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Six Elements to Writing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

Updated on March 29, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


Selling a non-fiction book is different from selling a novel. The novel is written in its entirety before the author starts looking for an agent or publisher. In the case of a non-fiction book, the book is sold before it is written. To sell your idea you must write a book proposal to present to prospective agents or publishers. I have broken the proposal down into six elements. Keep in mind there is more than one way to skin this cat. This is how I do it, but read prospective publisher's guidelines. They may want it done a specific, and different, way.

Title Page

The title page is the first thing the editor or agent will see. Make it attractive. Start about one third down the page and type the book title in a normal font, like Times Roman or Courier, centered on the page. The size depends on the length of the title. I use 20-24 for most. I don't like for my titles to take more than two lines. Under the title I put my name in a smaller size. Use the same font throughout the proposal.

If you are also providing photographs for your book put one under the title. Be sure it is an example of your best work and follows the book's subject matter. Near the bottom right hand corner of the page type your contact info: name, address, phone numbers and email address.

Cover Letter

The cover letter should give an overview of the project. Include a brief synopsis, your qualifications for writing the book, and if you can provide illustrations or photographs. Tell the agent or editor how long you think it will take to complete the project.

Chapter-by-Chapter Synopsis

This can also be done in the form of a detailed outline, but I like writing a synopsis of each chapter. It depends on what sort of book you are writing or what the publisher's guidelines specify.


Publishers are a business. They want to know how your book will earn money for them. This is a major key overlooked by some writers. This is your time to make a sales pitch, and it must be convincing. The first thing I do is a search on Amazon to see what and how many books have already been published on my subject. Then I look at the books to see how they are alike or different from what I want to do. I have to show the publisher or agent how my book is going to be unique from the rest. Next research numbers. Since I write about horses I need to know how many horse folk are out there, and then how many have an interest in the kind of horses that will be in my book. Are their other potential buyers who do not own horses? Why would they buy my book?

Author Resume

The resume should focus on your writing career with a list of writing credits, educational back ground and work experience. It should have information on those areas as they apply to your qualifications to write the book. In my case I have worked many years in the horse industry, the book is about horses, so I include that information. If you are writing a book with a historical background and you have a history degree or have worked in that field include that information.

Author Bio

When I first began to write my bio it was difficult for me. I had been raised that nice Southern girls didn't brag about themselves. Well, in your bio you have to toot your own horn. The first rule of thumb is to write this part of your proposal in third person. Include your writing credits, some personal information liked where you live and favorite hobbies.

Ask someone who is qualified to read over your proposal and look for errors. The book proposal is your interview. It is a reflection of your writing ability and talent. If it is sloppy it's not going to get a second look. You want this sample of your work to be perfect. Don't rush to put it together. Be sure to read the publisher or agent's guidelines and follow them to a tee. If they want an outline, then give them an outline. If they want chapters, write the chapters (usually the first three chapters is the most you'll have to write) and include them with your proposal.

Do your homework and research prospective publishers and agents. Only send the proposal to those who publish the type of book you are writing. Not all agents handle all books. They specialize. The Writer's Market gives that information. Some of the bigger publishers won't look at a proposal unless it comes via an agent. You need to know that before you waste your postage. Some will accept proposals via email, some don't. You can also learn in The Writer's Market names of the editors, whether or not the company pays an advance, how many books they publish in a year, and how to acquire their writer's guidelines.

Now you are ready to mail out your proposal. Do not staple it or bind it in anyway. Put the un-folded proposal in a large mailing envelope. Be prepared to wait a long time for a response. Some authors include a self-addressed postcard for the recipient to mail back just to show the package was received.


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    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very helpful. Thanks. :)

    • profile image

      John Wiebe 6 years ago

      Thank you Donna,

      That was very helpful.

      God Bless,

      John Wiebe

      Major, U.S. Army

    • somethgblue profile image

      somethgblue 6 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      Everything that has ever been written is someone's point of view and by definition is fiction, however this was avery good article in my 'point of view'.

      Thanks for the hub!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the Great Help!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the info

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 6 years ago from Illinois

      I hope to be brave enough to tackle my non-fiction book.

    • JDove-Miller profile image

      JDove-Miller 7 years ago from YOUNGSVILLE

      Thanks, Donna. This will be very helpful as I tackle my proposal this coming week. Scary...

    • beverleejb profile image

      Beverly Boisen 7 years ago from New York

      wow!!! It's about time someone knows the answer to my question

      I love that you actually put the format in this article.

      NOW I can get on the stick and get my proposal out to an agent:)

      This is the printout I will keep:))

      And go by, thanks a bunch:)

    • profile image

      Jatinderpal Kaur 7 years ago

      very nice, useful tips

    • Kimmie10 profile image

      Kimmie10 7 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. I will keep them in mind.

    • gillysmith profile image

      gillysmith 8 years ago from Lewes, East Sussex

      Thanks Donna. I've got a killer template along much the same lines and it's always worked for me. I send it out to people who want to submit a proposal and most of them find that they hadn't really considered much of the business side. The more savvy authors are at this point, the better it is for the publishing industry itself

    • Judy Cullins profile image

      Judy Cullins 8 years ago from La Mesa, CA

      Nice overview for going the traditional route!

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

      John, I am glad to hear that, and appreciate your comment.

    • connorj profile image

      John Connor 8 years ago from Altamonte Springs

      Hi Donna,

      Thank you, this was significanttly helpful.


      John Connor

    • profile image

      Svea 8 years ago

      Useful information..I published one book and have been a columnist but that was several years agol This is a great refresher.

    • nutuba profile image

      nutuba 8 years ago from North Carolina

      This is excellent advice! This is an article I'll be referring to again. Nicely done.

    • profile image

      cplucasjr@hotmail 8 years ago

      Thanks Donna. Very informative.

    • profile image

      Pascale 9 years ago

      Very good tips Donna!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      Anothr nice one, Donna-- i think this is going to have a lot of readers.