Nonfiction Book Proposals: Bright Idea to Power Theme

A lot of writers with nonfiction books ideas come to the table with topics too broad or, as we discussed yesterday, too “me” centered and not reader-centered. Writers who mainly desire therapy for some trauma, who are bent on educating readers or who just want the world to see how much they know may be shocked to find little interest for their proposals.
Writing Tip for Today: How can you take a nonfiction book idea and turn it into a power theme?

  • Turn Outward. Take that very personal story you want to tell and turn it around so that you are using your story as an illustration of the main topic, not the whole story. Unfortunately, few want to read a blow-by-blow account of your cancer treatment or the slow painful death of a loved one. It’s not that these things are unimportant, just that a person who’s never gone through these things won’t relate. And the one who is or has gone through it wants hope, not so much of the medical jargon or other unpleasant things. The very skilled writer might get away with more of the “bummer” stuff, but on the whole, readers are squeamish about depressing details.
  • Take Stock. So many people say, “I’ve had such an interesting life, I ought to write a book!” Not so fast. The writing must be very skilled and the author a brilliant storyteller to capture a reader’s interest about someone else’s life. Or you could be famous. That’s why celebrities get pub contracts. OK. If you can’t publish a book only about your life or your experience with some dreaded disease, what can you offer? Ask yourself what you wanted most as you went through some traumatic experience? Was it for someone to repeat all the horrible stuff? Probably not.
  • Go for the Emotions. If your nonfiction book isn’t historical or a Dummies book on how-tos, your project is more likely to succeed if it appeals to the reader’s deepest held emotions. Identify the feelings you think your reader will relate to, and build your chapters on those emotions.

Tomorrow: Nonfiction Power Themes, Part II

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Nonfiction Book Proposals: Bright Idea to Power Theme

  1. Linda,

    What a thoughtful post on nonfiction proposals. I’ve read thousands of proposals as an acquisitions editor and a literary agent. I’ve even written two proposals that received six-figure advances. I find many writers need someone to show them the step-by-step way to create an eye-catching proposal. It’s why I poured the energy into my new course for nonfiction or fiction authors called The Write A Book Proposal Course.

    See you soon in Oregon,


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