How to Write a Book Proposal: A 19-Step Guide for Nonfiction Writers

How to Write a Book Proposal: A 19-Step Guide for Nonfiction Writers

As a literary agent at Trident Media Group, a plethora of nonfiction book ideas come across my desk.

So many people think they have a book in them, but it takes more than merely being audacious to see a book through to publication.

What’s unique about nonfiction is it can be sold on a proposal-basis to book publishers. That’s because it’s idea-driven, as opposed to fiction, which needs to be sold on a fully-written and polished manuscript.

How to write a book proposal for nonfiction

Want to write your own nonfiction book proposal? Use these guidelines as your template, with each section on their own page(s).

Here’s what you should include when you write a book proposal.

1. Title page

This is simple enough. Add the title and/or subtitle (separated by a colon or on a new line) and “A Proposal by” followed by your name.

2. Contents

As with a book’s table of contents (TOC) listing the chapters, a nonfiction book proposal will have a TOC page listing the individual sections and page numbers of the proposal.

Look at most any TOC inside a book to get a sense of what this page will look like.

3. Proposed title(s)

Slightly different from the Title Page section of the book proposal, this is where alternative titles and subtitles can be proposed in a list format.

4. Author(s)

The author(s) name(s) of the book proposal will be listed here. Titles and suffixes can be excluded.

5. One-sentence description

In a one-sentence tagline/hook sort of fashion, capture what the book is about in its entirety.

This can be a stressful practice for authors as storytellers by nature, but it’s good to learn to speak about your book concisely.

6. Categories

Categories and subcategories the book will fall into are listed here.

For example: motivational self-help, personal transformation/growth, philosophy, positive psychology, etc.


This is a section for inspirational or framing quotes that one would see in the opening pages of a book.

In a business book, a writer might want to quote Warren Buffet, or in a technology book, Steve Jobs. A poem or short passage from a book could even go there.

Limiting this section to a few quotes is ideal.

8. Audience

In a paragraph or two, add the target demographic(s) for the book.

A testament of the public’s powerful desire and current trends around the topic could also be listed here.

9. Purpose and need

On a much deeper level, this section tells us why we as readers need to read this book, and why now? In a simple way, the reader has a problem or a yearning, and this book fulfills that need with its purpose.

It’s OK to take a page or so to explain.

10. Unique angles

Explain how the book will carve out its place in a busy marketplace of similar books. Some of the takeaways that can only be experienced from this very book should be shared here, perhaps in bulleted format.

11. Reader benefits

What will the reader gain from reading this book? This section answers that question with a number of benefits to the reader.

Will the reader experience joy? Will they feel a part of something bigger than themselves? Tell us here in this section along a short list.

12. Potential endorsers

This section is devoted to people of note who could provide advance praise/blurbs for the forthcoming book.

They might even be people of note who would be willing to write an introduction or forward to the book. Not only names should be listed here, but titles and why these are important endorsements.

13. Book structure overview

List the format, eventual word count (preferably within normal or appropriate range), page count, and deadline by which a finished manuscript could be turned into the publisher (should you get a contract).

14. About the author(s)

Can you guess what you do here? Write a little something about yourself!

It can be as simple as one paragraph or a couple of pages. Relevant writing experience, credentials, awards/accolades, previous publications, fun facts, links to author sites and social media pages (as well as the number of social media followers, if impressive), fun personal facts, and contact info can be listed here.

For nonfiction, it’s not enough to have a good idea to write about. The author must be an authority on the subject matter. In other words, author platform is key. (This is different than fiction, which is less reliant on author platform.)

15. Sales history of previous books

For authors with previously published books, this is a list of titles, along with publisher name and publication date.

Below that should be the total sales numbers on the book, from publication-to-date.

If a book from this list was translated into other languages, had a film/TV adaptation, or was turned into an audiobook, that can be mentioned here, too.

16. Chapter outlines

Provide a sparse outline that breaks down each chapter by name and number into a one or two-sentence description, followed by bulleted chapter contents and/or very short description.

17. Bonus content

Have ideas for any fun bonuses, such as activities or interactive/online content having to do with the book? Add those here.

18. Marketing plan

The sky’s the limit!

Share what you and/or the publisher might do as marketing and publicity behind the book’s publication.

19. Sample chapters

Include 3-5 fully-written and polished sample chapters from the forthcoming manuscript.

How long should the book proposal be?

With all of this information, you’ll likely end up with a book proposal that’s dozens of pages long.

Nonfiction book proposals can top out around 50-75 pages, not including sample chapters. Add in those samples, and you’ll have a complete proposal ready to be considered by a literary agent!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.


  • John C. Echols says:

    What advice would you offer for writing a proposal for a sports reference book with statistical information, game recaps and such?

  • Andrew says:

    This post is definitely one of the most comprehensive information about building a non-fiction proposal. How can one further differentiate one’s work in the proposal? Any specific emphasis on which parts to cover more and which parts to be more concise?

  • Maureen Clarke says:

    Hello Mark:
    Is a proposal necessary if I have completed my non-fiction book? Thanks.

