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Tips on Writing Book Proposals The Way Editors Want

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Writing Book Proposals That Editors Want


One of the major challenges of a new book author is connecting with the right decision makes in major publishing houses. Most book acquisition editors are too busy to take phone calls. Typically, an editor will review between 300 and 1500 submissions a year; with only a very small percentage of these being selected for publishing.

So how do authors get to communicate with editors, and does having an agent make a difference? From research we have done, Editors work about equally directly with authors and with authors literary agents. However most prefer working through agents, especially with first time authors because:

  1. Proposals and manuscripts are better quality.
  2. Agents are better at negotiating contracts
  3. Agents can help authors during difficult parts of the process, as a facilitator between author and editor. This maintains a better creative relationship between author and publisher.
  4. Some won't read proposals from agents they have never heard of because it is more difficult and mroe time-consuming.


Criteria Used to Evaluate Book Proposals

Editors want the proposal to include:

Author’s Credentials and Platform - what public profile does the author have. Have they been speaking, consulting, publishing articles etc in the subject area of the book. Are they getting attention from authorative sources. The proposal should indicate how many people are already being reached.

Authors who are already 'out there' can find contacts and bigger audiences to help promote the book.

Marketing Strategy - a comprehensive marketing strategy that shows how the author will attract a high volume of sales. While publishers take care of distributing the books, it is up to authors to get the book in front of the buying public. This means both creating interest and name recognition that leads to sales.

Track Record - if a previously self published book has sold well, that will help. But, if it tanked - that detracts from your appeal to the publishers. In this case - first time authors have an advantage. It is not so much the authors experience, but how well the book is likely to sell. Include sales figures, copies of reviews, media appearances and one or two published articles.

Competitive Review - this is the key persuasion part. You must demonstrate that you know what is out there, and how your book is different. When searching on Amazon.com set the filter to data published. This will show all the upcoming books as well as the already published ones. Your information must support a real demand for your book. Include documentation that verifies facts and figures as well as any media clips that will help the publisher in the positioning of your book.

Book Outline - should include:

  • A brief description - content of the book and its intended market
  • Three paragraph summaries of its purpose, approach, organization and content.
  • Why you wrote the book
  • Any special editorial features - forms, case studies, charts, photos, research references, etc.
  • An outline of the book - chapter names, subheads, brief explanations, appendices, glossaries, etc.
  • Project status - length of manuscript, due completion date
  • Sample chapter - one that represents the heart of your work.

Remember: the way this proposal is written indicates your writing ability. So take as much care with it, if not more, than your manuscript. The book must have a clear voice and yet entertaining enough to capture and hold the attention of the reader.

Format - Your proposal should be written in a concise style, but be sufficiently comprehensive in key information.

Final Polish - check layout, spelling, grammar, tone and completeness.

Keep in mind that the editor will have a set of questions they want answers to. This will include questions such as:

  • What is unique about the proposed book in the defined marketplace?
  • How have similar books sold?
  • What is the author’s experience that documents expertise in writing about this topic?
  • Is there sufficient evidence presented of the potential market?
  • What effort is the author willing to make to promote the book?

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