this is your first book and you are not sure what to suggest with regard to a deadline for you to work to, ask your editor for advice.

Remember that publication dates are based on manuscript delivery dates, so if you slip your deadline then the pub date will slip and this causes all sorts of disruption for the sales team, not to mention bad relations with booksellers and disappointed customers placing orders ahead of publication. So try to make it realistic, but not so far out that you put the project to one side.

If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:

Playing by different rules: writing non-fiction

Marketing and publicity

Top Tips For Finding An Agent