Nonfiction Proposals – Market Overview

News flash: Your book is a product, like a car, computer, or denture cream. And like denture cream (and cars and computers), not everyone in the world wants or needs your book. The group most likely to buy your book is known as your market (or audience).

Think about it…who buys denture cream? People with dentures of course. According to the American College of Prosthodontists, about 15% of the U.S. population gets dentures made each year. These 48 million+ Americans with dentures are the “market” or “audience” for denture cream.

Likewise, if you’re writing a parenting book, parents — not teenagers — are your market. If your book is an introduction to yoga, stressed out office workers might be your market.

When you craft the Market Overview section of your nonfiction proposal, you must describe your audience in as much detail as you can, including how many people are in the group. This gives agents and editors a sense of potential sales numbers and possible marketing strategies.

The process of identifying and learning about your audience is called market research. 


Today, the internet puts a wealth of market research at your fingertips. Here are a few free sources:

  • Industry and Professional Associations. Writing about stress or other psychological issues? Check out the American Psychological Association’s site. What about chronic fatigue? Try the National CFIDS Foundation. Prefer to write a book about organizing your home? You have your pick of organization organizations. Almost any topic you write about has a corresponding industry or professional group. These professional groups and their publications (below) are a great place to learn about your audience.
  • Trade Publications. Goldmine! Once you find a related industry organization, see if you can find publications on its website. The American Psychological Association has several journals, and free articles are available on its site. Don’t forget to check out publishing industry publications too, like Publisher’s Weekly. It often has articles on book trends by genre and category.
  • Government resources — especially the U.S. Census. The Census doesn’t just count America’s population every 10 years. The Census is your go-to for all sorts of demographic data, and portions of it are updated far more frequently than once a decade. The Census collects data on education, age, employment, religion, housing, and even commute times and childcare arrangements. Once you have identified the number of people in your audience, Census data can help you flesh out details about those people.
  • Existing market research data. Market research companies like Nielsen make some studies available for free. Nielsen collects not only TV and book data (BookScan) but also tracks what products people buy.  Pew Research, Harris Poll and Gallup survey people’s opinions on a variety of topics. Likely one of these groups has covered a topic that ties into your proposal. Polls and surveys can help you learn more about the attitudes and opinions of your audience including likes and dislikes, what they read and how they hear about new products..
  • Other sources. Newspapers, magazines, and a simple Google search also can produce just the market research you need. The key is to search for your topic along with terms like “market research,” “data,” “trends,” or “opinions.”

Market research can be a bit of a rabbit hole. The key is to do enough research to show editors and agents there’s a market for your book. You need to be able to answer two questions 1) “Who is the market?” and 2) “How big is the market?” Once you’ve mastered that, you are ready to move on to your Competitive Analysis of other books already in the marketplace. We’ll cover that next month.


11 thoughts on “Nonfiction Proposals – Market Overview

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  1. Thank you, Kirsten. These tips are so very helpful. I’ve saved this post to my favorite bar for future reference as I have anon-fiction I will be sending out within the next couple months. Have a wonderful Fourth of July celebration!


    1. Robyn, are you planning on self publishing? If you are, you might Google self publishing resources as I’m not the best person to answer that question. If you are publishing traditionally your publishing house will handle line edits. Or am I misunderstanding your question altogether?


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