Publishing Your Non-Fiction Book
Before you begin the submission process, ask yourself “Do I need a Literary Agent?”
A literary agent is a legal representative of an author who sells the author’s work to a third party, such as a publisher, and receives a commission for his or her services. Small publishers may accept book proposals from authors, but most large publishers deal only with literary agents.
If you're looking for guidance on finding and selecting the right agent for you, the Association of Authors' Representatives and Agent Query have databases of agents; or, for a fee, Agent Research & Evaluation helps connect agents and writers.
Large publishers and editors request submission packages from authors and agents. A good submission package should contain a query letter and book proposal and is the best way to publicize your book.
Basic Formatting Guidelines
Plain white, letter-sized paper, black ink, 12 pt. font, 1-inch margin, double-spaced, and unbound.
Query Letter (the introduction to you and your work)
The query letter is your calling card, sent to an agent or publisher, to spark interest in your work. Meant to be short, single-spaced, and limited to two pages, the letter should include:
Lead Statement: Begin with a strong statement, fact, or quote.
Body: Give a brief summary of your book and a description of your credentials, experience, or past publishing history.
Conclusion: End your query letter by expressing interest in a future relationship, an offer to forward further material, and a thank you (i.e. “I look forward to working with you”). Never tell an editor that your book is completed because most editors and publishers like to have some input.
Book Proposal: The Heart of the Submission Package
The book proposal serves two purposes: (1) a marketing tool used to get your book read by an editor; and (2) a way to help refine ideas, organize your material, and speed up the writing of your book.
While there aren’t any standards set for elements of a book proposal, a basic proposal should have the following sections:
Title Page contains the title and brief description of your book and is your opportunity to make your first pitch with a catchy and relevant title.
Brief Synopsis tells why you wrote the book and what it will do for the reader. Begin with a powerful statement or fact that explains how your book begins and how it ends.
Biographical Sketch, or information about the author’s background, includes statements about your qualifications and experience; a list of other books written; training; and any seminars you’ve conducted.
Marketing Section demonstrates your research on your book’s audience, the people for whom you’re writing the book. Support your claims by providing statistical and specific information about your audience, such as age, education, and income. For help, consult the Literary Market Place, a directory of United States and Canadian book publishers, trade magazines, reference books, literary agents, and editorial services.
Competitive Title Analysis displays your research on other recent books with similar topics, usually four to six titles. For each book, list the title, author, publisher, year published, number of pages, and price, and write a brief synopsis.
Chapter Outline (Annotated or Expanded) lists the various parts of your book, including chapter names. Also supply clear, brief descriptions of each chapter.
Sample Chapters will showcase your book and help sell your proposal. You should send about four chapters, and be sure to include the first two chapters because they provide the foundation and background. A middle chapter and an ending chapter may be used for the rest of your sample.
If you have hired a literary agent, he or she will notify you of a proposal acceptance and help you secure a beneficial contract. If you decide not to hire an agent, expect that responses may take up to six weeks. If you receive a positive response or request for additional materials, act promptly; if you don’t receive a positive response, mail out additional packages to other publishers from your list.
For this information and more, check out these books in our catalog:
The Author's Toolkit by Mary Embree.
Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon.
The Writer's Market by Writer's Digest Books.
Portable Writers' Conference: Your Guide to Getting and Staying Published by Stephen Blake Mettee.
Beginner's Guide to Getting Published by Writer's Digest Books.
Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman.