Basic Non-Fiction Proposal Outline

When you are ready to write a non-fiction proposal, then it’s time to take a step back from your work and look at it from an editor’s and a publisher’s point of view. This is not easy, but don’t despair. The Basic Non-Fiction Proposal Outline you see here is one that I use in my work with authors. I share this with you to help you get started on your proposal. ~ Cindie Geddes

Title Page

Concept Statement

The Concept is one paragraph that summarizes every reason we have for someone to represent or buy this book. It is usually found by boiling down the Synopsis into its most salient and unique points.


What do you think are the most important points of your proposal?

Table of Contents

This Table of Contents is the outline of the Proposal itself

About the Book/Synopsis

The synopsis is the overview. It is a summary of the rest of the proposal and what will be cut down into a one-paragraph Concept Statement for the first page of the proposal. It is designed to sell the following to an agent or editor:

  • The salability of your idea
  • Your ability to promote your book
  • Your ability to write the book
  • What do readers want that they aren’t getting from other books?
  • Describe what your book offers in no more than two sentences.
  • What problems will your book solve for readers?
  • What makes your book unique?
  • Is your book the first to … or the only book to …? If so, fill in those blanks.
  • What benefits (as many as you can think of) will your book offer readers?
  • Why is this book timely?

About the Author/Biography

The bio is meant to show why and how you are the only person who can write and promote this book.


How can we prove your expertise?

  • Published work
  • Publicity experience
  • Jobs
  • Years of research
  • Education
  • Awards
  • Travel
  • Hobbies
  • Special skills
  • Memberships
  • Letters praising your work
  • Media exposure
  • Promotional experience

A photo can be helpful to show you are media-ready. Do you have a good, professional, accessible black and white, high resolution photo we can use? If not, get one. If you want to know how you should look, tune into Oprah and study how her author guests dress, etc.

This is also the section where we mention your other book ideas. What book ideas do you want to include?

About the Market

The Market is where we define your readers. We want to show that we understand your target market, market size and how to reach that market.

  • Who will buy your book (male vs female, age range, education level, income level, social class)?
  • How many people will buy your book?
  • What magazines are published on your subject (what are their readership numbers and such)?
  • What are the sales figures for competing books?
  • How can your potential market be reached?
  • What are the trade organizations in your subject area/field (and what are their membership numbers)?
  • Are there any groups or classes that have committed to using your book?

About the Competition

The Competition section is to show editors/agents that you know the competition your book will have and to show why your book can beat that competition. It’s all about comparing and contrasting. If there are a ton of books that are similar to yours, we will want to give categories of shortcomings with one representative title for each category. If there are only a few other books that compare to yours, we will want to compare yours to each.

6-12 books, biblio info (author, title, publisher, city and state published, most recent pub date, number pages, retail cost), one paragraph summary of contents and slant, compare and contrast with yours (no more than three short paragraphs each).

We don’t want to compare your book to small press books unless you see this as a small press book. Nor do we want to compare it to books more than five years old.

  • What are the major shortcomings in the field right now?
  • What 5 to 10 books compare to yours?
  • What are the shortcomings of each book?
  • What makes your book better than each?
  • What section would you think your book would be shelved in a book store?

Production Details

This is where we lay out what we want the book to look like and give some details on subjects like front matter and back matter. Common details include:

  • Length: (how many pages)
  • Delivery: (how long before the book is complete: usually something like “six months following delivery of first advance installment”)
  • Illustrations: (how many pages)
  • Sidebars: (how many)
  • Front Matter: (forewords, introductions and the like).
  • Back Matter:
    • Appendices:
      • Forms for the reader to fill out
      • Book Lists: recommended reading
      • Resources:
    • Index
  • Endorsements: (usually something like “The following are currently being approached for endorsements of the bookJ
    • (names of someone who can/will provide blurbs from front cover, back cover and/or interior)


This section shows your plan for promoting your book. It is about what you will do, not what your publisher will do. This is the almighty Platform we hear so much about. It shows your ability to garner publicity for your book and thereby sell copies. It should be realistic and credible.


How will you promote your book? Here is some language I typically use to start and then I flesh out each in its own separate paragraph:

AUTHOR is eager to work closely with the sales and publicity team of the publisher of BOOK TITLE to promote the book and drive sales. He/She sees five primary ways to do this: 1) presenting lectures and workshops, 2) media appearances, 3) arranging for book reviews and peer reviews, 4) direct mail and 5) the Internet.

When I create book proposals, I end it with something like:

AUTHOR is an empathetic and enthusiastic speaker and writer. He/She believes in BOOK TITLE’s ability to ???. She hopes that her own efforts in conjunction with those of her publisher’s sales and publicity team will get the word out to the millions of people who will benefit from the book.

BOOK TITLE Table of Contents

This Table of Contents is basically the outline of your proposed book.

Chapter Summaries — BOOK TITLE

Now, this is the meat of your proposal. This is where an interested buyer or representative decides whether or not to make the leap and take you on. Here is where you prove you have a real book.

Chapter summaries are just that – summaries of your chapters. Each summary should run no more than a page and give readers a strong idea of what to expect.

The first sentence of each chapter summary should give an overview of the chapter. After that, you should have no more than one sentence (a one-line sentence) to represent each page you will include in the chapter.

Beginning each chapter summary with an anecdote makes the proposal more enjoyable to read.

Remember, a chapter will have a structure – beginning, middle and end. So too should your summaries have a structure – ideally the same structure you will incorporate in the chapters themselves.

We will need summaries for sample chapters as well. We don’t get to skip those.

Sample Chapters – BOOK TITLE

This is where you prove you can write. The standard is two or three sample chapters, around 40 to 50 pages.

We want chapters that really show your skills and the uniqueness of your vision.


This is where we put bits and pieces that can sell you and your expertise and your idea. It is a collection of publicity exhibits for you and your subject. We include anything that lends credibility to you and your ideas. We also include anything that can back up the importance and timeliness of your book.

  • Do you have clips of impressive looking articles?
  • Has anyone ever written about you or your business (not your field)?
  • Do you have a list of all articles you have published?
  • Do you have brochures or flyers for your talks? Any promotional materials.
  • Have you received any awards in your field?
  • Do you have a list of all your talks, where they were given, to how many people, etc.?
  • Do you have any audio or video tapes of any of your talks?
  • Do you have any class descriptions or flyers?
  • Are there any major articles you have seen that would back your assertion that this book is needed right now?
  • Any major news shows, documentaries or movies that tap into your subject?
  • Would you like to include some of your illustrations?
  • Can you think of anything else we could include to sell you or your book?
  • Would you like to include a complete resume here?