How to Get Your Nonfiction Book Accepted for Publication

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Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, it’s always hard to get your foot in the publishing door. Each type of writing requires a different publishing path. If you hope to get a deal with a publishing house, following the steps below can help you get your nonfiction book out to the public.

Before you turn your chapters or manuscript over to a publishing house, make sure they’re in excellent shape. As seasoned writers will tell you, it is always best to employ the services of a professional editor

1. Hold off on completing the book

Authors often believe they must work tirelessly to finish a manuscript before they approach an agent or a publishing house. In the nonfiction industry, this isn’t so. When you come up with an idea, go ahead and write the first chapter or two. At this point, you want to contact a publisher or an agent with a proposal to see if they’re interested in your idea.

By submitting a proposal, you can determine if your concept has appeal. As long as you make it clear that you’re submitting multiple proposals, you can send your work to more than one publisher. If they are intrigued, they will ask to see a chapter or two. In case they approve of your idea, they will want to work closely with you to determine or refine the content and audience. If, however, you can’t find a publisher willing to accept your nonfiction idea, at least you haven’t wasted months or years writing the whole book!

2. Thoroughly research your idea/concept

Before you begin the journey of writing your nonfiction book, you’ll want to find out if it will be a worthwhile endeavor. Before they sign with you, publishers will want to know if the topic is going to attract readers.

How can you show the publishing houses that your idea is promising? First, find any similar books in the marketplace. Look online and check out local bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Do you see an abundance of similar titles? If so, your market may be oversaturated. After all, dozens of books on Abraham Lincoln are published every year. It is difficult to say something new or look at him in a different light given that so many scholars have spent their entire careers studying him. 

If, however, you still want to write a book about Lincoln, then you have to prove that yours will be different from the others. This is a hard task, but as long as you can show publishers that your book is needed, you may have a good chance of getting published. Indeed, if you have a new and original concept, it might work. Since there are plenty of titles, there must be interest in the subject.

On the other hand, if you can’t find any similar titles, it’s possible that the idea hasn’t been explored yet or that there’s no market for it. This could work both for and against you, depending on the context. If, for instance, you are trying to write a book about an unknown historical figure, it might not sell well in case that figure is not interesting to your audience. You want to make sure that you do a good job of explaining why this person is worth exploring in a book. Otherwise, potential readers will not be persuaded to buy and read your work.

You can also see if your idea is marketable by looking at the sales of books in your category. This is a great way to determine if your topic is hot or long forgotten. There may be a resurgence of interest in certain eras, historical figures, or settings depending on what is trending in popular culture. For instance, the Netflix show The Crown has renewed interest in the British royal family, and Stranger Things has evoked nostalgia for the 1980s. Staying informed about popular culture trends may help you figure out whether the public is ready for—or interested in—your book.

Any research you do can be of help when the time comes to write your proposal or pitch your idea. If you know the facts, you’ll be more likely to convince a publisher or an agent that your book will sell.

3. Write a proposal

The proposal for your nonfiction work is a clear outline of the book. This is where you want to “sell” your idea to the publisher or agent. When the proposal is accepted, you get the go-ahead to pen your book.

How do you write a proposal? There are several questions to address here. Try to answer clearly the questions below as a guide and work from there.

  1. What are your target category and audience?
  2. What other titles compete with your book?
  3. What is the outline of your book?
  4. How can you market your book?
  5. How are you qualified to write this book?

Writing a book proposal is tough work. Basically, you want to tell the publisher or agent why this book is necessary and who will need or want to read it.

4. Prove that you can write a book that sells

The nonfiction book market is competitive. You need to prove that your book is needed and wanted and that you are the person who should be imparting the information. Publishers and agents will want to know why people would be keen to buy your book.

Are you writing about something that is a hot topic right now or has been recently? If the subject continues to be newsworthy and little has been written about it, you might catch a publisher’s attention. People often want to learn more about the most current issues in the world.

Are you an expert in the field, or do you have the qualifications to write about the topic? This helps sell a book. If you have specific knowledge or experience in an area, you might be the one who should address it. For instance, a book about basketball will be better received when written by an ex-basketball player or a coach rather than a forensic scientist. Having authority or visibility can help sell your work. Especially in nonfiction, you want readers to believe in your credibility, so it is important to write about a topic you are thoroughly familiar with.

Is there something that will set your book apart from others on the same topic? Again, it can increase sales if you’re approaching things from a different angle. It will help if you were at an event that gave you insight no one else could possibly have.

5. Determine if you need an agent

You need to determine if you can work directly with a publisher or if you need to hire an agent. While most fiction books require an agent, this isn’t always the case with nonfiction works. However, agents can help you immensely as they know the publishing world and have contacts. They can also negotiate on your behalf if your book is accepted.

Usually, you’ll need an agent to get accepted by the big publishing companies. If, however, you’re looking into a smaller publishing house, you might be able to work directly with the publisher. Before you approach a publishing house on your own, make sure it reviews unsolicited manuscripts and publishes titles in your field. To save time and energy, you can outsource the search for relevant literary agents to the experts. We offer a special service to help authors find the right agents to pitch to.

Although writing a nonfiction book and submitting a proposal require substantial work, there is no better feeling than getting accepted by a publisher and eventually seeing your book in bookstores or online. Follow the tips above to make your journey a little easier, and when you’re ready, get your work reviewed by our professionals.

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