Today we have a guest post from Chad R. Allen based on his experience as editorial director for Baker Books. He’s offering some sage advice on creating a compelling book proposal.
This young, attractive lady knew what she was doing. After an engaging conversation at a party, before retiring for the night, my wife-to-be leaned over, touched my shoulder, and said kindly, “It was really nice to see you again, Chad.”
I nearly sprinted to the nearest jeweler.
Well, not quite, but that one gesture made an impression that carried us steadily to our wedding day. I’ll never forget that moment of her first affection. Honestly just recalling it still gives me goosebumps!
When it comes to your nonfiction book proposal, you too want to make a good impression. Not of the amorous kind, obviously, but you want the publisher to know you mean business.
Following are seven ways to make sure your nonfiction book proposal stands out. In fact, if you follow through with each of these suggestions, I expect your proposal will be in the top 5 percent of all proposals a publisher reviews.
- Provide a list of alternative titles and subtitles. I recommend doing this on the back of the cover page. But make them as good as possible. Don’t just rattle them off. Do some intentional brainstorming by yourself and with friends and propose a list of legitimate alternatives. Doing so provides various ways a publisher can position your book, which gives you a better chance at mutual agreement.
- Cast a compelling vision in your brief description. That’s what it’s for. Your brief description should capture our hearts. Sweep us off our feet! Bonus point: your brief description is in some ways your first writing sample, the first sample of your voice, so showcase your best here.
- Provide a lengthy three-stage marketing plan. I can’t tell you the number of proposals that devote a half page to the author’s own promotional intentions. Listen, your book proposal is the publishing version of a business plan. The function of your book proposal is in part to convince us that you’d be a good business partner. A big part of this is your marketing plan. We want to know, to what extent are you going to help us get the word out?
- If your platform stats aren’t already great, tell the story of how much they’ve grown and what your plan is to keep them growing. If a publisher signs you today, we likely won’t publish your book for at least a year. That’s a lot of time to grown your platform. Show us the growth you’ve already achieved. Then show us your plan for continuing that growth.
- Make your chapter titles/subtitles sing. Your chapter-by-chapter synopsis serves an editorial function, obviously, in that it gives us a breakdown of your book’s content. But it also serves a marketing function—to reviewers of your proposal but also eventually to your readers via the Table of Contents. Give some thought to your chapter titles and subtitles. Make them compelling! Bonus point: don’t go on too long describing each chapter. Three to five sentences is plenty.
- Don’t slack on your writing sample. Everything that precedes the writing sample is prologue. Your writing sample is a piece of what we might actually send into the world! Don’t let the wheels fall off here. The temptation is to think, “Well, I’ll just give them a draft because we’re going to work this over once the contract is signed.” Don’t fall for it. Your goal should be to make the publisher think they could go to press right now with your writing sample. Do whatever you have to do, consult with as many people as you need to, to make your sample awesome.
- Craft a killer bio. Your bio either opens doors or closes them. Your bio establishes your credibility and gives us a glimpse into who you are as a person. Keep reading for a tool that will help you craft a bio that keeps the doors to publishing swinging open!
Special Gift for Books & Such Readers
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. It’s an honor to be guest-posting for Books & Such. I put together a special resource kit specifically for Books & Such readers because I love the team there (and you!) so much. If you click here and drop in your email address, I’ll send you the following resources:
- My book proposal guidelines. These guidelines have helped countless writers craft contract-winning book proposals.
- An exclusive link to a webinar replay on how to craft a killer bio. If you watch this video and follow the steps, by the end of it you’ll have a great new bio you can put to work right away. This is an unlisted YouTube link. The only way to get it is by clicking here.
- An infographic on how to come up with a great nonfiction book concept. If you have a few scattered ideas but you’re struggling to bring them together, this tool is going to help a lot.
Grab it all by clicking here.
Are you working on a nonfiction book proposal? What’s your proposed book about?
7 ways to make your book proposal stand out. Click to tweet.
How to put your book proposal in the top 5%. Click to tweet.
