The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal, 2nd Edition
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The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal, 2nd Edition

Stephen Blake Mettee

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eBook - ePub

The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal, 2nd Edition

Stephen Blake Mettee

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About This Book

A step-by-step guide through the process of proposing a book to a publisher, this straightforward and accessible work helps aspiring authors get their nonfiction work published quickly. Packed with specific examples of proposals, query letters, publishing contracts, and more, this reference addresses the many questions authors have in this digital age. Written by a seasoned editor and used in publishing classes at numerous universities, the book is a proven tool for nonfiction book authors. A glossary of key terms, a list of selected books for further reading, and a book proposal checklist are also included.

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Chapter one
First Things
Chapter two
The Query Letter
Chapter three
The Proposal
Sample Query Letter
Sample Book Proposal
Sample Agency Contract
Sample Book Contract
Nonfiction Book Proposal Checklist
Standard Manuscript Format for a Book Proposal
The Author’s Bundle of Rights
Selected Books
Websites to Visit
About the Author


I love going to writer’s conferences. For some reason, at writer’s conferences, I am far more popular than I am in real life. Writers stop me in the hall just to talk, they laugh long and hard at my jokes, and even seem to find my witty repartee, well, wittier. (I choose to ignore the possibility this is because I am a publisher to whom they may some day want to sell a book.)
I find this attention to be wonderful, because my heroes are writers—I’d rather meet the uncelebrated author of the book from which a movie is made than I would the famous actor or actress starring in the movie (with the possible exception of J Lo).
Stop and think for a minute what our modern world would be like without writers: no books, no magazines, no movies, very little news reporting—no blogs! We owe writers. So, with this debt in mind—and disregarding the fact that I enjoyed writing it and was driven by visions of great monetary reward—this book is an attempt to give something back to the writing community.
Why, you ask, write another book on writing nonfiction book proposals since, prior to the publication of this work, there were at least two excellent guides to writing book proposals on the market? Because I found each of these left out small, yet important, bits of information and included extraneous information, interesting and perhaps useful, yet only peripherally applicable to the task of writing and submitting a book proposal. And they were long. When I held one of these books up at writer’s workshops, I could see eyes glaze over. “You mean I have to read a 230-page book to learn how to write a 20-page book proposal?” the participants seemed to be saying.
In fact, I found many would decide to forego reading one of these books and, thus, would submit proposals to me—and I was certain, agents and other editors—that lacked necessary information and were generally unprofessional.
Having recognized this problem, I followed the advice I so often give unpublished authors: Find a need and fill it.
In The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal, I have attempted to give abundant information in a sufficiently succinct, entertaining, and accessible manner that people will actually read and use. The publishing world has been in a state of flux for a few years now. In this second edition, I’ve attempted to address this moving target. For up-to-date information on where the digital age is taking book publishing, please visit my blog at
• • •
There are too many people who helped with this book to thank each individually, but I especially want to acknowledge Dave Marion, a good friend, old-style gentleman, bon vivant, and one of the best editors I’ve known. I also would like to thank attorney/author Jonathan Kirsch for allowing me to include his model agency agreement and his model publishing agreement as appendixes to this book.
“This is a very important book. In fact, it’s too important to publish.”
©The New Yorker Collection 1998 Peter Steiner from All Rights Reserved

_____ First Things _____

TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE, PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU and me, will have their nonfiction books published this year. For many of them, this will be their first time to be published.
Hundreds of these men and women will write their books with lofty dreams of fame and fortune, expecting, or at least hoping, their books will become international best sellers—don’t laugh, it does happen. Yet most of us write with more modest goals in mind:
Many write to further their careers—published authors stand out as leaders in their respective fields.
Some write to tell their life stories—well-written memoirs have been a hot genre since Mary Karr’s best-selling The Liars’ Club was published in 1995.
Some write to further a cause—registered nurse Sally Pacholok wrote the internationally acclaimed Could It Be B12? because she knew from experience that many doctors misdiagnose a B12 deficiency.
Others want to record local history before it is forgotten—Catherine Morison Rehart has attracted national attention due to the success of her series of regional (Central California) history books, The Valley’s Legends & Legacies.
Others write because they have a bit of esoteric knowledge they want to share—Been There, Should’ve Done That: 995 Tips for Making the Most of College, by Suzette Tyler, has been in print since 1997.
Some write to entertain—Simon Bond’s 101 Uses for a Dead Cat has been causing laughter and infuriating cat lovers since 1988.
Some write to instruct—How to Cheat at Gardening and Yard Work: Shameless Tricks for Growing Radically Simple Flowers, Veggies, Lawns, Landscaping, and More by Jeff Bredenberg aims to simplify and speed up your outdoor chores.
Some simply have a passion for their subject—physician Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, a Publishers Weekly best book of 2010, sold 84,000 hardcover copies in its first six months.
Still others write to fulfill a need their inner muse causes to rise up in them.
Whatever your motivation, if you have the desire, the tenacity, and at least a modicum of writing skills, you too can join the ranks of published nonfiction book authors.
Your first step is to choose a topic.
Your second is to write a book proposal.
Sell your book to a publisher before you write it
Most nonfiction books are sold to a publishing house on the basis of a book proposal, usually before the book has been completely written—including books from first-time authors. This means you don’t even have to write the book until you have in hand a contract and, in most cases, an advance against royalties.
A word about editors and agents
“Editor” is a title given to many people with various duties at a publishing house. The “managing editor’s” duties, for instance, may have more to do with the day-to-day running of the business than reading and editing manuscripts. The editor in charge of acquiring manuscripts to publish often bears the title “acquisitions editor.” At many houses, the lines between editorial duties are somewhat blurred, with edito...

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