Columns > Published on April 2nd, 2012

Ask The Lit Coach: "What Is The Ideal Length For A Nonfiction Book Proposal?" and More

How long should a book proposal be to capture the attention of the publishing world? Is it okay to mention your previously published skeletons to an agent when querying? These are the burning topics this week on Q&A with The Lit Coach.

Question from Jill S. from Los Angeles

What is the ideal length for a nonfiction book proposal? 

Not counting your two to three sample chapters, your nonfiction book proposal should be no longer than 10-15 pages. Within those 10-15 pages, you must convince an agent, editor and publishing team that you and your book deserve a place on the shelf based on several key factors:

The Overview - A very succinct and powerful synopsis of your book and its purpose.

The Market - Who is going to buy your book? 

Competitive Analysis - What books are similar to yours? How do they compare? How did they perform in the market? What does your book offer that others don't?

The Promotion - How will you promote your book? What steps will you take to ensure the sale of your book?

Author Bio - Who are you and why are you the #1 person to write this book.

Table of Contents/Outline - A traditional table of contents followed by a brief paragraph explaining what each chapter is about.

Then, of course, you'll provide two to three sample chapters and any additional marketing information you feel is compelling (magazine or newspaper articles proving your topic is hot; advance praise from big names in your field or celebrities). 

Even if after you head down the traditional road and decide you'd rather self publish your book as an eBook first, I would urge you to complete the first four steps of the book proposal so you're clear about what your book is about, your market, who your competition is, why you're the perfect person to write your book and how you're going to strategically promote the heck out of it. 

Jeff Herman's, Write The Perfect Book Proposal has always been one of my favorite references. 

Good luck!

Question from Andrew W., Chicago

I have previously self-published two novels that didn't sell very well and am currently querying agents with my third. Should I mention my previous novels in my query?

If your self-published novels haven't sold through a conservative print run (5,000 copies per novel) within one year of publication, I would not mention these titles in your query to agents - consider them a practice run. For whatever reason these books didn't sell - poor writing, bad cover, poor PR push, poor social media strategy - it doesn't matter at this point. Learn from the experience and move on. I think we'll be seeing a lot of this sort of issue with the rise of self ePublishing. 

FYI, for all you potential self pubbers, the first year your book is on the shelf you've got to hit the ground ready to sell your book. If you do plan to use your self pubbed e or print book as a platform booster, your first year's sales will determine whether or not a traditional publisher will take interest in your follow-up title. 

Follow this formula:

Three months PR prior to book launch - send out specifically targeted press releases (not blanket press releases); make contact with all your local area book sellers - send them a media pack and follow-up with them, etc.  

Book Launch - Event time! You should be everywhere online and in person talking about your book. If you're not sick to death of talking about your book, you're not talking about it enough. (It's okay to be sick of your book after a few weeks of this. Totally normal). 

Three months post book launch - continue to make yourself available for events in person or online. It may be time to get creative with events - collaborate with other authors about putting together events or workshops where your books could be sold. Be open to contributing content for book/publishing/writing websites and blogs so long as they provide an opportunity for readers to click and buy your book.  

Good luck, Andrew!

Thanks for your questions, LitReactors! Now go do something worth writing about. 

About the author

ERIN REEL is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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