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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing a Nonfiction Book Proposal…and What to Do Next!

Hello Fellow Writers!
I'm thrilled to have Marianne Stephens guest-blog to tell us how she got her non-fiction book published. As you know it's a very different process than getting fiction published.


With the first nonfiction book I wrote, I didn’t check what protocols were acceptable. I wrote the entire book and then decided to try and get it published. I queried agents and publishers…and found many wanted a book proposal even though I’d completed the book.

Book proposals sounded ominous and my head spun with the many versions considered “approved methods”. But the timing for my book, a ghostwritten autobiography about a speaker from a women’s shelter, was off. O.J. Simpson had made the news, and suddenly everyone had an “abuse” story to tell…mostly celebrities. No one was interested in an average woman’s struggle when faced with selling millions of celebrity “abuse” books.

That book was published by Online Originals as in ebook in 1999. Unfortunately, the timing was off there, too. Ebooks and readers weren’t as widespread as now. And, the company changed hands many times. When the original owner finally got it back, there were no records of my sales. I learned an important lesson about timing in the publishing world!

My recently released nonfiction book, “Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall”, had a different journey to publication. This time, I researched how to do a book proposal…and still came up with many versions

The first difference I noted: I did not need to write the entire book before sending out proposals. I compiled the basic elements of a book proposal that most sources suggested:

  • Overview of book
  • Marketing Plan
  • Promotion of the Book
  • Competing Books
  • About the Author
  • Table of Contents
  • Book Synopsis
  • Chapter-by-Chapter Synopses (Chapters Four – Eleven)
  • Sample: Thirty Pages (Chapters One – Three)

Overview: A general description of the book. I mentioned the contents of the book, the fact that it would be written in first person, and photos were available to be inserted in the story. I should have mentioned in this section that a professor in Austria, Dr. Florian Bieber, allowed me to use some of the historical background text from his book on the Bosnian War. He wrote Bosnian War reports for the United Nations and then his own book about the war.

Marketing Plan: Mothers, women, those interested in history or war stories would be the target audience.

Promotion: I talked about my past promotional endeavors, how both the subject of my book and I would be ready to do interviews, my website, blog, and other Internet outlets where I could do promotion.

Competing Books: This is tricky and time consuming. I researched books similar to war survival stories or book specifically about the Bosnian War on Amazon. I checked their ranking numbers and quoted these in this section. A brief description of each book was also given. I listed 6 books.

About the Author: I gave my biography, what I’d written, what articles I’d had posted, and previous speaking engagements.

Table of Contents: Here’s my list for “Guilty Survivor”.
  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication
  • Foreword
  • Profile of Characters
  • Chapter One: Surviving War
  • Chapter Two: Before the War: My Early Years Through College
  • Chapter Three: After College to the Beginning of the Bosnian War
  • Chapter Four: During the War, Part One
  • Chapter Five: During the War, Part Two
  • Chapter Six: During the War, Part Three
  • Chapter Seven: Dangerous Trips Out of Sarajevo and Back
  • Chapter Eight: After the War, Part One
  • Chapter Nine: After the War, Part Two and New Husband
  • Chapter Ten: Time to Leave
  • Chapter Eleven: Life in the United States

Synopsis: A detailed synopsis of the book.

Chapter-by-Chapter Synopses for Chapters Four – Eleven: A one-page synopsis for chapters four through eleven.

Sample: Thirty Pages – (Chapters One – Three): First thirty pages – short chapters.

After preparing this 61-page proposal, I queried agents and some publishers while I completed the book. Since my projected word count was under 30,000, I received only one request for more material. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t make the book longer. The heart of the book centered on my subject’s War years…a three-year period in her life.

I finally submitted to online publishers, and accepted a contract offer. Although Secret Cravings Publishing publishes mostly romances books, they have a Living and Learning imprint for nonfiction. My book is published as an ebook now, and print copies will be offered later.

Doing publicity and getting reviews has been difficult. I’m a member of the romance community, and the outcome of doing promo to these readers has been less than what I’d like to see in sales. I’m finding that some romance review sites/blogs also do nonfiction, and have started doing promo where I can.

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are also sources for doing promo. I’ve sent a press/news release to my local area papers, TV and radio stations, since both the subject of my book and I live in the Kansas City area. And, I’ve offered to speak at a Women’s group…while I look for more speaking engagements.

If you plan to write a nonfiction book proposal, I hope my experience helps in your endeavor!

Here's the Blurb for  “Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall” by Marianne Stephens, which released on 1/26/11 under the “Living and Learning” imprint of Secret Cravings Publishing. It's also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ARe (Omnilit).

She looks like any woman you see rooting for her son at a sporting event or shopping for groceries. Yet, Tamerla Kendall's past includes masquerading as a United Nations soldier and riding in a tank in order to cross Bosnian War (1992-1995) checkpoints to visit family...and facing interrogation by the police because someone betrayed her trust.

Another dangerous trip had her switching cars and drivers to get through checkpoints, done to get her daughter to the safety of family outside the war zone in Sarajevo...only to return and find her home torched and family restaurant robbed. Her daughter, brainwashed by her father, believed she'd been abandoned by her mother, causing years of heartbreaking separation and non-communication.

With either trip, she risked getting caught, arrested, or shot. And, with each trip, came the critical decision to return to Sarajevo to save the family restaurant business. Each day presented the challenge of finding supplies on the Black Market or by bartering with the military to keep her restaurant operating.

"Guilty Survivor - Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall" by Marianne Stephens, presents the memoirs of Bosnian Croat, Tamerla Kendall...now a US citizen. Grenade bombings of her restaurant, cleaning blood off the streets and buildings after random attacks, and witnessing people dead and dying, convinced her she'd be able to shoot the gun she'd bought for protection. When a gun was pointed at her head and her family threatened after the war because she'd married an American, Tamerla made the crucial decision to move to the United States.
About the Author:
Marianne Stephens writes nonfiction and mainstream contemporary/paranormal romance books. Check her website, http://www.mariannestephens.net,  for more information. She's a member of: Mid America Romance Authors, Romance Writers of America, Published Authors Network, Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal, Long Island Romance Writers, Dunes & Dreams Romance Writers, Published Authors Special Interest Chapter. Also check: http://www.aprilash.net for erotic romance books. 


  1. Sounds like you've learned a lot of lessons in the process of getting published. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. This was really interesting; thanks for posting. Why did you decide to keep the book format 30K, and not expand it?

  3. Thanks for your comments. I kept the book short for two reasons. First, some events I'd planned to write about were cut by Tamerla for personal reasons. Second, the war lasted three years, and that's where most of the book was focused. Unlike fiction, "adding" fillers couldn't be done...I had to stick to facts.

    Shoshanna, thanks for having me here today!

  4. This is a wonderful story. I recommend it to anyone.

  5. Great story. Writing non-fiction is quite different from writing fiction as I know. My hat's off to you.

  6. What a great story - I really love hearing about the different genres - thanks for sharing!

  7. Someday I'd love to write a non-fiction book, so I found Marianne's post was very informative. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Thanks Sandy, JL, and Jennifer. I enjoyed the challenge of writing something out of my comfort zone!


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