If you want your book to be published by a commercial publisher, the critical thing you need to do is make it easy for them to say ‘yes’. But what is the publisher really looking for from a business author? What can you do to make your book proposal stand out from all the hundreds of others in their overcrowded inbox?
We thought you might like to hear some answers from the publisher’s perspective. In this article super-helpful business book publisher Liz Gooster gives you the inside scoop – 10 invaluable tips to make sure that your book proposal stands out from the crowd.
10 insider tips to get a publisher’s attention
Liz: “I’m a publisher of professional business books, so I sift through hundreds of proposals from hopeful authors. Over the years I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes a successful pitch. These are my tips for making it into print with a traditional publishing house.
1) Do your research. Look at a publisher’s list before you approach them, to check they publish the kind of book you want to write. Getting the genre right is a basic requirement: you might have written the next Harry Potter, but if I’m a business publisher, I can’t publish it. More subtly, try to get a sense of whether your book’s style, approach and market are in tune with the other titles on a publisher’s list. Scour their website, amazon and bookshop shelves.
2) Be polite. It’s just common sense: if you want an editor to champion your book and opt into a working relationship with you, the best strategy is to present yourself as someone who’s good to work with. If you can, find out the editor’s name before you approach them. But if you can’t, don’t use ‘Dear Sir’ – your target editor might be a woman! Do be professional, courteous and interesting. Don’t be pushy, rude and domineering. If you haven’t had a response to your proposal, a gentle reminder is fine (editors are busy, so leave 4-6 weeks after your initial approach), but don’t chase too much because you risk making a nuisance of yourself. No one wants to work with a nuisance.
3) Define your market. Who is your target reader? Saying ‘Everyone needs this book’ is unhelpful. An editor has to categorise your book to pitch it, the sales team have to tell the bookstores which section to shelve it in, the marketing team need to know who their customers are. Think carefully about the characteristics of your readers. Who are they? What do they do? What are their problems? Write a profile of your typical reader.
4) Think about your reader. After defining your reader, think about what they really want. Publishers are commercial beasts. We want to sell books, so we need to know why people would buy yours. Bluntly, we care about what people want to read, not what you want to write. Writing a book is a big, important project for you and a good publisher will ask you why you want to write and what you want to achieve. However, their main concern is to publish a book that sells, so it has to offer something readers want to buy. Your book shouldn’t be the answer to a question nobody will ever ask.
As you write your proposal, put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Ask:
- Why should they read your book?
- What can you offer to justify them spending their time, money and attention on your content?
- What new tools, techniques or thinking will they get from your book?
- What will they be able to do better, more easily or differently, having read it?
- What specific problems does it solve or challenges does it address?
This is a long tip! I make no apologies for that, because it’s the most important one.
5) Be original. Easier said than done, but try to make the publisher curious about you and your book. Most people will email in their idea and while a subject heading of ‘book proposal’ is accurate, it’s not very unique or inspiring. Aim to do something a little different, something that gets you noticed and makes the editor want to open your email. A clever title can grab their attention. If you make your proposal sound like a compelling business opportunity, a publisher will want to know more. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality: editors are real people and they like working with other real people!
6) Submit a proposal, not a manuscript. By all means send a sample chapter to demonstrate your writing ability. A full manuscript is too much. It takes too long to read and it’s largely too late for the editor to help you shape it into something that fits their market. A killer proposal outlining your book’s promise and selling points will whet the editor’s appetite and is more effective.
7) Give the publisher what they need. Most publishers have proposal guidelines, which you should follow. If not, make sure you include:
- The target market
- A persuasive elevator pitch
- A summary of the benefits to the reader
- A Table of Contents, with a summary of each chapter
- A review of the competition. Editors need benchmark books in the same market space to get a sense of your book’s positioning, so don’t say ‘there’s no competition’.
- A brief biography demonstrating your credibility as the author
- A statement of your objectives and expectations
8) Be an expert with a marketing platform. Offer to market to your contacts. Authors never think publishers market their books enough, but the most commercially successful titles are those which combine a strong sales effort by the publisher with a more targeted, authentic campaign to the author’s own network and community. Show willing.
9) Be lucky. Your proposal might land on the editor’s desk at exactly the right time: they’re looking for a book in just your area. They’ll still want a well-written proposal and an author with credibility, so all the tips above apply. But never overlook serendipity, because publishing is an art, not a science.
10) Think about your reader. Remember: it’s all about the reader. I can’t stress this enough, so tip 10 is the same as tip 4.
Thanks Liz. That is incredibly useful advice for any business author looking for a publishing deal. Hope you guys appreciate it.
- The author perspective – How to Get a Publishing Deal – 10 lessons learned by newly signed author Heather Townsend