With so many eyes scrutinizing one document, it's helpful to understand who is looking for what information within your proposal. Make sure you're creating a proposal that will satisfy everyone by keeping these five industry insights in mind.
#1: A proposal is a sales document. We book lovers can be a sentimental lot. It’s not our fault—we’ve experienced firsthand the extraordinary magic a great book contains. Our favorite reads hold value far beyond the $25 or $14 we shell out at a bookstore. However, when it comes to crafting your own proposal, it’s important to remember that you’re now entering the business of publishing (shudder!). Your brilliant ideas and dazzling prose won’t get you a book deal unless your proposal convinces a publisher that your book will make them money. To do this, treat your proposal as though it is an argument for why a publisher can’t afford NOT to take you on.
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"You simply can't NOT take me on,
because clearly I will make you tons of money!"
because clearly I will make you tons of money!"
#2: Platform is king. New writers occasionally misunderstand the importance of “platform” by treating it with a chicken or the egg mentality. Rather than seeing a strong platform as a necessary element to securing a book deal, they believe that securing a book deal is a necessary element to building their platform. Sadly, it’s rare for a publisher to take a chance on an unknown writer these days. With the exception of some memoirs, nonfiction publishers aren’t interested in breaking out new voices. Instead, they want to acquire books from authors who have a built in audience already eager to buy their work. Try to connect with your target audience and build a strong following before you approach a publisher. Being recognized as an expert in your field is half the battle.
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"Oh, don't worry, I have the ultimate platform."
#3: Even in a digital world, shelving matters. Know thy genre! If a publisher doesn’t understand where to shelve your book, or can’t identify similar books that have performed well, they likely won’t be making you an offer. Ask yourself, is my book narrative nonfiction or prescriptive nonfiction? What kind of information is my target audience seeking? This is part of what makes the comps section of your proposal so important. Choose successful books with strong sales records against which to compare your own. Create the impression that while your book is unique, and likely to outperform the others, there is a demonstrated track record of success for publishing this type of book.
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"I think I'd like to be shelved right here."
#4: For proposal perfection, find an irresistible title. Occasionally a proposal has a title that is so good, so catchy, it almost sells itself. Or, if it doesn’t sell itself, it definitely gives the project some heat. Perhaps it speaks directly to its audience and strikes a chord, such as YOU: On a Diet. Or it intrigues, such as The Secret. It might convey humor or edginess or simply trigger a smile. Whatever the reason, publishers know that a good title will capture public attention and distinguish your book from its competition. A strong title creates buzz. Before you submit your proposal, brainstorm several different titles to see if you strike phrasing gold. Consider some of the well‐known titles below:
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
The Shock Doctrine
Sh*t My Dad Says
My Horizontal Life
Who Moved My Cheese?
Julie and Julia
He’s Just Not That Into You
What’s the Matter with Kansas?
Eat, Pray, Love
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"Can't I just use a symbol, à la Prince?" Answer: No.
#5: Editors also face rejection. So you’ve perfected your proposal, wooed a smart and savvy agent, and your work is now in the hands of a brilliant editor. All you need to do is have that editor fall in love with your work and you’re in, right? Not just yet! Most editors won’t be able to acquire a book without convincing the rest of their team to get onboard. First, they will “get reads,” or second opinions, from other editors at their imprint. If they are successful in drumming up enthusiasm in‐house, the project must then be approved by Sales and Marketing. This is often when heartbreak strikes. If Sales and Marketing crunches the numbers and doesn’t feel your book will be profitable, your deal may be dead in the water. Help an editor out by including strong comp titles and a savvy promotion plan.
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Turn upset editors unable to take on your project
("Say it isn't so!") into....
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mountains of book success!