  • Hello Mark, I am working on a couple of non-fiction projects and really appreciated the guidance you offered in this article. I consciously choose not to participate in social media, and would prefer to not self-promote in this way. Do you have any feedback on creating an author platform devoid of social media?

  • Hartford Dawson says:

    Hi Mark,

    It was great meeting you at the Algonkian NY Pitch Conference. Thank you for this valued resource. It has strategically positioned me on a smooth runway where I will soon to take off with great confidence!

    Thank you!

  • Is a polished and perfected book proposal necessary just to get representation? I am writing a coauthored book about my high-profile story, which involves some of the most interesting figures in politics and entertainment, including Snoop Dogg and the Koch brothers, and has been covered by almost every major media outlet. But I am wondering how important is having a perfect book proposal just to get representation.

  • Thanks for the process.

  • Irene Lewis says:

    was just asked for a book proposal. i’ve never written or seen one. this was invaluable, mark.

  • Nicole Levac says:

    Thank you, this is what I had been looking for.

  • lesley kinney says:

    Fabulous informative information. I feel I have a template now to work from, a credible starting point. Thank you so much.

  • Mel says:

    Thank you for this!

  • Luthando says:

    Thanks so much for this information,. During the past two weeks I have been studying it trying to put together my own book proposal which I finished today. I would like to know what is the best way to get your book proposal into the hands of a publisher?

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thanks so much for the great information! This is exactly what I have been looking for. I just finished my first book and would like to get it published. If I want to submit my proposal to an agent, do I just cut and paste my entire proposal into the email text? Or can I attach it as a file? I read somewhere that agents don’t like to open attachments, but I feel like this would be too much to put directly into an email.

  • Great concise advice. I’ve started reading Larsen’s book on writing a nonfiction proposal, but I find your approach more helpful.

    My proposal is for a memoir. Does any of your advice change for a memoir?

  • Liz Hamper says:

    Writing a book proposal, for me, at least, is like writing a very difficult thesis – your article was so helpful, Mark. Thank you so much for making the process much clearer, I really appreciate it.

  • Pam Nelson says:

    I am almost done with a book proposal I am working on but wanted to conduct research to see if the format I am using is the best. I ran across your article and found it to be most helpful and will be incorporating some changes into my proposal as a result of reading your article.

  • Dr. Ahmed H. Fadlalla says:

    Thanks so much, Mark for the very informative, brief and concise article. I find it very useful as I am preparing a submission fora book proposal. Greatly appreciated.

  • Marty Fetterly says:

    Mark, very motivating, completely helpful. It’s been a tedious four years to a first draft, always learning the business bit-by-bit as a new writer. These articles are so thoughtful in design to pave the way for others.
    Thank you

  • Nick Triolo says:

    This is great stuff, Mark. Super helpful in the stage I’m in right now. To the contrary, I think your writing was right to the point, direct, and informative. Looking forward to more.

  • JOHN T SHEA says:

    “Will the reader experience joy? Will they feel a part of something bigger than themselves?”

    A good and challenging question to ask of any book, fiction or non-fiction, from both the writer’s and reader’s viewpoint.

  • Conni says:

    I don’t mean to be unkind, but I found this article to be poorly written, mostly in the passive voice, and in need of a good copy edit and proofread. This surprised me since this is coming from a writing site. I am a professional copy editor and copy writer and would be happy to submit my version of your article (the content of which is very helpful nonetheless) copy-edited and proofed so you can compare your copy to my punchy rendition.

    • You’ll have to excuse me for saying so but I find your comment to be very rude. The polite thing would happen to contact the site’s administrator, rather than making a public comment. It sounds to me like you’re merely trying to invent work for yourself. Hopefully you don’t go around to the other blogs doing this very same thing. And hopefully you find something better to do, like doing your own job, elsewhere.

      • Wow! I have to agree with you Mr Gottlieb. If Conni continues to make posts like that no one will hire her but instead ban her from further postings. Her post is akin to the kid who pushes another kid off a swing on the playground and says, “Hey I don’t like the way you swing, let me show you how it’s done!”

    • William says:

      Unbelievable! What nerve. I found this article to be extremely helpful and well written. The feeling I get from Conni’s comment is that she just finished school, thinks she knows everything now, and everyone should acknowledge her genius. I don’t. Maybe take some lessons on tact.

      • Conni says:

        I said the article contained helpful information I jst don’t think it was professionally written. By the way, I am not right out of school. I am 73 years old and have been in the business for over 30 years.

  • Colin Guest says:

    Many thanks for giving all this critical information, it is much appreciated.

    On another note, I am having an audio version made of my memoir Follow in the Tigerman’s Footsteps and inquiring as to if you could advise on any companies I could approach re publishing this, apart from Amazon ACX.

    Best regards & many thanks

    • Thanks very much and I am glad you enjoyed the article.

      I do think you are better off with ACX when getting an audiobook made from a self-published work. I am assuming that’s the case here? Most audio book publishers are not open to self-published works as they prefer to receive submissions from publishers and agents where audio rights were retained. If you happened to turn your self-published title into a big bestseller, then they might be more open to it.

      • Colin Guest says:

        Hi Mark,
        Many thanks for your comments that are much appreciated. As a matter of note, my book has been published in print by Partridge publishing in Singapore.

        Best regards

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