How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

In the non-fiction world, book publishing starts with writing an amazing query letter. And after that? Send in your book? Nope. If you get past the query-letter round in non-fiction publishing you then move on to book proposal. There are many ways to put together a proposal but here is what I’ve learned about how to write a non-fiction book proposal in the past few months of, well, learning how to write a non-fiction book proposal.

How to write a non-fiction book proposal

In 2017 I had a goal of pitching a book to an agent at a writer’s conference. Yes, OK I also wanted to acquire an agent but I knew it was a long shot. In my reading about the industry I knew the path to publishing was a windy road and there was so much I still had to learn. But I did want to practice pitching (which is something I recommend doing often!) and I did want to get started. Doing it in person added that much more intensity. And live feedback. Yikes.

I knew enough to book appointments with agents who represented non-fiction and I practiced my pitch a few times over so I could deliver it without reading. My query letter was prepped and printed and I had supplementary ideas and media kits printed off in the event I should need it. However, I was not prepared for one agent asking me for my book proposal while I was pitching. It threw me off a bit, since in the conference instructions it said to limit my documents to a query letter. Whoops. A second agent asked me to send my book proposal “in a few months.” In the moment I thought…a few months? I’ll have it ready next week!

Months Later

Uh…writing a book proposal takes longer than I thought. And even though it’s not the entire book it’s still a big project.

Here’s what I’ve learned in these months since the conference: a book proposal sells your idea to agents and publishers. And the most important thing is to avoid outlining what your book is about but instead highlight why you’re writing it, who you’re serving and how your book will benefit your readers.

Oh, OK. So a non-fiction book proposal is like writing a business marketing plan. I can do that

In my research I’ve discovered there are many different ways of putting together a non-fiction book proposal. While it’s important to craft your proposal to the specs the agent or publisher asks for, there are also common elements you can prepare ahead of time and reshape into each proposal you send out.

Common elements in a non-fiction book proposal


Your overview describes your idea and what you’re trying to accomplish. You want this to be succinct yet descriptive—in the marketing world it’s your elevator pitch; in the business world it’s your executive summary. Depending on the agent or publisher, this should be between 500 words and five pages. Yes. That is quite a range. Pay attention to instructions.

Target markets/audience

It’s tempting to think your book will appeal to everyone or to the masses in general, but in the marketing world, the more niche, the better. You want to know who you’re helping and what problems you’re solving. The more specific and detailed you can be, the better. The goal of this section is to outline who will purchase your book so don’t hold back from diving into the world of your target reader.

Promotion/marketing plan

I’ve heard other authors describe this as the most important part of your proposal. Although it would be nice to sit back and let someone else be in charge of your marketing the truth is you need to champion your book like your book deal depends on it. Cause, well, it does. This is the place where you call in every favour and think of any and every way to get publicity. Overview your marketing plan with confidence and with as many actual numbers as you can. Outline your platform, present your numbers, and list every media type you can think of and how you plan to get coverage.

Competing works

Drawing attention other books just like yours may seem counter-intuitive but competition shows there’s a market for your work. In your competitive analysis list three to 10 successful titles published within the past few years and demonstrate how your book is different from these titles, without trashing them. You want to create a case for a solid readership waiting for your work, which will complement other books already published in the genre.

About the author

You can repurpose your bio from your query letter and add a bit of flourish. Here you want to demonstrate why and how you are the right author to write your book. Highlight any relevant experience, expertise and credentials. Answer the implied question, how are you qualified to write this book? Why should you write it rather than anyone else? Where are you already active?

Table of contents and chapter outline

Although you don’t have to have your book written yet, you do need to know how the book is going to look when it’s done. This is like a map of your book and should include chapter names, section titles, subtitles and any other relevant information. Outline each chapter by writing a brief summary. The big idea here is to help the agent or publisher know what to expect from your final product.

Writing sample

In this section you want to include between one and three of your strongest chapters, which will give the agent or publisher a good sense of your writing style and the overall book structure.

