“Pssst! Hey! Writer!”
“I’ve got a mission for you.”
“Wait! Wait! Don’t run away screaming in fear!”
“This is one mission that’s completely possible. And it could lead to your next book contract.”
“Got your interest now, don’t I?”
Writing and spying have a lot in common. Both require skin tough as a flak jacket, the flexibility of a ninja, and the cleverness of a cryptologist. But you are in luck. I’m going to give you the inside intel needed to crack the nonfiction market with a high-caliber template for a nonfiction proposal.
Ready for action?
1. Sight the Target – First, you need to know your target reader. If you are writing for picture book readers, you do not need a proposal. You need the whole manuscript.
If you are writing for middle grade or older, a proposal is your passport to nonfiction publishing. Instead of spending hours (more likely MONTHS) writing a book that may not sell, you can write a proposal. This saves you time, but it is also beneficial to the editor. They may like your subject but would like you to change the presentation concept. Or perhaps they want you to consider a series. You can negotiate any changes the editor wants before you sign the contract. It’s a win-win.
2. Map the Mission – Create a chapter outline.
The editor needs to know that you have a clear vision for the book. Keep it brief. Just two or three sentences for each chapter. Give the highlights and most important concepts.
3. Show Your Tradecraft – Write two or three sample chapters.
Generally, they will be the first three chapters of the book. These need to be as close to perfect as possible. Sample chapters not only give the tone of the book but also display your writing ability. Be sure to include sample sidebars, fun facts, or activities. If you plan to have a glossary include a small selection of words. You will also want to include a sample bibliography. Highlight your primary sources.
4. Show Your Bona Fides – Write a resume.
Emphasize your experience and knowledge pertinent to this project. Do you have degrees in the field? Have you worked with a scientist or historian? Do you have a personal connection? Are you a research prodigy? This is the time to brag about yourself! Give a detailed account of your past publishing credits.
5. Set the Honey Trap – Make your proposal irresistible.
Use these key components to convince the editor that this is the book she wants to publish!
Target Audience – This goes beyond the age group you are writing for. In this section, you need to identify who will be purchasing your book. Will this book appeal to librarians? Teachers? Grandparents? Lovers of history? Science nerds? Kids who like animals? Write a short paragraph on each target audience and why this book will appeal to them.
Comparable Titles – This is a critical section and deserves a serious round of research. You need to find five titles that have been published within the last three years that are similar to your book. These should be profitable books that are like yours. This will help convince an editor that there is a market for your story. Do not select blockbusters like Harry Potter or Hunger Games. And always do a positive comparison. Do NOT bash other writers and their books!
Here is a sample from my successful Mary Anning Proposal:
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science
By Jeannine Atkins
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017
This book received starred reviews for the author’s lyrical poems about scientists Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell. A lovely combination of science and poetry, the author bases her imagined stories on the real lives of these three women. The popularity of this fictional book shows there is an audience and an appetite to know about the real life of early women scientists like Mary Anning. This is a need that Mary Anning – Paleontology from the Golden Age to the Present for Kids would fill.
Marketing and Promotion – What will you do to make sure your book SELLS? Give the editor concrete examples of the work you will do to market your book. List specific events that you will attend. List speaking engagements, school visits, library talks, conferences, literary festivals, and Nerd Camps. Are there holidays that will help sell your story? Can you connect with museums, science centers, or arboretums? Include traditional media outlets like radio, television, and local newspapers as well as social media platforms.
6. Mission Wrap Up – Submission!
Once you have completed the proposal you are ready to submit. Again, this requires a deep dive into author intelligence. If you are searching for an agent who wants nonfiction proposals here are a few places to scout. And don’t forget to use the FREE proposal template!
Good Luck! May your missions all be successful.
If you are going directly to an editor, try these sources:
Meet the Author: