You’ve written a nonfiction book. Now you need to find a publisher. But how do you approach that task? The process of pitching your nonfiction book is actually the same as pitching any other kind of product or service. With that in mind, we’ll show you how to pitch a nonfiction book and get a publisher to love your book idea!
The world of nonfiction book publishing can be intimidating – there are many decisions to make before you even put pen to paper. Before you leap into turning that good idea you have into something tangible, it’s worth thinking about why that idea deserves to see the light of day and completing the research to ensure that the niche has an audience.
Chapter outline in hand, you’ll then need to figure out how to make a publisher or literary agent sit up and pay attention to your book proposal through outlining all of your research and your proposed marketing plan. Creating a book proposal in this market is more about selling your expertise, author platform, and business plan more so than the contents of your book.
This article will take you step-by-step through everything you’ll need on how to pitch a nonfiction book to convince agents or major publishers that you have a great idea that deserves a book deal.
Where to start?
The very first thing to do when considering writing and pitching a nonfiction book is to ask yourself: why should anyone care what I have to say about this subject? Without deep knowledge, authority, or real-life experience, you’re just another new writer with an opinion.
Experience and knowledge
Put simply, what do you have to offer that would make people want to listen to you? What special knowledge or experience do you bring to the topic? If you don’t have a unique perspective or fascinating story to tell about your own experience, you’ll need to be incredibly well researched on your topic of interest. People are far more likely to want to read a book about bridge-building from someone who held a prominent position as a civil engineer for 30 years than someone who just likes bridges – but if your passion and knowledge are deep enough, you could still find great success.
On the other hand, fiction can be cozy and repetitive – there is no end to the number of romance novels or crime thrillers that writers can pump out. Nonfiction books need to provide new information or teach and explain something in a unique manner.
Unless you already have a platform, it can be more difficult to pitch your book idea to major publishers. Nonfiction writers, far more than writers pitching fiction, need a following of people who are already interested in their ideas. Traditional publishers won’t do a marketing plan for you – you will need to have an engaged audience of potential book buyers squarely within your target market that you are already in contact with. There are a number of different ways to build and connect with your audience.
Ways to reach your audience
This can be through a blog you manage, social media, podcasts, newsletters, websites, or any other method of digital engagement you can imagine.
You can create an offline following through teaching classes or seminars on your topic, public speaking, networking with thought leaders in your niche, or active membership in a related club or professional organization.
Having some coverage in newspapers, getting a spot on TV or radio, or simply getting an article published in a relevant magazine or journal can help build a brand to attract people to your long-form work.
The goal is to be a public figure with a perspective that thousands of people are interested in your knowledge or view on your particular topic. This network of potential readers is some of the best evidence you can provide a publisher that you’re going to get the book in front of interested individuals.
What if I don’t have a platform?
If you don’t have an author platform, it might be worth waiting until you’ve built up some buzz to launch into full-on book proposal mode. You can start with something as simple as a Facebook page for people interested in your topic of choice, then move on to contacting established bloggers in your niche about guest blogging on their site. If you can get anything published online, it will give you the beginnings of a portfolio, which will provide you with credibility.
Without evidence of extensive research, it’s unlikely that a major publisher is going to look twice at your book proposal, and it’s also unlikely that you’ve identified a gap in the market to fill. You need to understand your target audience and what a potential reader might be looking for in the genre.
Where have other authors had previous success?
There are many ways of finding out information about nonfiction book sales in your genre. Try visiting your local bookstores and seeing what sort of works have had success in your genre. Look on Amazon for books similar to what you’re planning to write and see how well they’ve sold.
Many books on Amazon have a sample chapter you can look at for free to get a feel for the style of a competitor. However, if you’re serious about carving out a niche for yourself in this area, it’s advisable to buy, read and analyze some of the best rated and best-selling books in your niche. Finding information about writers with a proven track record of selling books in your niche will pay dividends in the long run.
Look on Amazon, the website of a major bookseller, or something like Goodreads to find reviews of books relevant to what you’re planning to write. Reviews can be beneficial in finding out where readers felt that detail was lacking or an interesting topic wasn’t covered.
Reference books may be missing information on a specific time period or culture, or a narrative nonfiction book might only focus on a particular aspect of work in an industry you’re deeply familiar with. Think about what they do and don’t cover, and consider what new twist or knowledge you can bring to the table to show publishing houses that your idea can stand out from the crowd.
Knowing your target audience is vital to your proposal. Without thinking deeply about this, you don’t know the demographic of the book buyers you’re trying to attract and can’t tailor the book towards their wants and needs. You end up writing a book that’s just for yourself.