In the non-fiction world, if you get past the query-letter round then move on to book proposal. There are many ways to put together a proposal but here is what I've learned about how to write a non-fiction book proposal in the past few months of, well, learning how to write a non-fiction book proposal.

Remember, your non-fiction book proposal is what your agent will use to sell your book to publishers. You’re building a case for your book to be published. You’re selling an idea, what you’ll do to promote and support it and enough of a writing sample to showcase your talent and skill.

No problem.

Other helpful posts on how to write a non-fiction book proposal

A Five-Step Plan for Breaking Free from Content Mills

If you’re new to freelance writing you may have heard other writers warn you about content mills. But do you know how to spot them in order to steer clear? And what if you took a gig and found out later it was one of those content mills? How do you break free?

A Five-Step Plan for Breaking Free from Content Mills

For many new writers, the idea of making a living writing is an elusive dream. They aren’t veterans with established credibility, they don’t have strong clippings from reputable sources, and they don’t have a network of colleagues to get advice from. They’re desperate for information but they hear conflicting advice and don’t know who to believe.

So they bid on jobs and take five dollars per article, all the while cold pitching blog after blog and freelance marketplace posting after freelance marketplace posting. Nothing is working. They feel like frauds and wonder if it isn’t better to give up altogether.

Content mills AKA writers mills AKA content farms are all slang terms freelancers give to companies or websites that pump out cheap content intended to drive page views or profits and pay their writers next-to-nothing rates. When you’re just starting out it’s easy to wind up in these content mills because they’re easy gigs to get and many new freelancers don’t know what a good rate is. They’re so flattered and excited to get a job they take it without much consideration.

But wait. Doesn’t everyone start somewhere? And what if you’re already writing for content mills don’t even know it? Or what if you’re writing for content mills and you’re ready to make the break…what’s next?

Five Tips for Breaking Free from Content Mills

  1. Get a website

    If you’re hungry for work you need a website promoting your writing. It doesn’t have to be fancy but you do need to let prospective clients know what kind of writing you do, what kind of writing you have done, and how to get in touch.

    Here are seven essential writer website elements if you’re wondering what you should put on your website.

  2. Write a blog

    Yes this is a lot of work but it’s also a great example of your writing style and voice. This fills in the gaps if you don’t have many good-quality clippings and demonstrates your dedication to the craft.

    On the fence about blogging? Here are four reasons why I think freelancers should have a blog.

  3. Create a marketing plan

    Keep it simple at the beginning, but have a plan. Answer these questions: what type of writing do you want to do, what is your rate, what problems can you solve for your clients, and where are your ideal clients? Then make a plan to get your ideal client’s attention.

    Here are some tips for marketing yourself as a writer without feeling sleazy or braggy.

  4. Ask for help

    This is hard. But in your circle there has got to be at least one person who is willing and able to help you by offering mentorship, advice, or introductions. But you do need to be vulnerable and reach out. If you don’t know where to start you can ask me.

    Joining a writing group is an awesome way to find people who can help you escape content mills. Here are my best tips for finding good writing groups.

  5. Practice pitching

    There’s a whole psychology to pitching and it starts with mindset. If you believe you’re a fraud or you don’t deserve more than five dollars an article then your pitching will reflect that. Practice pitching and work on your confidence. Ask other writers what pitches have worked for them and make adjustments to your approach as necessary.

    Wondering where to start with pitching? Learn how to write a query letter.

By following these five steps you will be on your way to creating a platform and landing clients. And with the support of fellow writers, you’ll pick up even more ways to reach your freelance writing goals.

Content mills aka writers mills aka content farms are all slang terms freelancers give to companies or websites that pump out cheap content intended to drive page views or profits and pay their writers next-to-nothing rates. When you're just starting out freelance writing it's easy to wind up in these content mills because they're easy gigs to get and many new freelancers don't know what a good rate is. Want to break free? Here's your five-step plan for breaking free from content mills.

Want to take your marketing to the next level? Download this free printable

5 Tips for Optimizing Your Social Media Profiles

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What Does a Book Publicist Do for an Author?

