If you are a nonfiction writer, consider pitching your idea before you write the book. The way to do this is to write a business-like plan for your book and get it in front of a literary agent who will agree to contract you to write it.
To find agents who specialize in your subject area, check out publishing expert Jane Friedman’s site for links to databases for searching agents. Once you identify agents who are a good fit, visit their websites to find submission guidelines.
Many agents will require a query letter before they decide whether or not to request your proposal. Some guidance on writing query letters can be found on the site of Author William Cane (a.k.a. Michael Christian). Also, Brian Klems provides a great example of a query letter in one of his Writer’s Digest blog posts.
Make sure your proposal and at least one chapter are written before you start contacting agents. Sister pages at the previous links in this post will provide background on how to organize a proposal, but I especially like the formatting tips suggested in this Huffington Post “Writer’s Relief” blog entry. Here you will find descriptions for a title page, summary, chapter outline, market, author information, specifications, table of contents and sample chapters.
Writing your proposal may take weeks or months, and, depending upon the number of sample chapters you provide, be up to 50 pages or longer. When you are invited to submit it, check the agent’s guidelines as you may need to tailor it each time you respond. Like your manuscript, your book proposal should be carefully edited and formatted. For a second set of eyes, contact The Word Czar for a thorough review to ensure that your submission makes the best impression possible.