Writer and historian Elizabeth Abbott recently posted some good tips for going about nonfiction book projects. Two of them often happen together and the third, which speaks to proposal development, goes beyond that – Let me explain.
Abbott’s two tips that go together are “begin with an idea” and “develop a thesis.” Your book idea needs to be about something “that you love, something that motivates you, something that inspires you, something that you want to spend probably a couple years working on because it’s very, very hard work,” and that either is “something that you know quite a bit about, or that you’d like to know quite a bit about.”
Along with this, you have to develop your angle on the topic, or your unique approach to it. Researching the book is not just about gathering information on the topic, but determining how you want to advance a particular point of view, or hypothesis as a result of your research.
She goes to say that these two things they will culminate in a proposal. Yes and no. If you want to go the traditional publishing route and find an agent who will pitch publishers, then yes. If you want to try the indie publishing road, you won’t need an official proposal, but you will have to have answers to the questions any proposal provides. Key questions and answers revolve around the frame of mind to start with - that your book is a product and you’ll have to know how and why it is going to sell.
As Abbott writes, “It’s like any product: it has to be described; it has to be gripping” and you have to think about it “not just in terms of intellectually and artistically and so on, but also in terms of selling as a vendor.” This includes answering questions like: What nonfiction books sell? How will mine be positioned? Who are my target readers? How will I market this product to these potential customers? In other words, you have to “think like a business person” and treat your book like any other product.
Writing nonfiction takes passion for research, a strong and unique position you wish to put forth, and from the start, needs the mindset of a “literary vendor.” The word vendor is from the French word, vendre, meaning to sell. Ultimately, nonfiction book success means being able to wear both creative and business hats.