Book Writing AdviceBook, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2012

Creating a Nonfiction Book Proposal


For millennia, the human race relied on oral tradition to pass on history, mythology, and religion on to the next generation. With the revolutionary advent of the written language, the human race merely began to write down what had been delivered for generations, in speeches. Therefore, it seems intuitive to this writer, having a strong background in public speaking, that the same guidelines that govern good public speaking also govern good nonfiction writing.

There are as many approaches to writing nonfiction as there are nonfiction writers. As the adage goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. What is presented here may not be the best way for you, but it has worked for me, and it will be appealing to anyone with a background in public speaking.

In order for a book to be considered nonfiction, it is assumed that at least the author believes that the content he is setting forth is historically or empirically true. In the case of a book on the Mayan calendar, for example, the author himself does not need to believe in the religion or astrological processes of the Mayan people. He does, however, have to be convinced that he is giving a true representation of their beliefs.

This means that nonfiction writing is very much like persuasive speaking. Some are polemic in nature, attacking another established position. Others are more akin to apologetics. I use the word apologetics in the academic sense and not in its common usage. An apologia is a formal argument or defense of something, such as a position or a system.

Although your topic may not seem as volatile as a public debate, you were, no doubt, drawn to it because there is some degree of controversy to it. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, controversial topics get better traction. If it were a settled matter, you would not be writing the book and others would not bother to read it.

A novelist often desires to leave readers wandering, to leave questions unanswered for as long as they dare string the reader along. When one writes a novel, they don't want to answer the reader's questions until the reader has had time to ponder them awhile. When approaching nonfiction as you would a persuasive speech, you want to be much more deliberate. Slight cliffhangers are acceptable, but you want to lead your reader from point to point with as few lose ends as possible. You want to answer those questions for them so that they can move with you to your deeper line of reasoning. In fact, you may wish to preempt many of their questions; ask them in your book before they think of the question, so that they can see how you have cross examined yourself. This will help your reader trust your line of reasoning better.

If your nonfiction is narrative in nature, then your outline is the chronology of events. If your book will be topical in nature, this type of outline could prove very valuable to you. What follows here is a typical outline for a persuasive speech, and how you can use it to start organizing your book.

Topic

This is the easy part. Most writers have a few of these kicking around in their head at any given time.

Purpose

Your purpose may never appear in print, as such, in your book, but you need to know what it is. You need to have the mission of your book at the forefront of your mind at all times.

Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is a concise description of the work you are setting down to write. Can you sum up the message of your book in one, or no more than two, sentences? If not, you need to further refine your message.

Introduction

In public speaking, one would need something to first get the attention of their audience. The same is true of your book. Some use an ice breaker, such as a humorous or anecdotal story that segues nicely into their theme. Others use a more aggressive approach. They will start with a very shocking or controversial statement to create an intentional tension. Either of these tools will serve your introduction well.

Your book's "Introduction" might include one or multiple chapters. In the first chapter, you could do as I have just described and get the attention of your reader with some anecdotal story or some shocking proclamation. In the second chapter, you could tie that opening attention-grabber to your readers in some way. In the third, lay out your purpose and thesis. Of course, all of this could be in your opening chapter, depending on how concise you want to be.

One note of caution: Many modern readers are not sitting down for long periods of time but rather read books in bite-sized chunks. This means that many readers will find many smaller chapters more appealing than fewer longer chapters. A writer must, as a public speaker must, always keep their audience in mind as they craft their outline.

Body

If you look closely at your main points, you will see that they have a progression of logic to them. In other words, one would need to be addressed before another. Some points will have to build upon the strength of others.

While each of your arguments may serve as individual chapters, once you have supported them with research, you can organize them in related groups and organize those groups in a logical order.

If you are looking to add weight to your work, ask yourself whether you have considered giving to each of your points a reason, an example, and an application. Not all of your points will merit such care, but considering them for each point will ensure you are being thorough.

Conclusion

You can signal that you are wrapping things up by putting different points from the body of your work together to come up with a third point. This is called a syllogism: Fact A plus fact B produces a third dependent fact, Fact C.

This is also the time to summarize your objective, perhaps more assertively, more boldly than you did in the introduction. It will also be necessary to apply abstract or lofty ideas from your work to your readers' daily life or encapsulating them in more common language that they can take with them, from your book. Finally, depending on the genre you are writing in, it may be appropriate to challenge your reader to take action or to make a decision based upon what you have conveyed.

Ordering Your Ideas

You can begin organizing your nonfiction book right now, as you are reading this article.

Take a piece of paper and write down your purpose and thesis. Next, begin writing points down as they come to you. Your subject is likely a topic about which you are passionate, or you wouldn't be writing a book about it; so these points should come readily to you with just a little reflection.

If you write them down on paper with a pen, after you are done, read over the page a few times. You will begin to notice that many of your points, arguments, and supporting statements are related. Begin to organize those by highlighting or using a numbering system. After this is done, you will have narrowed your points down under umbrella categories. Points that are outliers, or do not fit under any of the primary themes, should likely be dismissed.

If pen and paper never factor into your writing process, you can do this on your computer screen. It makes ordering the ideas as easy as "Cut and Paste." As good as this sounds, many find the brainstorming session is more creative when they are physically writing the ideas down.

If you have done that, you are ready to create an outline for your nonfiction book. Plug your organized ideas into your outline's Introduction, Body, and Conclusion and then get writing.

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