Writing a Nonfiction Book Isn’t Hard

I was writing fiction stories and books when my editor at Schiffer Publishing, Dinah Roseberry, posted on the forum for Mid-Atlantic Horror Professionals. She asked if anyone wanted to write about ‘real’ ghost stories, and not made up ones.

I thought about what I knew about ghost stories and legends in the Richmond, Virginia area (where I live) and checked out their website to see what books they already had out (none of them were about Richmond ghosts).

Next thing I did, I googled about book proposals.

Wait a moment! Book proposal? You do not write out the whole manuscript, edit it, and submit it with a synopsis, to the publisher? That is what everyone does for fiction.

Nonfiction writing is a whole new ball of wax, for those of you who never done it. Publishers of nonfiction books (and nonfiction articles, too) rather have you submit a proposal about what you will be working on, not see the finished product.

Writing a book proposal is often the most fun part of writing a book because at this stage everything is open to change and you can use your full creativity to structure and organize the book however you wish

If you wrote the book already, maybe submitting a sample chapter might be nice. If you do submit that sample chapter, in a proposal, the sample chapter is formatted precisely like a chapter in a manuscript.

They may also ask for a synopsis, so have one ready, too. An outline can be asked for (my publisher had asked one from me for the fifth nonfiction ghost book coming out August 2015).

If there will be photographs in your book, a couple of them might be nice. If you do not have the photos, then let them know at the time. But do tell them how many will be used for the book (if they use photos, find out the number they like for their books).

Read what their submission guidelines so you will know for sure what the publisher wants. In this, it would be the same as for fiction—always know the guidelines of each publisher you are submitting to. And do what they ask to the letter.

Do not do it your way or you will find your submission rejected right off the bat.

What do you need for that book proposal? Here are the constituent parts of the book proposal, in the order they should appear:

  • The title page
  • The overview, a comprehensive document that leaves both the agency screener and the editorial assistant with no doubt whatsoever about how to answer the following questions:

✔ What is the proposed book will be about, and why are you the single best being with an operational circulatory system and fingers to write about it?

✔ What is the central question or problem of the book? Why the topic is important, and to whom?

✔  Why is this book needed now, as opposed to any other time in literary history?

✔ Who is the target audience for this book? (This one and the next two are all about marketing and promotion—the dreaded two words to a writer, but essential these days whether self-published, published by a small press, medium press, or NYC publisher.)

✔ Why will this book appeal to the target audience as no book currently on the market does?

✔ How will your platform enable you to reach this target audience better than anyone else who might even think about writing this book?

✔ How strong a writer are you, and is this voice appropriate to the proposed book’s subject matter and target audience?

  • The competitive market analysis
  • The annotated table of contents

✔ Outline. (If you haven’t written the whole book yet, you can always change where chapters will be—at least, nothing I wrote in my outline and how the final manuscript ended up like upset my editor. The outline is there to show what will be in the book.)

✔ Sample chapter. (Usually the first one.)

The annotated table of contents should be written in the third person, regardless of the voice of the proposed book.

That is not true of the rest of the book proposal: the opening pages of book description (and, of course, the sample chapter) should be in the intended voice of the book. So while most nonfiction proposals are written entirely in the third person singular, all memoir proposals should be in the first person.

Yes, the author’s bio is part of the package of the proposal, and with the overview. Modesty here will cost you a book deal.

This is no place for humility.  Tell the publisher what your credentials are related to the topic, but more importantly, every shred of media you have done, media training you have, newsletters or articles you write, things that will tell the publisher that they want you as their author.

Please know this:  a book by a stupid celebrity who has tons of media exposure and barely any credibility on their topic will always get more money and sell faster than one by an obscure professor on an incredibly useful, valuable or important subject.

You have done it. The proposal has been sent to the editor and the editor has the meeting with the publisher. Before not too long, they let you know that you have been accepted to write the book. Crunch time hits, as you receive a contract to read over and sign, with a date of a certain number of months to write, edit, and send it back. You will read books related to the subject you checked out of the library or bought at the bookstore that will be added to your book’s bibliography. You may do some footwork to interview those expert on the subject of your book, take pictures or get permission from places allowing you to use their own photos, and type out the chapters afterwards.

Writing nonfiction may appear to be boring to do at first, but you will find that is not so. Obviously, you are passionate about your subject and that will make writing about it exciting.

Plus it will be a learning experience for you. When I wrote my own nonfiction ghost books, not only did I learn paranormal legends and myths I never knew before, but tidbits of history not in any history book I read.

With all this knowledge, ideas and research for your next fiction novel may have been born even.

The next time you are offered the chance to write a nonfiction book, accept the offer. It is not a scary thing to be avoided, but something to embrace and write.

Being able to write both fiction and nonfiction will make you a well-rounded writer. Besides, you just may even learn something new, the same as your future readers will.

Now, go write that book proposal!

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Radu Balas

Radu is the Founder of Publishing Addict and author of "Sell More Books Using Your Author Website | The Easiest Way To Brand, Build, Market, and Manage Your Authorship" Soon available on Amazon.

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