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Writing Books/A Book Proposal & Sample Chapters (Non- Fiction)


Followup To
Question -
Hello Susan
I''ve just finished writing one of two 'sample chapters' of a 'Self-Improvement' type book. The chapter examines the  issue in  some detail and its implications; in all probability this will be the opening chapter

Though I've a fairly good idea of the structure and chapter sequence of the book I'm not quite sure what ctiteria I should use in deciding what the second (sample) chapter should be; I'm thinking in terms of 'maxiimum impact' here. Any 'sound' advice would be welcome.

Thanks: Keep up the good work

Answer -
Hi, Joe:

The first thing that struck me reading your question is that you must be careful not to put the entire book, or what amounts to a complete synopsis of the book, in the first chapter. Your first chapter, as you describe it, sounds more like the type of foreword/Introduction/preface you often find in this kind of work, following the old "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em" rule.   

I am a firm believer in James N. Frey's "Premise" theory. Although he's talking about writing fiction, it applies as well to non-fiction. What is the premise of your book, what do you want to reader to be convinced of, after she reads your book? A book about time management aimed at executives might have as its premise: "Good time management increases efficiency and profits." A good firm premise is absolultely necessary in guiding you through the book's construction.

Once you get your premise, make an outline of points you want to make, and arrange them in what seems to you a logical and pleasing order, that a reader will be able to easily follow. Each chapter should lead logically into the next. This all assumes you have not written the book yet!
And in that case, my question would be: what are you doing preparing a proposal at this point? Who are you proposing to? Do you hope to sell this book on the basis  of sample chapters? What will you do when they ask for the complete MS? Right now, publication is, or should be, be the least of your worries, and you should put that aside and work on the MS until it is finished. Time enough then to seek publication.

The general rule in submitting sample chapters is: send your best chapter, then your second best, then your third best (assuming someone asks for three). However, there is no way to tell which is which until the MS is completed.

I hope this helps. If it does, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 450 questions.

And good luck with your writing!

Thank you Susan for such a prompt and informed reply.

Your comment, "my question would be: what are you doing preparing a proposal at this point? Who are you proposing to?" puzzles me somewhat as I was 'informed' by an suthor on this same Website that you don't ever write a complete book manuscript (non_fiction).

The author recommended that I offer the 'idea' in the form of a book proposal, which among other things would include 2 - sample chapters. There is persuasive logic in that  approach in that it protects a new author from spending excessive amounts of time on a book that may never be accepted for publication?  

Hello again, Joe:

That expert's advice readily applies to authors who have already published one or two books, have an agent and a publishing house, etc. My answer to your question assumed you were an "emerging" author who has not published before. It is incredibly difficult for an unpublished author to persuade a publishing house to accept his book if they have never heard of him; I would say it's all but impossible. It might be possible to get them to look at your work if it comes from a trusted agent who has established a relationship with them.

Your comment "I was 'informed' by an suthor on this same Website that you don't ever write a complete book manuscript (non_fiction)" puzzles me. Of course you must complete the MS at some time or other!

You are entirely correct, there is "persuasive logic in that approach" but it's all FOR THE WRITER. It is NOT persuasive logic for the publisher. Would you allow a plumber who has never seen pipes before to work on your plumbing? Publishers spend a lot of money publishing books, and they are not inclined to throw their money away on an untried author, especially on the basis of a couple of chapters. You did not answer my question: "Who are you proposing to?" Do you have a publisher on the line? If not, how can you write a proposal to an unknown publisher? What if it's not even the kind of book they publish? If so, have you asked if they want a proposal, or at what point will they demand a finished, print-ready MS?

Of course you are completely entitled to take whatever advice recommends itself to you. Whatever you decide, I wish you luck with your book.

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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