Chad is a writer, editor, speaker, entrepreneur, and creativity coach. He is the creator of Book Proposal Academy and serves as editorial director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. He blogs regularly at chadrallen.com, and you can connect with him via Twitter or Facebook.
M. Simone Boyd
I *literally* burst into a fit of laughter when I read this line “I nearly sprinted to the nearest jeweler.” Thank you SO much for the guidance…the tip on including information about your growing platform is comforting.
I’m working an a fiction proposal about a grandmother that fights to keep her grandson from a curse that’s haunted her family for generations. The goal is to help shed light on the struggles we’re seeing in Ferguson, Baltimore, and many other places. Blessings…Simone
Simone … wonderful topic to cover. Proud of you. 🙂
M. Simone Boyd
Shelli, you are SUCH an encouragement to me (and so many). Someone said that on your blog yesterday! So grateful for you, Friend.
Your novel sounds powerful, Simone…and deeply needed. Bless you for taking that on.
M. Simone Boyd
Kiersti, I just stopped by your blog (which I love!) and it’s just what you said “we’re living in a war zone.” But sometimes we forget. Thanks for the kind words…we’ll see what God does with it. Blessings…Simone
Thanks for your encouragement, Simone! I’ve enjoyed your blog too. 🙂 Blessings!
Can’t wait to read it, Simone! Love how you’re tackling vital social issues in what I KNOW will be an engaging story. You will educate and inspire as well as entertain. Now just write that killer proposal… ?
Thanks for the info about including alternative titles. I did some brainstorming with my critique group for my current WIP and chose the one I liked the best. Now I’ll give the agent/editor a chance to chime in. My last book title was changed drastically from “My Dad Wears Diapers” to “The Caregiving Season.” 🙂
Jane, I cracked up at your initial title. The final decision is much gentler, but I’m sure many people can relate to the first one too.
Hi Jane, I’m so glad you changed your title. I work in a pharmacy, and you’d be amazed at how many people refer to adult undergarments/pads/whatever as diapers. It always makes me a little sad at the loss of dignity some adult children inflict on their parents.
I’m sure “The Caregiving Season” is a wonderful book and will attract many readers! 🙂
Jane, I know you have to keep your sense of humor through it all. When my grandmother was dealing with dementia, she would always say something that brought me laughter … and my love always grew for her. She’d brought so much laughter and joy to me all my life …
My family (my parents and sister and I) lived with and cared for my grandmother for over eight years while she had dementia. Definitely a challenging season…but not without its lighter side. We started writing down in a little book all the hilarious and cute things she would say. 🙂
I know what you mean, Kiersti! 🙂 My favorite was when she was in a rehab place … and she told my dad that I had hired all those people to help her. I had done so good! 🙂 Then once, she thought I was someone visiting her from her church. 🙂 Got so tickled. Oh, I miss her.
That’s so precious, Shelli. One time I was helping my grandma take off her shoes, and she looked at her feet in amazement and said, “I didn’t know they could do that!” 🙂
Janet, thank you for sharing this space with Chad.
Chad, thank you for sharing your wisdom.
*Count me joyously in with Jane about the list of titles. ‘Tis good to know there’s a place other than the dust bin for the also-rans (on second thought, some also-rans truly belong in the dust bin).
*I am working on a trilogy of the Trinity, three books describing the intimate relationship with each Person of the Triune God. The first is based on Christ’s words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . .” Envision slipping away to a sacred hide-away to spend time with your best Friend and Savior. The rooms in this spiritual cottage are parables for studying the Bible, dealing with sin, praying for others, accepting yourself, becoming more creative and working through hard times.
I love that you still get goosebumps remembering the life changing day with your wife. My husband always smiles when he tells people the story of how we met, and it always makes me happy.
Thanks for sharing these tips. I’m working on building an audience, and you’ve encouraged me that it’s okay to still be building. You’ve also taught me how important my author bio is. I’m going to make a copy of your post today. Thanks so much!
You’re most welcome, Jackie! Keep on keeping on!
What an awesome post, Chad. Thank you so much for sharing as well as providing access to your resource kit.
Must be Caregiving Day at Books and Such, because my nonfiction proposal is provisionally called “The Long Goodbye – When our Spouse Is Dying”. And I’m the one doing the dying.
