Non fiction is an incredibly busy category. With celebrity memoirs and internet-based projects (HONY etc.) everywhere (and rightfully so! As you’ll see below) it’s a competitive space for debut non fiction authors. So if you have a non fiction idea how are you going to get to the marketplace? How do you find an agent and editor that will see the potential?
Firstly, you need a completely original idea or a very new/controversial take on an existing one. Yes, nearly every topic has been written about but there are many more spins and angles to be worked. So ask yourself: Why are you the right person to write this? Why does the market need it? There is no substitute for the idea. You can work on 2 and 3, but this has to be there from day 1. If you’re working on an idea that’s already out there in book format, how is yours different? No agent or editor is going to sign something up that’s already out there unless it’s being done differently or better.
How have you tested your idea? Do you have a podcast where people call in with stories? Do you have a Twitter account with lots of RTs? Do you have regular speaking gigs where people hear you talk? Are you on TV/have a column/hold a prominent job? How does a publisher know that people are engaged with what you have to say? If they’re going to financially invest in a project before it’s written (remember non fiction is sold on proposal) then you need to show them why they should. You’re writing a business plan for your project. Engagement is the proof that this idea can work as a book. Give the publisher faith that you can bring this to a wide audience.
Engagement and platform are the same category, but different. You can have a platform without engagement (i.e. blog with no hits) but you can’t have engagement without a solid platform. Pick the platform that you find easiest to consistently communicate on and make it easy for people to find you. Your platform is essentially your numbers of followers and the virtual and physical reach you have. How many people listen to your podcast? How many followers do you have? They need to be engaged, yes! But, the smaller your platform the higher the engagement has to be. The bigger your platform gets high engagement is expected and that’s when it’s time to pitch a book.