Writing a Non-Fiction Proposal

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Non-Fiction Guides | Getting Non-Fiction Published

Rachel Fehily

Proposal letters are so important. They’re the first chance you get to make a good impression on an agent or a publisher.

The following are two real proposal letters I have sent to publishers and agents for two non-fiction books. I hope they will be useful to show you the points you need to touch on in your own proposal letter. Both proposals were accepted by publishers.

Dear Agent/Publisher, (ensure you address it to a specific individual)

I am writing a book provisionally titled “Break up, don’t crack up” for people in Ireland of all ages who are going through the break-up of their relationship. It aims to provide practical, strategic advice for men and women on to how to deal with all aspects of the end of their relationship or marriage, including legal, financial, parenting, mediation options, emotional and lifestyle issues.

It lists a comprehensive directory of services and professionals who work in family law, family therapy, parenting support, government agencies and explains what each service has to offer.

Often people will go to a lawyer and try to use that process to deal with their emotional issues or they might go to a therapist who might be unable to help them with their financial issues. Mediation is wonderful when it works but often couples will not agree to go together to a mediator.

Other publications deal with practical, legal or emotional issues separately. I think it is impossible to separate these issues as they are usually interrelated. For example a power imbalance in a relationship might cause financial problems for one party.

This book aims to tie all the issues together into one holistic manual that covers everything. As a Barrister I have witnessed the confusion and the emotional and financial trauma that affects people as they go through separation and divorce and many important issues are left unresolved.

I trained as a mediator and found that conflict resolution techniques can help people resolve most problems. I also provide a private consultation service for people who are separating but want to develop a strategic plan before they engage a lawyer. Developing such a plan can save them time, money and an awful lot of heartache.

Unfortunately many people cannot afford such a service so I would like you to help me publish this book so we can give it to people who are going through the trauma of a break up and say to them: “Read this before you do anything!”

The book is structured like a self help manual. It is easy to read, has plenty of examples of situations that I have witnessed.

There will be chapters that cover the following areas:

Conflict resolution, Becoming a decision maker, Hiring a lawyer, The benefits of Mediation, Organising finances, Therapy for you, Parenting plans, Changing your role, Moving on.

The book will be about 40,000 words and will have a comprehensive directory at the back. I’d like its design to be user friendly and colourful.  It would also be easy to include fictional case studies to illustrate particular common situations that arise.

There isn’t a book out there that deals with all these issues. I try to help people who come to see me develop a strategic plan before they go to see a lawyer, mediator or other professional. I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. If a couple can identify and resolve issues themselves before they proceed they can save themselves a lot of money, time and trouble. If people understand what hiring a lawyer, mediator, therapist or financial advisor entails and what those professionals can and cannot do, then that also is beneficial for them.

I’ve worked as a Barrister for fifteen years and written articles in national newspapers and spoken on radio on conflict resolution and the pitfalls of the adversarial system.  The book is at a planning stage – I’ve written about 10,000 words so far. I write quickly (I’ve just finished a 100,000 word book that is with an agent at present).

Please let me know if you are interested in this book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


Dear Editor/Agent, (ensure you address it to a specific individual) 

Enclosed for your attention are the first two chapters/stories of separation from my book: “Fighting, Failing and Falling Apart: True personal stories that reveal the emotional, financial and social cost of conflict during relationship breakdown in Ireland.”

The stories are first person narratives by people from different backgrounds who have been through divorce, separation and relationship breakdown. They are interesting, up to date, modern and relevant to Irish people today.  I have another book that is a legal guide to separation and divorce coming out with an academic publisher. I think this book I am sending to you would have a wider appeal.

I am a practicing barrister and have contributed articles to newspapers and magazines. If you have any difficulty in reading this please contact me by email. I look forward to hearing from you.  The proposed title of the book is: “Fighting, Failing and Falling Apart: True personal stories that reveal the emotional, financial and social cost of conflict during relationship breakdown in Ireland.”

This book is different because it is a collection of stories by different individual men and women that describe many experiences. The stories deal with difficulties people from a wide range of backgrounds face when their relationships break down. They all experience different problems: with the legal system, lawyers, parenting, finances, mental health, parenting, violence, housing, rights and responsibilities.

The book is intended for men and women who are affected by or who are interested in relationship breakdown in Ireland. Divorce and separation affect everybody. Relationship breakdown occurs across all ages and social groups. The book will be written in an accessible manner, is not intended to be academic, so its style will not exclude readers.

The book is going to be 80,000 words. This is about 15 stories. There are no illustrations. The cover will be very well designed.   The text of two stories is available to read at present. If I go ahead with the book then all the stories will be finished within four months.

Description of book:

“Fighting, Failing and Falling Apart” is a collection of personal stories by Irish people who are deeply affected by their relationship breakdown.

Each story is a cautionary tale about what can happen when relationships end badly. Many of the contributors and their exes hit self destruct mode, get caught in a poverty trap, see their children used as weapons, allow themselves to be controlled or abused and waste time and money on lawyers. Their battle becomes an end it itself.

Some of the people who tell their stories look back and wish they had done things differently. They hope that when you read them, that you, or someone one close to you, will avoid the mistakes they made.

For those lucky few who ended their relationships amicably, they hope that you will follow the same path so you won’t end up fighting with your ex, failing in your relationships and allowing your world to fall apart.

The first point you should emphasise in telling others about my book is that the stories in the book are fascinating and give a unique insight into personal experiences of relationship breakdown across all of Irish society. The people in the book have all suffered and learned lessons. If you read the book it will help you to understand the mistakes people make and the problems that result during and after relationship breakdown so you and those close to you, can learn from them.

I think the subject of the book is topical and this will help you to promote it, because relationship breakdown is a huge issue. The realistic aspects of the book will also help you to promote it. Relationship breakdown affects every family in Ireland and everyone is interested in these stories if they are well told.

You would be able to promote the book by allowing newspapers to take one story out of the book and publish it in their paper. That would give readers an idea of the content. They are also suitable to be read out on radio.

Please let me know if you are interested in this book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


The most important points to address with a proposal letter are:

  • A brief outline of your book giving a clear tone and direction to your work.
  • Identify the audience that exists for your book
  • Detail the unique selling point of this book and why it will appeal to its target audience.
  • Develop a plan to promote this book to its audience and maximise its exposure.

About the author

©Rachel Fehily for writing.ie 2011

Rachel Fehily was born in Dublin and is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, The Kings Inns and University College Dublin. She has practised as a Barrister and a Mediator and is particularly interested in conflict resolution.

She has represented defendants before juries in criminal cases, victims of sexual abuse, litigants in medical negligence, defamation, family law and commercial cases. She has contributed articles to The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post and Image Magazine.

Her first book “Break Up, Don’t Crack Up: A Practical Guide to Dealing with the End of your Marriage or Relationship” is due for publication by Blackhall Publishing in January 2012. Her website is http://www.familylawmediator.ie/ She is currently working on a novel and a self-help book for an international readership.

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