Unlike with Fiction submissions where we need a book to be finished before we submit it to publishers, Non-Fiction is almost always submitted with a proposal and a sample of the writing, so this is what we need to see from you too.
What this looks like will depend a little on what sort of book you’re proposing but regardless of that there are some essentials to consider which we’ve laid out in more detail below.
If you are a journalist, academic or professional working on an idea in your area of expertise and would like to discuss it before you put together the full proposal you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Making sure the idea is right
Is this the right idea, for a book, for you, for now?
We evaluate most books on three things:
Is the idea exciting and compelling and above all is a book the right format for it? Is there enough to the idea to make something book length? Will people be interested in paying money for it rather than it just being something they would be prepared to look at online for free?
Is the author the right person to write it? Will the reader be able to understand how and why this person is an expert on the subject and why they should therefore buy and read this book as opposed to any others? Is it written so well or in a way that is unique to this author that would make a reader buy this specific book?
Is this (or at least the time that the book is likely to be published) the right moment for the book? Is it new thought or research rather than just repeating something that’s been done before? Does it cover something that hasn’t been covered before or in a way that is particularly relevant to now? Is it too far ahead or behind the curve?
Is it clear and compelling and is there an obvious market for it?
This can all be quite intangible but one good way of working out how clear and compelling your idea is, is to write the blurb as you would imagine it appearing on your published book. It should be as short and to the point as all blurbs on books are. It should help you identify the heart of the idea, to see if it matches completely with your longer proposal and if not how you might want to tweak or hone it, and to see how compelling it is, to get an idea objectively over how much it will excite people to want to read it.
In terms of the market, some books have very general markets, some have very niche markets, one isn’t always better than the other but we do always need to be clear who you think would read your book.
What other books would you compare it with?
We know your book is unique and it may even be covering something that has genuinely never been covered before, but no book exists in a vacuum. All books have comparisons. Think hard about the sorts of books people reading yours will also like or about authors you aspire to sit on the shelves alongside. It really helps us to get a view of how you see your book to see what you would compare it with.
We will work with you on the proposal that ultimately gets sent to a publisher, polishing and honing it where we think it needs it, but what we need to see from you still needs to be as near to that level as it can be.
The thing we hear most often from non-fiction writers is that they stress about what a proposal should actually look like so we have produced these guidelines. You can vary from them if you think something different would suit your idea but you should be absolutely sure that the core information we need is included.
Elevator pitch – this can be the blurb that you wrote above or it can be a single sentence but it should nail as briefly and compellingly as possible what the idea for your book is so we get it and are excited by it instantly.
Slightly longer pitch – this should be up to a page (though it can be shorter) giving a broader overview of the book and the idea.
Your biography – tell us about you but only where it is relevant to the book. We are trying to see a narrative of why you are the right person to write this book.
The Outline – this needs to be as thorough as you can possibly make it. Ideally you would be able to break it down by chapter, but if you don’t want to stick to a rigid chapter structure you can do without and just take us steadily through the narrative / flow / progression of your book. It’s incredibly important that we get a really clear vision of how it works as a book progressing from the beginning to middle to end.
The Sample writing – unless you have a really good reason this should be from the beginning and should ideally include a few chapters. We want to get a really clear idea of what your writing is like as well as being able to see that you can take us through the narrative or ideas engagingly and keep us reading.
Exceptions to the above
Of course there are exceptions. Business books, self-help, cook books etc will all need a slightly different treatment but the principals still stand. We need to believe the idea is great, that you’re the right person to write it and we need to see how you would handle the material.
Why you want to be represented by us
Finally we are interested in why you’d like to be represented by us, if there is a particular reason. We don’t want it to be sycophantic, but if there’s a particular reason you feel like we would be an especially good fit for you, or if there’s a book we’ve represented or worked on that you admire or connect with, then we would like to know about that. Though if it’s simply that you’d like an agent and you come from a group under-represented in publishing then that’s completely fine.