The first step in writing a book to build your personal brand–after researching the topic, of course–is to prepare a book proposal that will convince literary agents and publishers of the commercial feasibility of your book.
Proposal as sales tool
To succeed, you have to view your book proposal as an advertisement, or direct-marketing sales tool, intended to convince very skeptical prospects that they will make money getting behind your book publishing project. Your primary objectives are:
- Make the sale. Your proposal must be your salesman, backed-up, of course, by the two sample chapters you submit with your proposal.
- Overcome objections. To make the sale, in attention to creating desire, your book proposal must address all of the objections literary agents and acquisitions editors might raise while reading your proposal.
Because of the uncertainty of book publishing in general, and the economy in particular, i.e., your book proposal will be read by skeptical readers who, in most cases, have more to gain by not agreeing to publish your book than they do by agreeing to help you get published.
As Josef Woodman, a publisher with a 25-year successful track record, recently reminded me of the old saying among publishers, “The best way to make a million dollars in publishing is to start with three million dollars.”
In most cases, your readers have more to lose by accepting your proposal than they have to lose if they reject your proposal–even if, down the road, your book turns into a great publishing success.
- Acquisitions editors, your publisher’s “gate-keepers,” for example, are notoriously risk adverse. If a book doesn’t sell, or if an author doesn’t perform, they’re the one who has to answer their co-workers and superiors. On the other hand, even if a book turns out to be very successful, the editor’s rewards are long-range and intangible, (a “good track record,” etc.), rather than immediate and spendable (i.e., bonuses and promotion).
- Literary agents, of course, only earn income when their client’s books are sold to a publisher. Their income comes after a lot of investment of their time spent on your behalf. Their major incentive is that your book will turn into an “evergreen,” or long-term, consistent seller, creating continuity income for them while they move on to newer projects.
6 answers agents & publishers want to see in your book proposal
- What’s the book about? The book proposal must begin title and subtitle must begin with a title that immediately engages the agent or editor’s attention. The title must be brief, but offer readers an obvious benefit. The title be followed by a paragraph that builds upon the title, providing additional details, and tantalizing agents and editors to continue reading.
- Is there a market for the book? No one benefits from well-written books on topics that lack relevance and urgency. Agents and editors will search online to see how many books on the topic are already available, how they’re selling, and how newsworthy the topic is. Agents and editors will also analyze blogs and websites that address the same market. In this case, competition is good, because it proves that a market exists.
- What sets this book apart from existing books on the topic? What are the leading books in the area, and how do you plan to make your book different? How does your approach differ from existing books? How are you going to position your book relative to the competition? Will you address a single market segment, or does your book offer a new solution to an old problem?
- Does the book deliver on the promise offered by the title? First, agents and editors will carefully examine your book’s table of contents. They are interested not only in the quality of the information you offer, but also the organization and sequence of the chapters. Then, they will read your sample chapters with a fine-tooth comb to note your writing style as well as the usefulness of the information you provided. Faulty assumptions, incomplete information, and obvious mistakes in grammar or spelling can undermine your proposal.
- How does the author plan to market this book? Your author platform, or system of online and offline visibility, is the next major area agents and editors are going to be closely examining. How many followers do you have on social marketing sites, what kinds of traffic do your blog and web site attract, and what kind of visibility do you have among the experts in your field?
- Is the author qualified to write the book? Although academic and professional qualifications are important, their absence or presence is less important than your proven ability to prepare convincing and consistent content in your newsletters and in your blog and on your website. Likewise, previously written e-books, reports, and white papers substantiate your ability and commitment to your topic over time.
Roger C. Parker is a “32 Million Dollar Author,” book coach, and online writing resource. His 38 books have sold 1.9 million copies in 35 languages around the world. Roger has interviewed hundreds of successfully branded nonfiction authors and shares what he’s learned at Published & Profitable and his daily writing tips blog.