Publishing a non-fiction book takes you on a totally different path than publishing a fiction project. Forget what you’ve heard about crafting a synopsis for a fiction book. When you’re pitching a non-fiction book to a publisher, just about everything is different.
While there are two routes you can take when publishing your non-fiction book, the focus of this guide will be on traditional publishing, i.e. getting an agent and finding a suitable publisher. If you’d like to learn more about self-publishing, check out this post: Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing.
Pitching Your Non-Fiction Book
Before you pass go, let’s discuss the difference between publishing a memoir and a publishing any other type of non-fiction.
*If You’re Writing a Memoir…
You’ll take the same path as a fiction writer. Before approaching an agent and publisher, you’ll need to have a full manuscript written. This means, when you query your agent, you should have a fully edited manuscript in hand.
You may come across an agent who wants a book proposal for your memoir, too. We’ll discuss book proposals at length a little later in this guide.
To successfully convince an agent to accept your memoir, it’s important that you have an unusual hook. What makes your story stand out in the sea of others? The marketplace is crowded with books about cancer diagnoses, adoption stories, betrayal— It’s up to you to choose an angle that’s fresh and unique, even if the bones of your story are familiar.
*If You’re Writing Non-Fiction, But Not a Memoir…
All you need is a book proposal. There’s no need for you to write an entire manuscript. Your book proposal will allow you to pitch the story to agents and publishers alike. If the publisher likes what they read in your book proposal, they’ll commission you to write the manuscript. As you can see, your ability to persuade a publisher completely depends on your book proposal. No pressure.
What to Include in a Book Proposal
Let’s break down how to write a compelling book proposal.
First, the good news. You can write a book proposal before you finish writing your manuscript. That’s right. You don’t have to complete your book before shopping it to an agent. A successful proposal ends with a publisher paying you a royalty to write the book. Woohoo!
And now for the not-so-good news. Writing a book proposal is hard work. It may take you weeks (if not months) to write a winning book proposal. But don’t panic. We’re discussing everything you need to know right here in this guide.
The purpose of your book proposal is to convince the publisher that your book is sellable. The burden is on you to prove that your book can sell.
It’s a good idea to focus on how your book will help the readers, instead of solely focusing on the contents of your book. Connect the dots for your agent and your potential publisher.
Also, don’t think that a book proposal is only necessary if you haven’t finished writing your manuscript. Whether or not you’ve completed your book, it’s still necessary to do a full book proposal. The only exception to this rule is if you’re shopping a memoir.
Your book proposal should include the following elements:
Competitive Title Analysis
The bulk of your book proposal will be the competitive title analysis section.
This is where you take a look at between five to 10 other books and compare them to your own. To be competitive, these books should be similar in content and have the same or similar target audience as your book.
The competitive title analysis should include the following:
- Book title
- Book author
- Book publisher
- Published date
- ISBN number
- Book description
- Page length
- Number of pages
- Retail list price
Also, most importantly, you should take 100-200 words to draw comparisons and contrasts between the competitive title and your book. This isn’t the time to make negative or insulting comments about the comparative title. That would definitely get awkward if you’re appealing to the same publisher. Instead, you should use this summary to analyze what the comparative title does right, what it may not cover, and how your book will fill in those gaps.
Remember that this is not a book review. It’s a market analysis of what’s currently available and how your book stands out from the crowd.
To find books similar to yours, you can always start by perusing your library or local bookstore. However, I find the best place to start is Amazon. Amazon organizes books by genre and then sub-genre, making it quick and easy to find titles that compare with your own.
You’ll definitely want to get as sub-genre specific as possible. Don’t just stop at “self-help” if that’s what you’re writing. Focus on your topic and your target audience. Who are you helping? Parents? Christians? Married Couples? Vegans? Those interested in weight loss? The more specific you can get, the better.
However, you don’t want to be left with only two other books, either. Be specific, but don’t be so specific that you’re standing on an island because, frankly, that’s not marketable. Every book should have a competitor. That’s actually a good thing from a marketing perspective. It shows that there’s already an audience for your content.
When composing your comparative title analysis, remember that your central question to answer is: What will your book do that others haven’t?
Writing a comparative title analysis is a good practice for any non-fiction writer, not just those who choose the traditional publishing route. Even if you self-publish, it’s a good idea to know what else is out there and how your book fits and fills the gap. Plus, since it’s common practice to do the comparative title analysis before completing your manuscript, you may be able to steer clear of any overused topics.
Identify Your Target Audience
Who will want to purchase a copy of your book? Who is your target audience?
Resist the urge to be universal here. “My target audience is everyone in the world who’s ever lived” is not a good answer. A publisher wants to know that you’ve thought the marketing through and you already know who will benefit from your book.
if your book is about homeschooling as a single parent, the first thing you should do is find out how many single parents homeschool in America. Sometimes, your search can start with a simple Google query like “single parent homeschooling statistics.” From there, you can develop a profile of your target audience (basic demographics), their pain points (for self-help), and their buying behavior (how often they buy books in this genre).
The more you know about your target audience, the better equipped you’ll be to sell your book to your publisher.
Share Your Credentials
Why should a publisher trust you to write this book? Literary skills are not as important as marketability when it comes to non-fiction work. And marketability starts with your credentials.
Your credentials can be educational, professional, or related to personal experience (including previous writing experience on the subject).
Within your book proposal, dedicate one page to a third-person bio that introduces you and why you’re suited to write this non-fiction book.
In addition to proving your credibility, you should also show the publisher that you’re able to bring the money. The best way to do that is to tout your visibility in the marketplace with your potential target audience. Do you currently have a respectable social media following? Do you guest post on popular blogs within the industry? Have you accepted speaking gigs on the subject? Were you the subject of a magazine or podcast show?
Anything that connects your name to the topic of your book can be helpful in demonstrating your visibility.
Include Chapters and Chapters Outline
You should include two to three chapters in your book proposal. These chapters can be from any section of your manuscript, not necessary the beginning. They should represent your content.
If you haven’t written your book, you may also share a table of contents where you summarize the contents of each chapter. Stay around 100 words per chapter. This allows the publisher to see your scope and sequence of your book.
How Long are Book Proposals
Book proposals greatly vary in length. While some book proposals are 20 double-spaced pages in length, it’s not unusual to see book proposals that are three times that length. Plus, this doesn’t include sample chapters.
While publishing a non-fiction book does take you on a long, arduous, and winding path, the final destination makes it all worthwhile. We hope these tips will help you reach your goal of becoming a published author. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments section below!
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