Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Building a Non-fiction Book Proposal

By Deborah Herman
If you want to write a non-fiction book it is unavoidable that you will have to master the non-fiction book proposal. There are many advantages to doing so even though it conjures images of tedium, frustration and writer's block. The book proposal is actually our friend. When I began in the business of writing I learned about the book proposal by writing them very badly. My agent, now my husband, Jeff Herman, took pity on me and had me screen book proposals to see what makes one good and what makes one completely ineffective. Eventually we co-authored the book, Write the Perfect Book Proposal: Ten Proposals that Worked and Why, which became a classic in the industry. The advantage to mastering the book proposal is two-fold. First: you can sell a book to a publisher with a proposal without having to complete an entire manuscript. Second: it gives you a roadmap that makes writing the book much easier and ensures the publisher that they will be getting what they paid for.

There are specific parts to a book proposal. It is like a business plan and the format we use in our book incorporated what I learned in Law School. Before I became a writer and literary agent I studied law at Ohio State University in a dual degree with the Graduate School of Journalism. I practiced law for a few years but my passion had been writing all along. My training in law was a big help in creating a format for a book proposal because I equated it with a brief. A brief is a legal document that has to persuade a judge to see the case law your way. A book proposal is an opportunity for you to persuade an editor or agent to see your book as viable and potentially profitable for them.

When I coach a writer through the process of writing a non-fiction book proposal I first help them create the core of what it is that will separate their book from all others. This is called the hook. The hook is the most important part of the proposal because it gives you clarity that will carry through to the manuscript. Above everything else, a non-fiction book must be organized and provide value to its reader. Readers of non-fiction are looking to be entertained, but the more important element is to gain information that they believe will help them in some way.

I provide assignments to make the process of writing the proposal relatively painless. Perhaps what is most unique about the way I work is that I incorporate my 20 years as a literary agent, my experience of writing 10 non-fiction trade books and my intuition to help a writer find his or her true voice and passion. This is what will make them successful.
Literary agent Deborah Herman has authored or collaborated on nine book and is a new affiliate of Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services. She is an intuitive and often uses her gifts to help writer's discover their authentic selves.

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