October 22, 2019

5 Questions Every Nonfiction Proposal Must Answer

Cartoon5Every nonfiction book proposal needs to include a number of things, such as

1. What is this book about?

Sometimes the subject merely needs to be mentioned, as in writing a new biography on JFK, but other times, one needs two (or ten) pages to describe the subject, as when the subject is cosmic ripples in the universe.

2. What is the book’s thesis (or argument), and what’s new about it?

The answers here are generally the most important. Some call this the core insight or the ten-word summary. The author needs to take a position on the subject and show how this position is different from others currently available. It’s a thesis with an added question: And so?

3. Why are you the person to write this book?

You don’t need to be the world’s expert on a topic. But you do need to find some credential, such as time spent in archives, a member of the group focused on a subject (such as a breast cancer survivor speaking to other survivors), or the operator of a website on the subject that attracts 10,000 new visitors each month. (This question is the reason that author platforms have become so crucial because potential book readers ask this question.)

4. Why is now the time to publish this book?

An author once approached me by saying that in two years the Catholic Church would celebrate a year of jubilee and that 1.5 million people would travel from the U.S. to Rome. (The book was a travel guide for this trip.)
Another author documented that 5 million women would be entering menopause each year for the next 15 years. (The book helped women enter menopause.)

Still another author found research that 4 million people go on brief missionary trips (2-6 weeks) each year. (The book helped these persons plan for their trip.)

But most of the time, this question goes unmentioned. Mention it with a source–and make it the target of your book.

5. Who makes up the core audience for the proposed book, and why will they find it appealing?

Don’t try to spread too much butter when answering; your book will not appeal to everyone (not even to every thinking person).
Set forth who exactly would be interested in your thesis and what possible resources that group might lend to the promotion and sale of the book.

Then set out the other titles on this same subject and be specific about how your proposal differs. If you are afraid of too many competitors, then be reassured that editors often take the number to mean that the subject is important or capable of having more than one title about it.

Image credit: chudtsankov / 123RF Stock Photo

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