I've written bits and pieces of for the last year. But it isn't until the last month that I've really started looking at writing a proposal for my current project.
Now, I've written tons of query letters. I've the rejection files to prove it. But it wasn't until I garnered the idea for my non-fiction that I found something that truly makes me quake in my boots (short boots,very nice, black, simple). For those who quiver over the dreaded synopsis, and I have heard tons of writers lamenting them over the years, then take a look at just what goes into a nonfiction proposal.
1. Title Page (with it's own layout. Those who write manuscripts are generally familiar with it.)
2. Overview that 3-5 pages long and outlines such questions as ... Who is the proposed audience, Why will they buy it and What I will bring to this book?...
3. Author Credentials. About 1 page and listing vigorously why you are the author to write the book.
4. A Competitive Analysis of books currently available within the genre and specific to what your books is about. Some places suggest that you pick 6-8 books and do an analysis of what is good about them what they could do to make it stronger and how your book will be different.
5. Chapter Summary: It should break down the chapters and give a description of each chapter.
6. And the Marketing Plan! Now, I've made this huge because this is a large chunk of the proposal. With today's burgeoning markets (Wow! I don't even use that word in a romance!) there a more urgent need for authors to prove that they can sell this book with limited help (read money and marketing dollars) from their publisher. And the smaller the publisher the more work you are going to have to put into it. I'm not a stranger to this in any way. But I also know how much work is involved. If you want the book to succeed you must have a GOOD marketing plan and expect to spend many hours on it. If you can't afford the time then there are alternatives such as hiring someone to do this for you. But keep in mind that this is a draw on your hard earned profits for the book. Weigh your options and decide for yourself. A good marketing plan will include: What sets you apart from those other authors (personal experience, degrees in said topic, etc), plan of marketing: blog tours, signings, venues to speak, etc. And don't forget all that lovely online marketing through social networks. If you can pull yourself away from Mafia Wars and Farmville for any period of time (personal experience here) then you can use Facebook and Myspace and Twitter, as well as the other sites to market your book. There are also contest, giveaways, conferences, bookmarks... and I can go on and on and on. This is a large part of your proposal and you want to put a lot of thought and heart into this. Don't over extend yourself, but don't sell yourself short. For instance, I never thought in a million years that I'd be speaking at conferences, but I've done several now and finding it easier every time. The thing to remember about marketing a book is that some options will work, others won't... but if you don't do anything then you won't sell the book.
7. A sample chapter: Pick the chapter with the most impact and include it. But keep in mind, if that chapter with the biggest impact is scheduled as the third chapter in your book then maybe you need to look at this and move it around. The same impact that you are going for with the Agent, publisher, etc. is the impact you want with the reader.
There are tons of resources at bookstores on on the web for writing a non-fiction book proposal. I've spent as much time learning to write one as it takes to actually write the proposal. But once the learning curve is met than it will get easier. I'm even creating a template to future ease.