The Four Key Questions

Posted By Timothy Burns on Feb 13, 2012 | 1 comment

book proposals and publishers

Getting your book in front of a traditional publisher’s editor requires mastering a document called a book proposal. A formal proposal presents an editor with essential information about your book, and does so in a concise manner. Imagine an editor’s office filled with projects, deadlines, books strewn about the floor. Each pile represents an author, book or potential project, and the editor also carries the responsibility of managing and generating corporate revenues. Meetings, phone calls, and deadlines define his or her day. Additionally, an editor has to react to authors who don’t meet deadlines, artists who don’t want their words changed, and a publishing board who, at the end of the day, has to justify decisions in terms of dollars and cents.

Into this well oiled, squeaky wheel-managed world you arrive, with little more than an idea and a spark of hope. If we were playing a childhood game of “Pick out which of the objects in the picture doesn’t belong” you just got circled with a bright red crayon. You are the foreigner in an editor’s world. Consequently, it’s your responsibility to learn to communicate and connect to an editor in the way he or she wants to receive information. This expectation gave birth to the book proposal, which is a five to six page document you must master if you expect to get an editors attention, and you have about two minutes. That’s all most editors will invest in a new proposal before moving onto the next.

While this may sound dire, you have one important fact on your side. You have something the editor wants. You have a new book, a fresh view of an old idea, or an experience that will encourage, inform and motivate the editor’s readers. You have a chip to play, and if played right it can turn into an offer for a book contract.

So here are a few pointers when you’re writing your book proposal.

  • Read, reread and proofread your proposal numerous times. This is your one shot at making a first impression. Make sure you put your best foot forward.
  • Search for a publisher that publishes the kind of books you are writing. A publisher known for novels isn’t interested in non-fiction, and vice versa. It’s your responsibility to know your market.
  • You must answer these four questions:
    • What is the book about, including the message and the take away value for the reader?
    • Who is your target market; what other books are selling to this market, and why is your book different and better than you competition.
    • Who are you, and why are you the perfect person to write this book. What about your experience, education, personal history makes you the person to write this book.
    • As a writer, who is already listening to you, or what is your platform. Do you speak on the topic and have a blog with “XX” number of readers, a social media presence, etc. Platform translates into interested readers which becomes book sales for the publisher.

In the next few posts, I will break down these four questions, and fill in the content you need for your book proposal.

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