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Five Ways to Make Your Nonfiction Proposal Shine

Five Ways to Make Your Nonfiction Proposal Shine

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by Cindi McMenamin

Are you experiencing misgivings about submitting your proposal to an agent or book publisher?

What if they don’t like my book idea? What if they see me as unoriginal? What if they hate my writing and crush my dreams?

Often our fears outweigh what actually happens because, by and large, publishers, agents, and writing coaches at Christian writing conferences are kind, supportive, and really do want to see you and a great book idea succeed.

As long as you do your homework, be professional, and follow these simple steps, you have the chance of not only making your proposal shine, but possibly hitting it out of the park when it comes to impressing a publisher or agent.

Here are five things you can do to make your proposal stand out from the rest.

  1. Create a catchy, unforgettable title. I know this is more difficult than it sounds. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve rewritten, reworked, or started over again with titles, even after a book was contracted. Coming up with good, memorable titles is tough. But it’s worth the effort. Make a list of fifteen possible titles and subtitles for your book. Play with different combinations. Have a few on the list that are completely different than the rest. Then go to your family, friends, and preferably other writers for their input. It sometimes takes a village to come up with a great title. But, once you’ve got it, you’ve got a lot going for you.
  2. Find your book’s hook: A book hook is a brief statement or question designed to generate immediate curiosity and interest in your book. It is designed to help sell your book in a few short words. It is your short-sentence statement that grabs the editor’s (and eventually your readers’) attention and doesn’t let them forget your idea or your book. Search for that hook like buried treasure (because sometimes that’s what it is…buried within your manuscript somewhere) and work with it until it rolls off your tongue like your name and it feels like you were born to say it. Your hook should not only be identifiable in your proposal, but undeniable. When you say it, an editor’s ears should perk up as he or she looks at you and indicates a desire to hear more.
  3. Identify your specific audience. I can’t under emphasize how important this is. You’d be surprised how many writers write their book for everyone, yet no book is for everyone. The more specific your target audience, the more readers you will reach within that audience. Is your book for women? If so, what age group, economic level and interests do those particular women have? Is your book for moms? Or is it for exhausted, over-worked moms who are ready for a life change? Know your target readers, know what they like to read, where they congregate, and why they will want your book in particular. The more information you include in your proposal about your reader, the more an agent or editor will be convinced you know to whom you’re writing.
  4. Solve the reader’s problem. Your nonfiction book idea isn’t marketable (and therefore your proposal isn’t viable) until it’s one that speaks to a specific problem, need, or desire the reader has and provides tangible solutions or fulfillment. As a writing coach, I insist that each of my writing clients include a problem-solution chart in their proposals that outlines the felt need or problem (and its solution) in every chapter of the book. The chart shows a publisher your book will move the reader forward in each of those needs or areas of life. So at the end of reading your book, not only will information gained, but your audience wil be moved to a different place in their thinking and behavior. That is your goal for your book, right? To not just impart information, but to incorporate life change? Then keep the reader in mind through every step of your proposal and show a publisher or agent how you intend to serve the reader and make sure she benefits by reading your book.
  5. Show a Publisher you know how to reach readers. You keep hearing the words “platform” and “marketing.” But if you ignore them, your proposal will be ignored. If there are no readers out there waiting to buy your book, it’s likely it won’t be published. So, even if you don’t have a huge platform yet (and who really does these days?) show the publisher you have a growing platform and an awesome marketing plan to reach your target audience. Be creative. Show them an honest effort. Wow them with ideas no one else has suggested. The more creative you get in this part of your proposal, the more interested any publisher will be.


Cindi will be leading a Morning Mentoring Clinic, “Making Your Memoir Marketable,” and teaching afternoon workshops on “Tackling Writer’s Block” and “Writing to Heal Hurting Hearts.” The Morning Mentoring Clinics are limited to six participants and require an application. Deadline for application is March 11. Application details are here.


Cindi McMenamin

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, the author of seventeen books (all from Harvest House Publishers), and a certified writing coach who has been helping aspiring writers become published authors for more than fifteen years. Cindi will be leading a Morning Mentoring Clinic, “Making Your Memoir Marketable,” and teaching afternoon workshops on “Tackling Writer’s Block” and Writing to Heal Hurting Hearts.” You can find out more about her coaching and books at


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