Lesson 7: Specifications and Sample Writing
This is part of our free non-fiction book proposal course written by Lydia, Senior Editor at Penguin Random House. To see all posts in this series, please click here.
In this short lesson, I’ll provide information on what book specifications you need to share with a publisher and also provide some top tips on sample writing.
Proposed Word Count
It’s important to let a publisher know if you intend to write a short or a long book as it might influence the decision they make about the format. The average nonfiction hardback of 250-300 pages is around 80,000 to 100,000 words. The average nonfiction paperback of around 250 pages is about 60,000 words.
The publisher won’t expect you to know how many pages your book might run to, but they will expect you to provide a rough word count that you will be working towards.
Illustrations, photographs, maps, diagrams
As well as providing an idea of the word count, it is helpful to tell the publisher what kind of material you expect to be included in the book – whether you will include illustrations, photographs, maps, or diagrams. For all of these visual elements that might compliment the text, it’s helpful to provide details on the following things:
- Colour – will they be in colour or black and white?
- Style – will they be hand-drawn or designed on a computer?
- Size – will the diagrams or maps take up half a page or a whole page?
- Source and permissions – where did you get the visual elements from and will permissions need to be cleared in order to use them?
It’s important to tell publishers when you expect to deliver a first full draft of the book for editing as this will help them understand when the book might be published. Most publishing houses will expect the book draft to be delivered nine months to a year ahead of publication, so there is ample time to edit, copy-edit and proof-read the book.
If you want a book to be published to coincide with the anniversary of a historical event or the next UN summit on climate change, for example, be mindful of when you will need to deliver your book in order to make that date.
It’s important to include sample writing to give publishers a feel for how you write. While the chapter descriptions help to explain your vision for the book, on their own they don’t give an accurate view of your writing style and what your book will feel like to be read.
This is why writing a sample chapter or various sample extracts is so useful.
If you’re writing a book that is narrative non-fiction, you might want to include the first two chapters from your book so your writing is chronological and the story flows well.
But if you’re writing idea-led non-fiction, it’s okay for the samples you include to be from different parts of the book. For example, you could submit Chapter 4 and an extract from Chapter 7. Just be sure to pick the chapters and sections that are going to engage the publisher most.
When writing your sample chapters, remember to always keep your audience in mind. It will also help to write a chapter which is true to the chapter description you included earlier in the proposal. If you write a compelling and interesting chapter that covers everything you said you would address in that chapter, the publisher will have confidence in your ability to do this with the rest of your proposal.