What does a book publicist do? In general, this is a broad name for a person who has direct and indirect influence on book sales. So it’s an interesting and important role. But just how does a book publicist affect this positive influence? And what does a book publicist do for an author? And what does it take to be a book publicist?

These are the questions

what does a book publicist do

What does a book publicist do, anyway?

Think of a publicist as both your biggest cheerleader and a teammate on your book marketing team. He or she will champion your book to the media and sing about how wonderful it is. And my, how wonderful that feels.

They have one main goal: get positive press coverage for his or her client. A book publicist gets involved in the process after your book goes to print but (in general) before it’s published.

Here are a few things a book publicist does for an author

  • Gets book reviews
  • Gets articles written about the book or author
  • Nominates book for awards
  • Gets interviews for the author
  • Sets up and promotes virtual book tours
  • Schedules book talks and tours

These are all essential ingredients in the book marketing recipe for success.

Now if only you could look at marketing as a creative outlet instead of a thorn in your side we would all be singing to the bank.

But I digress

Of course an author can do his or her own marketing and if this is something you’re considering, here are some of the required skills.

Here are a few skills a book publicist should have in order to be successful

  • Ability to work with all kinds of different clients (every author is different and requires a different approach)
  • Strong writing and oral skills
  • Strong public relations skills
  • Knowledge of the journalism industry
  • Understanding of what journalists and book bloggers are looking for
  • Outgoing personality
  • Good at networking
  • Organized

(Considering becoming a publicist? For extra credit, read So, You Want to Work in Publishing: The Role of a Publicist)

There’s no question publicity (aka marketing) helps book sales. If people hear about a book they’re more likely to purchase it rather than one they’ve never heard of.

“If you write it they will come,” isn’t really a thing.

And before you get too worked up, I understand this isn’t your favourite thing but I still think you can rock your marketing. And when you need a boost, hire a book publicist.

What does a book publicist do? It's a common question. In general, "book publicist" is a broad name for a person who has direct and indirect influence on book sales. So a book publicist is an interesting and important role. But just how does a book publicist affect this positive influence? And what does a book publicist do for a writer? And how long does it take?

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Get the Hell Into It by Sarah Beth Moore [book review]

Procrastinating on a big project? Letting Big Shiny Object Syndrome get the best of you? It might be time to Get the Hell Into It.

Get the Hell Into It

The subtitle of Sarah Beth Moore’s newest book may cut to the quick even more than her title: Stop Bouncing from Idea to Idea and Learn to See Things Through. Ouch. Also, thank you.

For 12 chapters of teaching and exercises, Moore takes us on a pointed yet lighthearted journey reminding us making our dreams come true is our job, not something we sit around wishing for. Since she’s also a creative soul, Moore speaks from experience about starting projects with great enthusiasm only to quit before beginning (it will probably fail anyway, right?). She also offers strategies for combating the dual devils of procrastination and big shiny object syndrome with the smart takeoff, the 5-percent rule and working forwards (I swear by this one!).

Chapter 9 talks about getting lucky, which I found both uncomfortable and refreshing. I know there’s no luck…but maybe deep down I wonder if I’m just unlucky. You know? Why am I still here, all these years later hustling my butt off watching those who came after me see more success? Moore says don’t even worry about it—becoming successful is not your job. “One more time: You don’t get to pick the timing of your break. It will come when it comes.”

It may be possible to put aside comparison and jealousy if only I can remember my job is to get the job done. Success is not my job. Success is not my job.

If you can accept that you are not in control of your break—that you are not in control of anything but your ability to work hard—then you have a way better chance of getting that break at all.

Yes the artistic, creative life is filled with insecurity and emotion. And it’s important to be gentle and build each other up. But at some point there’s work to do and you need some tough love. You need to get the hell into it and do your job.

