Most publishers don’t expect or want nonfiction authors to complete their manuscripts before submitting. Instead, such books are often sold to publishers based on the strength of their proposals. With so much riding on this one document, you have to be prepared to make the best pitch possible to agents and/or publishers. Make sure to do these five critical things, and you’ll be well on your way to landing that book deal.
Must #1: Research the submission requirements. Submission guidelines are usually found on a publishing company or agent’s website. These will explain how you should prepare and submit your proposal materials, including specifications for format types, snail mail vs. electronic delivery, reading dates, and more. Some agents/publishers will want a query letter first; some will ask for sample chapters right off the bat. Some want one chapter, some want three. Guidelines can be very specific, so you will likely need to create multiple versions of your proposal to suit different agents/publishers. Always defer to your target audience’s expressed preferences.
Must #2: Answer the question, “Why am I the right person to write this book?” Your “about the author” section is more than just a bio. It should highlight the specific experiences and professional credentials that have uniquely prepared you (or your client) to author this book. If you've been published before, provide information about the book's publisher, publication date, and sales figures.
Must #3: Address why this book needs to be published now. Your proposal needs to make a strong case for urgency. Perhaps your book touches on a growing trend or satisfies a burgeoning need. Maybe there’s a newsworthy aspect, or you might be presenting new research or updated information. Even evergreen subjects must be justified with regard to timeliness: Has it been a decade since the category bestseller was published, or do new technologies or philosophies provide a fresh approach to an old problem? You have to convince publishers that readers will shell out cash for your project today.
Must #4: Include plenty of market research. Your proposal must highlight a thoroughly developed book concept, show that you’ve researched your intended audience, and demonstrate that you have a platform appropriate for your book. Effectively illustrating these things proves that you understand book promotion, which is increasingly an author’s responsibility. Marketing and publicity departments will look to your proposal as a resource for developing a promotion plan, so it needs to indicate where they can expect sales and valuable attention. Use your imagination and make your agent/publisher see dollar signs.
Must #5: Distinguish your project from the competition. The claim that a book has no competition is very rarely true; more often, this reveals a lack of understanding and effort, and can even hint that the author might be a “problem child.” Agents/publishers will expect you to list two to five competing or comparative titles and to positively distinguish your book from them. If there are no direct competitors, list books on topics that come closest or address a similar audience. This gives publishers an idea of how robust the market is for your book, and how to position it among existing titles in the category. Get sales figures if you can, and note which books are bestsellers, have gone through multiple editions, have been translated into other languages, etc. If the publisher or agency you’re approaching has similar books on its list, be sure to include those so you can point out differences and explain why they should still publish your book.
A well-developed book proposal takes a lot of the guesswork out of a seemingly risky process. It needs to be well-written, organized, and complete. You may have the greatest idea for a book ever, but if your proposal is poorly conceptualized or lacking critical information, no agent or publisher will feel confident betting on you. So put the same effort into your proposal that you will ultimately put into your book, cover these five "musts," and increase your chances of getting that publishing contract!
Ally E. Peltier is an editor, writer, and publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than a decade of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at www.ambitiousenterprises.com and www.allypeltier.com.