Ahem. Now onto the post.
While I don't do much adult nonfiction, I do get asked quite a bit from clients what I think of a nonfiction proposal they'd like to draw up and shop around.
It's not an issue at all to write fiction and nonfiction; however, there are a few key things to know if you're looking to break into this area:
Before you even start drafting up your idea into proposal form, stop and consider your platform. It's very common to confuse this term with experience; platform is not experience. It answers the following question in a way that leaves absolutely no room for follow up: Why are YOU the person to write THIS book?
For example: say you want to put together a writing handbook for other authors, with tips and tricks of the trade.
Ok. So why are YOU the person to write THIS book?
Because you've been writing for over ten years, and have published three novels.
So have others; why YOU?
A good answer, incorporating platform, would be: I've been writing for over ten years. All of my novels have appeared on numerous bestseller lists, including USA Today and The New York Times. My blog, XXX, receives over 100,000 hits a day, and I've been teaching workshops and online seminars for the past five years, brining in approximately 1,000 attendees per year. My programs are growing, and I anticipate having over 2,000 attendees in the next year. Success stories from my workshops include bestsellers X, X and X. In addition, I have completed a Master's in Writing and Literacy, and guest post at HowToWrite.com, which has over 500,000 hits a year. My posts regularly see 10,000 hits within the first few days. I regularly speak at conferences as well, including X, X, X. Endorsements from my program include: "OH MY GAWD SHE IS SO AWESOME!!"
In other words, as Jane Friedman says so very well: "It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform....[platform] gives you power to market effectively....it’s about making waves that attract other people to you." (Seriously, read her full post, it's incredible.)
Needless to say, platform isn't something you can build quickly. But it's also not unattainable. If you were this writer interested in writing a how-to for other writers whose answer was the first above, you can still do it; step one is simply going to be building your platform.
Step two, of course, is your PROPOSAL. This piece convincingly answers the following question: Why THIS book NOW?
I understand why it is that YOU should write this book; but why should anyone PUBLISH this book?
The tools you'll prepare to answer that question:
- Project Synopsis/Summary: an overview of what exactly it is you're writing, and why (what is the audience, what is missing in the current field that your book brings, why will people care).
- Market/Competition: What else is out there that's like your book? And don't say: nothing. That doesn't help me either; even if there are no other books just like yours, what other books are your audience buying that yours will be better than, and why?
- Author Platform & Bio: see above!
- Chapter Overview/TOC: an outline, with brief (1-2 sentence) descriptions on what each chapter will contain
- Sample Chapter: This doesn't have to be the first chapter; it could be any bit of it. Though it's most typical to be the introduction and/or first chapter. After all, you could be killin' it at selling this thing...but I need to see if you can actually write*, too!
*It's not uncommon to have a ghostwriter in nonfiction; it is uncommon, however, for a publisher to want to front this cost unless you're presenting a Big Book. If you want to go this route, expect to have to royalty and/or advance share or front this yourself. You'll typically want to have the ghostwriter in place before you sell the proposal. When you're looking, you'll want to make sure your ghostwriter is up to snuff too. Read: what else have they done? Get referrals and and references!
- http://thewritelife.com/author-platform/ (it even includes a pie chart of what goes into platform):