Get the Hell Into It: Stop Bouncing from Idea to Idea and Learn to See Things Through (Weenie-Proofing the Artistic Brain Book 2) synopsis

Stop Falling Prey to Shiny Object Syndrome and Start Seeing Ideas Through

What if instead of starting new projects every other week, you actually finished the ones you already have going? What if in a few weeks you started seeing real progress, and in a few months could hold finished manuscripts, paintings or websites in your figurative hand? What if your creativity became a source of empowerment and financial freedom rather than dread, resentment and ever-present bathtub crying?

Professional copywriter and creative Sarah Beth Moore has helped clients double their conversions, written copy for hundreds of entrepreneurs, and coached dozens of amazing creatives in sucker-punching procrastination and actually getting things done. (She spends a lot of time opining about aliens as well, but fewer people pay for that.)

In the course of working with so many aspiring writers, artists and business owners, she’s noticed that beating procrastination doesn’t require superhuman strength. All you need is the right mental mindset, available to anyone willing to look for it. In Get the Hell Into It, you’ll learn:

  • How productivity can work against you BIG TIME
  • What actually lies at the root of the creative urge
  • The real reason creatives quit projects before they even begin (or soon after)
  • Why you’re shooting yourself in the foot with the way you start projects
  • How successful people maintain enthusiasm throughout the entire creative cycle
  • What the 5-Percent Rule is and why it’s so critical to your success
  • What to do when you don’t have a whole day to work on your creativity
    The true meaning of luck (it’s not what you think, dude)
  • How to win big by giving up control
  • The secret nature of doubt and how you can deal with it on REAL terms
  • What editing really means to creatives
  • How to kick booty and see every project through

Get the Hell Into It is the definitive step-by-step guide to overcoming procrastination and Shiny Object Syndrome and actually finishing projects and launching creative dreams—and it’s a process you can follow for life.

Procrastinating on a big project? Letting Big Shiny Object Syndrome get the best of you? The  creative life is filled with insecurity and emotion. And it's important to be gentle and build each other up. But at some point there's work to do and you need some tough love. You need to get the hell into it and do your job.

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5 Important Twitter Tips for Freelance Writers in 2018

It’s 2018 and I’m writing Twitter tips for writers. I know, I thought all the writers would have got the memo by now too.

Just kidding. I know you’re not on Twitter because you’ve heard it’s dead and you don’t understand it and you don’t know what you’d do with 10,000 followers anyway (all real things writers have said to me, by the way). And that’s OK. But I think you should be on Twitter because that’s where the writing people are.
twitter tips for writers

Like, all of them.

  • Agents
  • Editors
  • Publishers
  • Publications
  • Authors
  • Freelance Writers
  • All the writing people

Because everyone’s there, and you are a writer, I’d like to take this opportunity to prompt you to re-consider being there. Or if you haven’t visited in a while, to log back in.

Pull up a chair and get ready to take some notes, because these are the five most important things to pay attention to on Twitter if you want to connect with any of the types of people listed above.

Twitter Tips for Writers

Use the @mention tool as much as possible.

One of Twitter’s strengths is giving you direct access to people you don’t know, but want to. And when you @mention someone (this means tagging the Twitter user in a tweet) it grabs their attention and helps them notice you in a not-creepy way.

Even though the landscape has changed over the years, Twitter is still all about connecting. When you compose tweets, you should be thinking about who you can mention in it.

For example

  • If you’re sharing a great article you read, @mention the person who wrote it and the publication that published it
  • If you’re tweeting about having a great writing session at the local coffee shop, @mention who you were with and where
  • If you’re at a writing conference or event @mention the speaker you’re watching and the conference you’re attending

By integrating @mentions into your tweeting strategy it helps keeps your content focused, relays valuable information to your followers, and helps you make connections.

Use hashtags; use the right hashtags.

Because Twitter is all about connecting, people use hashtags to find and follow information or people. They’re so important on Twitter. Maybe I’m preaching the the choir here, and you already understand hashtag best practices but I’ll mention it again just in case. Hashtags are meant to help people find you and connect with you. So using hashtags and using the right hashtags is pretty important.

