How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

A book proposal is an important exercise for all hopeful authors. Yes, I said “all,” which includes both self published and traditionally published authors.

A book proposal is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever write. But if you hope to turn out a good product, you’ll be glad that you took the time out to compile one.

The reason that I think everyone should write a proposal is because it prompts you to answer vital questions that fine tune your focus, thus affecting the outcome of the book.

If you are hoping to traditionally publish a book, you must have a completed proposal to present to the publisher. Even if you are merely looking for a literary agent they will ask you for a copy of your proposal.

A mistake that many hopeful authors make is assuming they can bypass the proposal and wow the publisher with their writing.

Sorry, but no. Don’t expect special treatment. Even celebrities submit proposals.

An acquisition agent is the first to review the proposal. If it interests him or her, it is then presented to the next level of the publishing company. The proposal must be flawless, there should be a hook, and the content must stand out from the crowd.

Note: most of the bigger publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Your best plan of action should be securing an agent who can submit the proposal for you. (Pssst.. authors will often list their agents name in the acknowledgement section of their books. You might want to snoop around if you’re looking for one).

The information contained in this post is relevant to a non-fiction proposal. Two or three chapters are included with a non-fiction proposal. Do not include more.

Fiction books are handled differently, and would have to be discussed in another post.

Proposal Outline


Place title, subtitle and author’s name on page one. These three elements are the only thing on page one, unless you have an agent. If so, also include “presented by,” and their contact information.

Distinguishing Feature

This is the hook for your book. What makes it different? Why would a publisher want it? Does it fulfill a need? Your hook must be compelling. Keep this to one or two sentences.


Think “back cover text” here, except for the sake of the proposal, we’ll want that text to be one half to one page long. This is your chance to make potential publishers hungry for the rest of your book.

Primary Audience

2-3 sentences
Who is your primary audience, and why does this book fulfill their need?

Comparable Books

List 4-5 books here.
Don’t go skipping this part because you think that your book is unique. All books should be unique. And if you do skip or skimp on this step, you might appear lazy to a publisher.

This is an important element in the proposal, and publishers will want to see it so they have an idea of what to expect from the competition. Be kind when comparing. You don’t want to come across as pompous.

In the old days, before any of us knew about Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I spent an afternoon in the bookstore taking notes and researching books. It was extremely time consuming. Life online has made this step much easier, but make sure to Google the topic as well to see if there are any free eBooks that compete.

Use this format to list comparables:
Format (paperback/hardcover and page count)
Direct Comparison – How is this book different? In what ways is it the same?

Marketing Channels

This is where you outline your plan to sell the book. The publishing industry is competitive, and authors need a strong platform if they hope to get published. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a publisher will snap up your book based on content alone. You must have good content and good marketing channels.

Marketing channels may include connections you have to television and radio. They’ll also want to know if you have a built in audience such as a blog with a large email list. If so include numbers. Also include social media numbers such as Twitter and Facebook followers.

Are you a public speaker? If so how often do you speak? How large is your audience? Include all relevant information.

They’ll want to know your current potential. It’s not so much what you are hoping to provide as what you are able to deliver.


If you have any influential connections, approach them and ask, “Would you consider reviewing my book for possible endorsement.”

Possibilities might include a celebrity, a popular author, a popular blogger, a ministry leader, etc.

And… sorry, but if you’re thinking of approaching me, I can’t. I’d love to say yes to everyone, but reading a book is putting way too much on my already busy plate.  

Author Bio

This would be similar to a bio found on the back of your book, but likely a bit longer. Your credentials should reflect the fact that you are the best person to write this book.

Publishing Credits

Include books, magazines, newspapers, and popular blogs. If you’ve written a book before, include the number of books sold.


(should look something like this)
The manuscript could be completed within four months after forming an agreement with the publisher. Estimated length of manuscript is 50,000 words/12 chapters.

FYI paperback non-fiction books are generally a minimum of 50,000 words/200 pages. 

Also include any special features like recipes or a Q & A section at the back of the book.

Content Overview

What is the overall content going to look like? This is different from the overview section above.

This is where you may describe the specifications of the book such as, “Each of the seven chapters are based on the fruit of the Spirit as found in Galatians chapter 5. The overall feel of the book is whimsical, playful, and fun.”
Some authors prefer to omit this part if there isn’t anything specifically unique about the content.

Chapter Outlines

This section is time intensive, but very important. List each chapter title along with a one-paragraph synopsis.

Sample Chapters

Include two or three sample chapters. These do not have to be the first chapters in the book. You’ll want to include your best chapters with the proposal.

Like I said, a book proposal is a lot of work. Expect to spend a week, if not more, working on this. But here’s the good news. Once you have it all complete, you’ll have a stronger focus, some amazing back cover text, chapter titles, and a book proposal that’s sure to get your book noticed.

Isn’t your book worth it?

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