I’ve put my romance writing on hold while I’m at university (you can find out more about that here). Instead, I’m spending all my writing time on two separate projects which form part of my MA course. One is a full-length piece of women’s commercial fiction. The other is a non-fiction book about the Gloucestershire countryside.
Writing Struggle and Suffrage reignited my interest in writing non-fiction. There’s one big difference between writing novels and factual books. You can approaching agents and publishers before you’ve finished writing the book.
Fiction editors like you to finish your novel before you contact them. When you write non-fiction, a book can be sold as not much more than an idea—as long as an agent or editor finds it irresistible. To tempt them, you’ll need to put forward a detailed proposal. Here’s how to do it…
A successful book proposal has 8 elements: A cover page, a synopsis, a full set of chapter outlines, details of your target market, format of your book, a list of chapter headings, your credentials for writing this book, and a sample of your work.
This should be laid out with the working title of your book, your name (and pen-name, if you’re using one), the book’s estimated word count, and all your contact details including address and phone numbers.
This should be a single page laying out the six main pillars of your book: what it’s about, where it’s set, why it needs to be written, your qualifications for the job, the stage you’ve reached in writing it, and how long it will take you to finish the whole book.
You only need one or two sentences for each chapter. As with fiction, make every word count. Every line must either advance the story you’re telling, or deepen the reader’s understanding of one or more of its characters. You’re fishing for professionals— offer them juicy bait then make sure there’s a good hook at the end of each chapter outline to reel them on to the next one.
Publishing a book calls for a major investment in time and money. The more accurately you can identify who will buy your book, the better it will sell. What age group are you looking at? Is your material gender-specific? Are you aiming for a small local market, or universal appeal? Specialist readers, or impulse buyers?
Your first buyer is your prospective agent or publisher. Make that sale, and more will follow. Study their websites and social media activity to discover their likes and dislikes. Find out what your target market (and therefore your professional contact) needs, and wants to read. Can you catch the wave of a trend? Give them what they want, and it will make selling your finished book a lot easier.
Assume you won’t be the only person who identifies a popular trend. Include a line or two about what your book does better, or differently from other books on sale. Show you’ve done your research by including titles of your potential rivals’ books.
What will the final word count of your book be? How many chapters will it have, and how long will each one be? Will your book incorporate any unusual design features? Will it be illustrated? If so, will the illustrations be in colour or black and white?
Give a Table of Contents by listing your chapters and giving each one a concise, appealing title.
Put forward the case for you being the perfect person to write this book. Give an account of all your experience in the field, whether technical, academic or both. Inspire your reader with your enthusiasm for your subject as well as your expertise. Give details of your online presence, and list any experts you know off-line, too. The writing business relies on networking. The more impressive connections you have outside the business, the keener people will be to draw you into their own particular fold.
Send the first two or three chapters of your book to give a taste of your writing style, pace and content.
As with all submissions, make sure you use a legible, industry-standard font such as Time New Roman 12-point throughout your proposal, and number every page. Although most submissions are made by email, a lot of editors like to print out proposals for reading. If the manuscript gets dropped, numbering pages makes it easy to get them back in the right order.
When you’ve got your material organised, edited and proof-read, read it aloud to yourself from beginning to end. It’s amazing what you’ll catch!
Next time, I’ll be exploring ways of finding the perfect destination for your proposal.
Have you tried contacting publishers direct with your work? Have you had any luck?