It can be helpful to consider your “ideal reader.” How old are they? What do they do for a living? What books and other media do they already consume? What is their education level? What is their knowledge of the topic you’re writing about? What do they want to learn? What do they need to learn?
Once you’ve considered these sorts of questions, you will have a better idea of how to tailor things like your book title, language used, how technical your writing is, chapter length, and more to draw in the kind of person you’re writing for.
Suppose you have a platform and some followers already. In that case, it could be beneficial to send out questionnaires to your mailing list asking for some of this information to be provided anonymously to help you figure out the kind of person that already has an interest in what you have to say.
The book proposal
You’ve done your research, you’ve found a unique selling point, and you have a basic structure for your book. Now it’s time to put your proposal together and prepare to pitch directly to publishers. There are multiple perspectives on how complete your book should be at this point.
Some say that you should have a polished draft to show the publisher and others say that you only need a few sample chapters and a table of contents showing how you plan to structure your work. Generally, the publisher will be more interested in how you’re going to help them to sell books than the details of every part of your title, so normally, it’s better to have less written rather than more.
The publisher may think you have a good idea, but it needs changing to become a good seller, so if you have a finished book, that could mean significant rewrites, throwing out entire chapters, and adding whole new sections. Remember, you’re selling a business plan, not just a book.
You also need to follow the submission guidelines for the specific publishing house when you write a book proposal. Failing to submit a proposal that falls within the guidelines provided by the publisher is an easy way to be instantly dismissed with none of your hard work ever even considered.
Make sure that you plan and plan again and ensure that there are absolutely no errors within any part of your proposal. Publishers expect sample chapters to be shelf-ready when submitted and won’t want to waste time on someone who needs an editor to deal with basic grammar or spelling issues.
Every book proposal should start with a very short pitch. This is the title and subtitle of the book alongside up to fifteen words explaining the book’s subject. Think – if you had to describe your book to someone in just one sentence, how would you do it to generate maximum excitement? This can then be followed with an example of what you’re trying to create referencing other works – “It’s like The Tipping Point meets Sapiens,” for example.
If you’re writing a narrative nonfiction book, you may need to include extra information about the time period or setting of the story here. This should be followed by your chapter outline or table of contents and sample chapter. It’s a good idea to start with your first chapter to show that your book gets off to an exciting start – plopping chapter 8 in front of the publisher is going to make them wonder why your best work is hidden away in the depths of the title.
You will also need to include the proposed length of your manuscript and any other exciting details about anyone notable who will contribute to the work, whether by providing a foreword, cover quotes, or assisting with research or writing.
Competitive title analysis
As part of your nonfiction book proposal, you will need to provide publishers with a competitive title analysis. This is an analysis of a few titles that are in the same wheelhouse as the book you’re creating. You’ll need to write a paragraph for each book on how they approach the subject and how that relates to how you plan to approach it, alongside basic but vital information about the book. Remember to include author, title, publisher, publish date, number of pages, format, price, and ISBN.
Remember, you need to be looking at your competitors, not necessarily the best authors in your chosen genre. If you’re planning to write about writing, then Stephen King’s “On Writing” isn’t a good competitive title because Stephen King has an enormous platform and international recognition on his side.
This is your opportunity to explain the type of person interested in your work—the more specific the findings of your research, the better. Paint a picture of your ideal reader and explain why they will pick your book up off of the shelf (or add it to their online shopping cart) over your competitors.
This is where you sell yourself. In less than 250 words, you need to explain how you are qualified to write about this topic, give a bit of information about your platform and provide an impression of yourself to help the publisher decide if you’re going to be good to work with.
The final part of the pitch is your sales plan. This is where you can go into detail about how you’re going to be marketing your book. Start with explaining your platform, along with any relevant stats (you have a newsletter with 2000 subscribers, you created a video with 5000 views on the topic, attended a conference, and spoke to 1500 people about the subject) and then go into specifics.
Do you have a self-published edition of the book? How many copies has it sold? Whatever you have, make sure to leverage it. Figure out the top 1-3 ways you’re going to spread the word about your book and go into as much detail as you can about how you’re going to ensure your book is a success.
There is a huge amount to consider when pitching your book to a publisher or literary agent. Your nonfiction book writing process has to be informed at all points by what will be required when you come to pitch it. If you just write a book that interests you and then try to sell it, you’re far less likely to succeed than when business and marketing considerations are an essential part of the writing process.
Many writers fail to secure a book deal because they haven’t considered all or any of the concepts discussed above and try to create a sale pitch focused solely on how good their writing is and how fascinating they think they are. Ultimately writing, especially nonfiction, is a business, and no amount of passion will make up for lack of preparation and research.
Stick to the steps outlined above, and you’re in with a strong chance of success and could have that book deal secured sooner than you think!