NF Book Proposals even if the book is finished

Dear Miss Snark,
If I have completed writing a nonfiction book, do I still need to have a book proposal? Could I find an agent for it instead using the same materials as with a work of fiction as it is done? I.e. a one page query letter and a one page synopsis with sample chapters or the completed work available upon request.

Yes, you can do that for the query, but you will need a proposal for the next step. Non fiction editors read proposals, not finished books, to decide if they will acquire (generally). Unless you're querying memoir, you gotta have a proposal. Memoir is sold like fiction (sample chapters, and frequently finished if you're a new writer).

The critical piece in a proposal is 1. who will read this book; 2. what new do you have to contribute to the discussion; 3. why you are the person to write this; and 4. What other books are currently on the market that address this topic. You don't need any of that in fiction, but you'll need it even if your book is finished for non fiction.


Anonymous said...

As a non-fiction writer, I want to tell you to be prepared to change your manuscript. Since the editors are used to starting from proposals, they're also used to tweeking those proposals to suit the market. A colleague of mine just had a 120 page finished ms for teens accepted, but now it will be a 28 page illustrated book for 6 to 12 year olds.

Phoebe said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks for giving us your take on submitting memoir. Is it true, however, that the agenting world is split on the proposal or no proposal question for memoir? You're the second agent I've heard say no proposal, but write the whole book and do a synopsis, as one would do for a novel submission. However, whenever I look at "the literature"; e.g., books on proposal writing by Jeff Herman, Michael Larsen, and Elizabeth Lyon, it says that memoir requires a nonfiction book proposal, albeit one with more emphasis on the quality of the writing and the story than on the competition and author platform. Any thoughts on this?
Thanks in advance.