If you’re wondering how to find hashtags, I have a little guide here and some hashtags for writers to get you started.

Using the examples above, here are a few hashtags you could try. Remember, we’re using hashtags to connect with people so we’re not making up our own or trying to be clever. Those are throwaways.

  • If you’re sharing a great article you read and want other writers to check it out, try #bookrecommendations #amreading or #writingtip
  • If you’re tweeting about having a great writing session why not try #writerslife #writersgroup or #critiquegroup
  • If you’re at a writing conference or event make sure to use the event hashtag along with whatever the topic is about (e.g. #writingprompts or #writingcommunity etc.)

Use lists.

As far as Twitter tips go, this is the one that’s made the most difference to my Twitter experience. Lists keep things streamlined, which—if you’ve followed me for any amount of time—you know I’m a big fan of.

Lists are curated groups of Twitter users, making it possible to spend less time on Twitter and yet take strategic connecting to the next level. Your lists can be public or private and I recommend a mix of both. Here are a few lists you can create, just to get the creative juices flowing.

  • Agents you want to connect with
  • Writers you admire
  • People you want to work for or collaborate with
  • Local people you want to keep track of
  • People you meet at writing events

Once you create these types of lists, you then start adding Twitter users to them. If your list is public the user is notified when you add them to the list. If your list is private then no one knows about it and no one can see or follow your list. I have a few lists of people I’d like to connect with or work with and I keep those private, but some of my lists are curated based on types of writing and I keep those public so others can benefit from them if they want to follow my lists.

Twitter tip within a Twitter tip: If you don’t know much about Twitter lists but want to try them, here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up a list.

Complete and optimize your bio.

Your Twitter bio HAS to be complete AND optimized. You can’t be vague or clever or witty here, not if you want to make strategic connections. And the best way to make these connections is by ensuring your profile makes people want to connect with and follow you.

Here are five quick tips for optimizing your Twitter profile. If you want these tips in more detail and download form I have a free printable for you: 5 Tips for Optimizing Your Social Media Profiles.

  • Choose a professional/standout profile picture and cover photo
  • Make it easy for people to know who you are and what you do
  • Link to your website
  • Include keywords about your services
  • Be clear on your location/contact info

These are kind of basic tips but there are so many profiles out there missing one or more of these key elements. Let’s back up for a second and remember why we’re doing Twitter tips in the first place: We’re freelance writers looking to make connections with writing industry people. In order to make a good first impression and grab their attention, we want our Twitter profiles to be complete and optimized.

Understand Twitter best practices.

As far as Twitter tips go, this is one of those “duh” ones. If you want to succeed on Twitter, you have to understand how to use it properly and abide by its best practices. So while you want to create a strategy where you’re not on the platform 24/7, you also want to understand it enough to use it properly. What does this mean? Well, here are a few things that come to mind.

  • It means you don’t just set up your tweets to send out and never engage with others
  • It means you don’t spam people with self-promotion, you send valuable and on-brand content to your followers
  • It means you don’t stalk people! You follow them, you retweet them when appropriate, and you watch for opportunities to make genuine connections
  • It means you’re not just there for what you can get out the platform but you’re also there to be generous and add value
  • It means you join the conversation when you can, in real time.

Twitter, like all of social media, thrives on generosity. When you provide relevant information and entertainment and build genuine relationships you become a part of a vibrant community that you contribute to and also benefit from. By following best practices it ensures you aren’t seen as a spammer or someone just out for themselves. Also, it keeps you from getting kicked off Twitter. Which happens.

I hope these five Twitter tips help clarify a few things for what you should do on Twitter and why. There’s lots more we can cover like what to tweet, how to make connections, and how to curate all this valuable content you’re supposed to share. If you want to go deeper on any of these topics get in touch. I do offer social media coaching and training, customized to your unique needs.

It's 2018 and I'm writing Twitter tips for writers. I know you're not there because you've heard it's dead and you don't understand it and you don't know what you'd do with 10,000 followers anyway. And that's OK. But I think you should be on Twitter because that's where the writing people are.

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