This article specifically relates to non-fiction book proposals.
Writer’s Digest recently ran the article “The 90 Top Secrets of Bestselling Authors.” Noticeably lacking, I thought, was real advice on book proposals, marketing, and sales! Before sending out dozens or hundreds of book proposals to publishers, an author would do well to acquaint themselves with what publishers in general (and specific publishers) are looking for—to have an idea of how publishers think about their business and on what basis they are evaluating the manuscripts and proposals they review.
When evaluating non-fiction book proposals, publishers don’t just consider the merits of a book, but the strengths of an author, and a book’s marketing and sales opportunities as well. While every company handles this process differently, they are all running through a series of questions (in their minds, on paper, with spreadsheets) in these areas to determine the best fits for their publishing program and the books most likely to succeed.
Here’s a sampling of the types and range of questions we ask ourselves when sizing up a book proposal.
Your book as a print and/or digital product.
- Does your book meet the highest standards in terms of content? Style? Mechanics?
- Does your book deserve to exist? Does it deserve the publisher’s investment of time, expertise, and funding? Does it deserve readers’ time in a busy world?
- Is there an audience for your book with an important, unfilled need?
- Does your book cover its topic for the first time or for the first time in a particular way or from a particular angle? Does your book take us a step forward in thinking about a particular subject?
- Do your voice, approach, and/or style draw the reader to your material and make it irresistible or somehow fresh and unique?
- Is there a mass or targeted audience large enough to support your book?
- Will your book be financially feasible for the publisher in terms of the amount of editing-development-production work and expense required? Can the publisher produce and price your book competitively?
- How is your book conceived as a package? Is it complete in content and approach? Will it include photos, maps, sidebars, bibliography, notes, etc.? Are there gaps in content coverage? Photo coverage? Is your book’s category obvious at first glance? Does it lend itself to non-print formats/technologies?
You as a writer, a promoter, and a promotable figure.
- Have you done your best in writing your book in terms of content, style, and mechanics? Is your best good enough?
- What are your overall credentials and the general sense conveyed by your resume? Are you qualified to write this book? Have you been published before? Where?
- Are your credentials appropriate for your topic…and obvious to those who care? Are you credible? Knowledgeable? An expert? Hobbyist? Insider? Does it matter for your topic?
- Are you passionate about your work and your subject? Will you ever get tired of it? Can you sustain a high level of enthusiasm for and devotion to it?
- Are you a professional? Do you approach your work and the publishing process professionally? Will you treat the publisher’s staff respectfully?
- Are you appropriately attentive to details, deadlines, commitments, and pre- and post-production responsibilities?
- Do you have an awareness of what those details, commitments, and responsibilities are?
- Will you be easy to work with as an author? Are you honest? Reliable? Personable? Can the publisher trust you with their reputation? To represent them? Will they be proud to have published you?
- Will you be easily accessible to the publisher? The media? The public?
- What is your degree of interest, willingness, ability, and availability to market your book? Do you have media experience? Are you willing to learn? Can you speak comfortably, engagingly, and authoritatively on your subject?
- Do you have the connections to promote a book and the skills/interest necessary to mine those connections? Do you have Facebook and LinkedIn accounts and a system for adding connections there? Do you have an email/newsletter list?
- Are you aware of the amount of work, stamina, new skills, and different outlook (vs. writing the book) it will require to properly promote a book?
- Are you as an individual promotable? Do you have a personality (or persona) that makes you particularly saleable and appealing?
- Do you have an online presence as an author? Your own website? Blog? Facebook page? Twitter account? Are you actively participating online in the current conversations relevant to your topic in as many forums as possible?
Sales & Marketing
Opportunities for you, the publisher, your fans, and other vested parties to promote and sell the book.
- Will your book sell? Why? Does your book have competition? How many other books are in the market on this subject? On tangential subjects? Does your book meet the competition in value and content?
- What is your book’s story? Its human interest features? What makes your book an “event”—The subject? The author? The approach? Its timeliness? Its relation to current events? Its celebration or evolution of its subject?
- Does your book have a strong enough hook? Is its “story” significant enough, appealing enough, complex enough, rich enough for continual promotion? Will it prompt readers to talk about the book?
- Is this book easy and appealing for bookstores, libraries, gift shops, avid readers, bloggers, etc. to talk about, promote, stand behind? Why?
- Are there enough different angles for constant promotions? For creative marketing? What is the degree of interest, loyalty, and passion for the subject among likely readers?
- Can the publisher reach the natural audience for your book efficiently, easily, affordably, and through new online media and retailers? Through their current distribution channels? Through new channels that are easy to forge? Through new channels they would like to develop? Through new channels that would also benefit at least some of their other titles?
- Does your book have potential in other formats (e.g., audio, video, children’s, foreign language, ebook, database, subscription website, mobile app)?
- What are the opportunities to sell primary or secondary rights for your book (e.g., excerpts, TV, film, book club, multimedia)?
- Does your book have a reasonably long shelf life? Will it fare well on the backlist? Will it require minimal updating or will it be easy enough to update when necessary?
- Does your book lend itself to cross-promotions with other titles the company publishes? What multiple book/author events are possible? Will your book lead readers to other titles the company publishes?
- What nontraditional channels are open to this book? What type of bulk sales opportunities exist for this book?