* Great post, but I do have two questions –
1) I’m working on getting endorsements; I have three lined up from counseling professionals who are familiar with my writing, and will be looking for more. I understand that it would be good to get nationally-known heavyweights on board, but how is that done without direct entree?
2) Given that I am fatally ill, participating in a long-term marketing plan may be seen as unrealistic. Should I have a support team in place with the submission of the proposal? How might I handle this so as not to scare off a potential agent or publisher?
* Thank you for sharing this with us, Chad, and thank you, Janet, for bringing us this illumination of a Mysterious Dark.
A further question, if I may…the book is based on a long-term series of blog posts, but it will be quite different in tone and organization. The connection to the blog will be evident from the most cursory examination, so how might I overcome the “it’s just a collection of essays” first impression.
* For what it may be worth here are some of the titles that I will send along –
1) When Your Spouse Is Circling The Drain
2) Yipee, We’re All Gonna Die! (Just make Sure Your Spouse Goes First) – bit too 60s, you think?
3) Welcome To The Dead Zone – And Have We Got A Job For You!
4) Put Down The Shovel, I’m Still Breathing!
Andrew, my husband has always said, “No one gets out alive.” The two of you must have been separated at birth.
Andrew, Chad might not have time to answer specific questions, so I’ll step in to respond. Regarding your first question about endorsements, it’s all about networking. Start with the network you already have: your doctors, military connections, PTSD specialists. Ask them if they would be willing to approach regional or national colleagues as a means of introduction for you, and a request that they be open to listening to you tell your story and then consider endorsing your book.
I doubt you’ll have a hard time putting a support team in place to help with long-range and long-term marketing and promotion. It’s an excellent idea and aligns logically with the topic of your book.
Thanks, Mary! That is what I will do. I really appreciate your taking the time to step in.
Chad, your story about your wife is just lovely … gave me goosebumps, too. And your tender heart … a rare jewel. I’ve been working on a fiction proposal about making one thing better for foster children. I was blessed to write a cover story on the topic … huge eye-opener … and the topic seeped into my heart. It needed more attention. I have been thinking about alternate titles, but I hadn’t included them yet … so thank you for that. And thank you for sharing the encouraging words over our platform’s growth. You offer hope.
Chad, thank you for this delightful, concise and helpful post. Putting our best foot forward is a whole lot easier to do when we know the level of quality and craftsmanship the publisher appreciates and expects. It is advice I will heed when the appropriate opportunity manifests itself, hopefully soon. I’ve got a few books in the works. Appreciate the resource kit, thanks.
You’re welcome, Norma.
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, Chad and Janet, for this proposal information. I’m definitely going to sign up for the bonus material.
Chad, I loved hearing about how your wife captured your heart. I met my husband at a barbecue and offered my extra piece of chicken to him (that was our first conversation and meeting). We’ve been married for over 32 yrs now.
I’m hoping to have both fiction and nonfiction work published. As I wait to hear back about a fiction project/proposal that’s being read, I’ve been learning about writing a memoir. My byline for my two main blogs is: My Faith is Not Shallow Because I’m Been Rescued From the Deep. So as you can tell, my memoir would be a recovery story.
Should I continue to keep two separate sites, fiction and nonficton?
Is it better to write the whole memoir first? Or should I write sample chapters and a proposal first?
Blessings ~ Wendy
Since I’m a romance writer, I loved your opening, Chad. I promise not to use it in an upcoming book unless I can really disguise it. Regarding the inclusion of alternate titles – key idea. Shows the author can think outside the boundaries of a pet title. Sigh. Been there, had to do that.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
*IF* I was to write non-fiction, I’d write a book entitled “How A Wallflower Woke Up, Ripped Away The Wallpaper, And Took On The World”.
“It’s A Miracle Jennifer Major Isn’t In Jail”.
Thank you for the visit, Chad!
Thanks, Chad. If any of you haven’t visited Chad’s blog yet, I recommend you do so. It’s one of my regular stops on the Internet highway.
Thank you for such an informative post. Going to bookmark this one for when I am ready to publish.