Your query letter helps you get the attention of a literary agent or acquisitions editor at a publishing house, but your nonfiction book proposal keeps these publishing professionals’ attention. This document sells both you and your book. It proves you are a good business partner for a publisher and that your book is a viable, or marketable, product. You see, in most cases, today it’s not enough simply to be a good writer with a good idea.
Today, Day #15 of National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), literary agent Michael Larsen, author of How to Write a Book Proposal, offers invaluable advice on how to produce a book proposal that proves you and your book are ready for publication. If you are working on a book during the Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) Challenge and want to later become a traditionally published author, you want to read this guest post carefully—and apply these four tips when you are ready to write your nonfiction book proposal.
Selling a Nonfiction Book Proposal in 2014: 4 Things You Need to Know
By Michael Larsen
Publishers buy most nonfiction on the basis of a proposal with an overview about you and your book, an outline, and a sample chapter (narrative nonfiction requires more than one sample chapter). But to sell a proposal in 2014, there are four things you need to know:
1. Your Goals
Writers who approach me as an agent are usually clear about their literary goals: they know what they want to write and for whom. They aren’t clear about their publishing goals, even though their goals for sales, earnings, and who they want to publish their books determine what and how they write, and what they have to publish and promote their books.
One reason why now is the best time to be a writer is that you have more options for publishing your books than ever. The challenge is to decide which is the best option for you. If you’re writing a promotion-driven book, like a how-to book, and you want it published by a big house, your visibility and promotion plan will determine the editor, publisher, and deal you get for it.
If you’re writing a narrative, prose-driven book like a memoir, which should read like a novel, platform and promotion will be less important but still a factor when publishers are deciding to buy a book.
The smaller the house you’ll be happy with, the less important platform and promotion are. But it’s essential that your publishing goals are in harmony with your ability to achieve them. Talk to authors in your field to help you choose the right goals for you and your book, and then do what it takes to achieve them.
2. How to Embrace the Holy Trinity of Discoverability
To get the best editor, publisher, and deal for your book, you have to maximize the value of it before you sell it. After writing your proposal as well as you can, the three keys to making it as valuable to publishers as you can are:
- Building communities of people to help you succeed
- Building your platform, your continuing visibility, online and off, on the subject of your book, with potential book buyers
- Test-marketing your book online and off
These three keys are The Holy Trinity of Discoverability, a hugely important word to publishers, for whom it keeps getting harder to launch books and authors.
Marketing guru Seth Godin says: “The best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out.” It may take that long to maximize the value of your book. It takes as long as it takes, so if you want to be published by a big house, you need to have the patience to nurture your baby until you’re ready to give birth to it.
3. How to Make Every Word Count
Agents and editors love discovering new writers, but they’re only reading far enough to make a decision, so it’s crucial that every word you write, starting with the first word of your query letter, motivates them to read the next word. You can’t get your work 100% by yourself; build a community of readers to help you.
4. How to Make a Video
YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. Short videos can be an effective way to test-market and promote your book. A compelling mini-version of your proposal, up to two minutes long, can be an essential supplement for selling your proposal. Make your video as visually appealing as you can. But even if it is shot on your phone and you’re only a talking head, it will show agents and editors how well you come across and your passion for and commitment to writing and promoting your book. Add a link to the video at the end of your bio in your proposal.
About the Author
Michael Larsen and his wife and partner Elizabeth Pomada worked in publishing in New York before moving to San Francisco and starting Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in 1972. They are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and have sold hundreds of books to more than 100 publishers and imprints.
Mike is eager to find adult nonfiction writers with ideas, writing ability, a platform, and a promotion plan that will assure the success of their books. He’s looking for books with social, literary, or practical value, and has a consulting service for writers he can’t help as an agent.
Mike is the author of the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal, which has sold more than 100,000 copies. He also wrote How to Get a Literary Agent, now in its third edition, and is coauthor of the second edition of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 No-Cost, Low-Cost Weapons for Selling Your Work.