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Five Secrets of Winning Book Proposals


Working in the publishing industry comes with a high expectation, especially from complete strangers. After the causal 'hello' progresses to 'what do you do,' and my answer is 'I am a publisher,' the words, like fairy dust, work magic; and in the eyes of my conversation partner, I'm transformed into a glamorous Advice Goddess-would I mind reading this stranger's book proposal?

Cornered in frozen foods at the grocery, black-tie events or at the bus stop, I've been 'pitched' as we say in the business, with such book proposals as: A Cat's Tale of Christmas; Old Testament Aphrodisiacs; Break Out (after being committed to a mental institution by jealous relatives, the story of one man's quest for revenge); and Suck it and See: A Guide to Tropical Fruits.

Admittedly, I chose to share with you the more colorful examples. My point being that the purpose of a proposal pitch is not to motivate the publisher to love the idea as much as you do. That's the misconception. The publisher is listening for signals that you understand the process of transforming a book concept into a business plan. It's not just about your passion for the topic: it's how well you filter your passion through the publisher's prism of marketing and distribution. That's the difference between a contract and a polite rejection letter.

Let's take a look at five typical questions that an agent or a publisher will ask in their submission guidelines.

Question #1: Please provide the title that best captures and conveys the essence of your book and briefly explain why you chose it.

What the publisher is really thinking:

Will the book buyer for Barnes & Noble recognize the section to shelve the book by its title alone?

Is the title's message succinct and snappy so the publisher's sales representative will remember it easily?

How does the rest of proposal support what the title says?

Question #2: Briefly describe the primary audience for your book and how they will benefit from reading it.

What the publisher is really thinking:

The book cannot be all things to all people. Do you demonstrate focus?

Are you confident about who the customer is and the primary (most appropriate) category where the book should be placed in the bookstore?

Do you provide three distinct benefits that relate to the book's core premise?

Question #3: List competing books that you are aware of on this topic and explain how your book differs.

What the publisher is really thinking:

How do you demonstrate that your premise is solid in relation to existing books?

Will the publisher's sales representatives understand where your book fits among five other books in the same category?

Do you contradict what the book is or is not elsewhere in the proposal?

Question #4: What are your expectations for the project?

What the publisher is really thinking:

Do you sound like you expect to make a million dollars and plan to retire on your royalty earnings?

Is your goal to raise the level of topic discussion and to advance your profile as a thought leader?

How realistic are you about the work involved to write the book from start to finish?

Question #5: Describe your qualifications for writing this book and include your latest curriculum vitae or other relevant factors.

What the publisher is really thinking:

Several proposals are discussed during a publisher's editorial board meeting. Why say 'yes' to yours?

What is your media platform? How are you going to be an asset in marketing and promoting the book?

What's your track record?

If you are now thinking about you book concept as a business plan, bravo! This is the foundation for a solid beginning; and, I encourage you to continue forward. High-quality books written by people who are committed to excellence (in any sphere of living) are in short supply. Adopt the publisher's perspective-how will it sell and to whom-and you will not only become a published author. You will make a difference in the world.

Melissa Rosati is a co-active coach, whose clients are writers, authors and creative artists. Prior to her coaching career, she was the Director, Editorial & Production for McGraw-Hill International (UK). She now resides in New York City. Her forthcoming book, The Essential Publisher's Handbook shows readers how to publish profitably. Register for a complimentary subscription to her newsletter, The Essential Publisher at http://www.melissarosati.com

2005 Melissa A. Rosati. All rights reserved.


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