Writing non fiction book proposals: Rita Rosenkranz

One of the presentations at PNWA this past weekend focused on writing non fiction book proposals, those business-side documents that outline what the market is for a non fiction title and the pitch on why this new idea will sell, sell, sell. Rita Rosenkranz, one of the agents at this year’s conference, presented. I missed the first 15 minutes at an editor’s session, but here are my notes for the rest of her talk. While I’d learned much of this by making mistakes over the past year, I also found a lot of new information that I think will be really helpful for future projects.

What to put in your non fiction book proposal:

On the cover page:

  • Title
  • Book Proposal at top
  • Subtitle
  • Author info lower right or left hand corner—don’t bury the contact info.

Follow the file format the agent asks for.

Table of Contents (TOC) page—all the sections of the proposal with page numbers

The Overview—should make a case for the book and author showing how it meets a need on the publishing market. Create context for the book. What is the argument for the book. Why does this book need to be? It should not feel generic. It should be about a page, maybe a page and a half. Make sure that you’re not overwriting. Outline your social context that makes the book attractive to a market. Identi the market as well as you can, but don’t overreach or the agent won’t trust you. Talk about what’s practical and what you can control. Know how long it will take you to complete the work, and say it.

Qualifications—personal experience, professional expier., history as a public speaker.

Competition—would the editor agree with your opinion? How will the receiver review your work? What other books are in this market? Look at Amazon to see if your book has merit. You may see all the other books and worry your market is saturated. You have to make an honest case for your book and the reasons you’re particularly suited to write this book. List competing titles by title, publisher, year, and price. Include a description of the strengths and weaknesses of it. What is your twist? How will your book sell differently? Give about a page and half. The summaries should be concise, not long-winded. Different categories will require different time spans you’ll have to go back. Some books are old but still very ore sent in the marketplace.

Audience—be clear about your intended audience, even if it includes cross over. Is it a niche readership, and can you lifer demographics?

Marketing—will you have special sales? Will you buy quantities up front? That won’t clinch the deal, but it’s good to note. Many folks assume back room sales. What Web sites will mention your work? Are there natural tie Ins on the call dar to your work? Are there hooks to your work that could pique media interest? Are you a member of associations that could help with marketing? Could ppl you interviewed for the book help you market it? Read book marketing books. Not all marketing costs a lot of money. Put in your solid platform plan. Red hot internet publicity. Get known before the book deal.

Blurbs—get advanced blurbs for a submission if you can. Not necessary, but helpful. Quotes help attract attention to the work, requires advance planning, you must send the best version of your book to your blurb writers. Avoid using your relatives.

Include the book’s actual introduction, so you can show the voice. It should run no longer than three pages.

Book’s TOC. This sets up the body of work. It prompts a customer’s purchase. Should be comprehensive with a logical layout.

Sample chapters. Must see the first one, to show me how you frame the work and how it will welcome me. Also a key chapter that is a signature of the work, even ifi it’s chapter 20. If you have more chapters ready, let me know, so I can look at them if I want to see more. They will help me determine If I will bond with the author and will want to invest my time. You can put in a handful of graphs or illustrations if you think they’ll help make the book clear to me.

Book content—this should come at the end, since everything has been leading up to it. But don’t stress about the order of the other things.

It’s the single most important thing to sell the nonfiction book. It shows the editor what will be coming. No editor would consider an oral presentation an adequate substitution. The actual writing of the proposal is useful to yourself to work through what you’re writing, to make it the best book possible. It will help you reevaluate the work and that you’re presenting it the best way you can.

Cover letters are very important. The cover letter will show that you can communicate what the book is about, why it’s exciting. You must be adept at articulating what it is. It is your most effective advantage to getting your foot in the door. As a rule, a summary of the work. Just be clear, not lyrical. Second paragraph, about you. How are you aligned with your subject? No disconnects. Avoid saying the work is hard to describe. Don’t say you have 25 unpublished works. Manage a tone that jibes with the book. Limit yourself to one page. Include full contact Info. Don’t go on vacation the next day.

Rejections: we are all rejected, agents too. Rejections are part of our environment. What is in this letter that will help me get better? Don’t let rejection crush you. Be smart and savvy and know that rejection that tells you something is a gift. You’ll be able to get on to the job of selling your work.

Look at Amazon sales. Does the category consistently do well? Some of the numbers on amazon are misleading. Agents have bookscan, though. Just get a rough guess. Obviously bestsellers are doing well.

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3 Comments on “Writing non fiction book proposals: Rita Rosenkranz”

  1. July 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Thanks for posting your notes! I didn’t make it to this presentation and it’s interesting to see the overlap with selling fiction.

    • evmaroon
      July 29, 2010 at 5:28 am #

      There was quite an overlap, yes. I found it helpful to see how close or far my proposal is from her do’s and don’t list.


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