About ten years ago I took a guided sea kayak trip to the Apostle Islands, which cluster along the south shore of Lake Superior off the coast of Wisconsin. We paddled for several days between islands, visited a lighthouse, hiked several islands and generally had a great time. Later, at home, I decided to write about the experience. Eventually I sold the resulting travel article to both Marco Polo Magazine and Minnesota Memories.
What to do, though, when you want to write a whole book instead of just an article? At the University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute earlier this month, I went to a presentation by nonfiction agent Ted Weinstein, entitled “Book Proposal Boot Camp.” I asked about a full-length travel memoir and got the bad news: If your book is a story about your trip rather than a travel guide that lists sights, restaurants and hotels—you know the type—you must finish the entire manuscript before you submit it to an agent, just like you would a novel. Ditto for a memoir.
But, if you’re truly writing nonfiction [and you’ve already built your “platform” (see my blog post from a couple of days ago)], you must submit a “book proposal” to any agent who might take you on as a client. According to Weinstein, it must contain:
1) An overview of your book. Use a couple of paragraphs to describe your work, and make it read like the teaser on the back cover of a paperback. Market your book!
2) Give a sense of who your target audience will be, both the immediate audience and possible wider ones. For instance, if you’re writing about diabetes, your core audience would be people who suffer from the disease, but the wider audience would be people whose friends and/or family have diabetes, teachers whose students have it, etc.
3) Explain why you’re qualified to write about this subject; describe your platform, and do it in detail.
4) Who are you competing against? What titles are out there on the same subject, and why is your book different from each of them? Why is it better?
5) Add a detailed Table of Contents, and include a summary of each chapter. Be sure to give it some meat! The agent should be able to see the entire shape and scope of your book from this section.
6) Include at least two sample chapters, ones that have significant substance to them. The agent will use these to judge the quality of both your writing and your research/knowledge.
Now here’s the bad news. One of the most important sections of your book proposal is this: The Marketing Plan. Yessir, you’re going to sell your own book, and sell it well. The agent wants to see that not only have you built and developed your platform, but that you’ve considered how best to get your book into the hands of readers.
More on the nonfiction marketing plan tomorrow….