Friday, 23 March 2012

Crabbit's Tips 7: The Non-fiction Proposal

I continue my irregular series of Crabbit's Tips with a list of advice about making a proposal for a non-fiction book to an agent or publisher. If you want to download a pretty version to pin above your desk or collect in a sparkly binder, then go here.

I also suggest you first read my Seven Steps to Publication, if you are a beginner at this game.

And for the rest of the Crabbit's Tips sheets, see the label "Crabbit's Tips" in the list on the bottom right of this blog. And yes, I know I've missed out 6, the synopsis one, but I'm doing it later.

Crabbit’s Tips for Non-fiction proposals
Writing a non-fiction submission is a little more complicated than a fiction one. A fiction submission consists of covering letter (which will include a tiny bit of biography or relevant life detail), synopsis and sample chapters. A non-fiction one contains more. Here are my tips, made as simple as possible. More detail in Write to be Published.

1. Note that when you submit your proposal, your non-fiction book need not already be complete, whereas for a novel it should be.

2. Your covering letter will be the same as for a novel: introduce the book, length and genre; pitch the book in a snappy paragraph; pitch yourself in a paragraph – and remember that for non-fiction it’s very important that you show why you are the right and authoritative person to write this; round off.

3. Your sample chapters should be, as for a novel, the first three (c 50 pages/10k words.) You might occasionally also want to offer a later chapter, if, for example, there’s a different style/aspect to account for.

4. As well as this, you need a succinct document that includes the following information, not necessarily in this order: 

a. Your qualifications/platform for writing this book. (Qualifications need not necessarily be formal, such as exams, but must be convincing.) So, you are expanding on the short paragraph in your covering letter.

b. A chapter outline of the book. Include extras such as appendices and index.

c. Who is the target reader? How do we know there are enough of them? Where are they and how can they be reached? Why will they want your book? What will they hope to gain from it?

d. What books does yours compete against? How is yours different?

e. How will your platform and networks help you sell this book?

f. Do you have any personal story that can be used to promote it?
5. You need to show a professional and objective outlook, one that is not ridiculously over-optimistic about its prospects.

6. You need to show that you are open to editorial judgement as to different ways of presenting the material.

7. The writing in your proposal must be clear and incisive, showing yourself as clear-sighted and a very skilled writer. Your lines of thought must be logical and coherent.

8. That’s it!


PS - I'm away a lot at the moment, so can't easily respond to your comments, and sometimes not at all. Normal service will resume soon! Louise Kelly is blog-minding for me.


Nick Triplow said...

Good advice - especially the part about why it has to be you who writes the book. In a way it forces you (the author) to make the case to yourself - a useful touchstone when you're halfway through the first draft slog thinking: 'Why am I doing this?'

Anonymous said...

Very good advice. Might be also worth mentioning that many non-fic publishers have their own template and it's helpful if you fill it in - it allows the editor to have all the info they need to make a case for your book and to send the proposal out for peer review.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicola. I hope you don't mind me being a bit of a buttinsky, but it might be helpful for your readers to consider the notion that nonfiction doesn't need to be complete. This view is changing somewhat, and as one who specializes in nonfiction, I wrote a blog post about when authors should consider completing their nonfiction. Here is the link.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lynn, I refer the Honorable lady to point 1!

Anonymous said...

Making eye appt. post haste.