How to Pitch a Non-Fiction Book to Agents and Publishers
  • 5-minute read
  • 12th May 2021

How to Pitch a Non-Fiction Book to Agents and Publishers

If you want to pitch an idea for non-fiction book to a literary agent or editor, you need to prepare a proposal. The aim is to capture what your book will be about and why people will want to read it. But how do you do this?

The three key steps for pitching a non-fiction book are:

  1. Research literary agents and publishers who specialize in your subject area, then make a list of around a dozen people you want to contact.
  2. Work out how you will pitch your work and prepare a detailed proposal, including an outline, sample chapters, and a marketing plan.
  3. Tailor each pitch to the agent or publisher you are contacting, making sure to edit and proofread carefully so you make the best first impression possible.

Below, we’ll look at each of these tips in more detail.

1. Research Agents and Publishers

A literary agent is someone who knows the industry and who will help you get a deal with a publisher. And if you want to pitch an idea for a non-fiction book, the key is to find someone who knows your genre or subject area well.

If you are pitching a historical biography, for instance, you’ll want to find an agent who has worked on similar books. This will mean they know what works in the genre, as well as which publishers put out such works. If you pitch to an agent that usually works with self-help authors, on the other hand, they’re unlikely to be interested.

You can look for agencies and agents online using resources like Agent Query and Query Tracker to search by subject matter and location. Or you can look at authors who work in the same genre as you to see which agents and agencies they use.

Once you’ve done some research, make a shortlist of around twelve names and focus on these. You can always contact more if you’re not successful at first!

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You could, of course, go straight to a publisher instead (most publishers list the genres they publish online, so you can check which are relevant to you). Keep in mind, though, that many publishers don’t accept unsolicited proposals. And unless you know the industry well, having an agent in your corner is a good idea!

2. Preparing Your Book Proposal

Unlike with works of fiction, you will usually need to pitch your idea for a non-fiction book before writing a full draft. But this pitch is not a single document. Rather, it is a package covering various aspects of the proposal, including:

  • An overview – This serves as an introduction to your proposal. Start with a few sentences that sum up the book and will grab the reader’s attention (i.e., the elevator pitch version). After that, go into more detail on what it will be about, why it is important or timely, and who will want to read it. The overview should be no more than three pages in total, though, so make sure to keep it concise.
  • Chapter outline – Include a breakdown of the proposed structure of your book and what each chapter will cover (around a paragraph for each).
  • Sample chapter(s) – As well as an outline, you will need to include a sample chapter or chapters to give a sense of how the finished book will read.
  • Author bio – A few hundred words about why you are the best person to write the book. This might include expertise or experience in the subject area, previous publication success, and any relevant awards or qualifications.
  • Marketing plan – After the bio, include a section about how you can help promote the book (e.g., a large social media following or having a prominent position in your industry). Some pitches also include one or two comparison titles so that agents can see where your book will fit in the market.

To start, get all the information you need and write up a rough draft proposal. You can then tailor this to fit the requirements of each agent you contact.

3. Tailor and Proofread Your Pitch

Each book proposal you send out should be tailored to the agent or publisher to whom you’re sending it. Key factors in this respect include:

  • Checking the website of the agency or publisher for submission guidelines, then following these carefully as you prepare your submission.
  • Finding the name of the agent or editor you want to read your proposal and addressing it to them directly rather than using a generic salutation like “To Whom It May Concern.” This will help ensure the right person sees it.
  • Tweaking the text of your proposal to reflect the recipient’s preferences (e.g., mentioning books that the agent has been involved with in the past).

Make sure to proofread each proposal carefully, too. To make the best possible impression on the recipient, it needs to be clear, concise, and error free.

However, it is easy to miss typos when proofreading your own writing. As such, if you want to be sure your non-fiction book proposal is error free before sending it, you’ll want to get in touch with our expert editors to see how we can help.

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