Monday, June 2, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 4: Writing the Book Proposal
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
In the series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps," I have so far covered these steps of the process:
As you may recall from Step 3, I usually draft the manuscript through multiple iterations. Once I make it past Draft 2, which is the detailed outline of the book, then I begin to think about Step 4: Writing the Book Proposal.
Do you like to write proposals? Me neither.
Nevertheless, writing the book proposal is an essential part of the process to getting published. The goal of the proposal is to convince somebody who is not in love with your book idea and talents that it is worth their time and money to invest in your book. To achieve this goal, your proposal has to demonstrate that:
  • You have a good idea for a book
  • You possess the skills to go through with the idea and deliver a full-length manuscript
  • You know there is a market demand for a book like yours.
  • You are committed to making the book as successful as it can be
A proposal that allows you to demonstrate these characteristics has the following sections:
  1. Title. Strong title and subtitle (for non-fiction work only) that catch the attention of someone browsing at a book store or online and within five seconds convince them to look at your book versus the one next to it.
  2. Synopsis. This is Draft 1 of your manuscript which you prepared in Step 3, tightened and polished one more time.
  3. Marketing. Identify and quantify the audience for your book. The narrower the definition, the stronger your proposal will be. A narrower definition may sound like a smaller audience and it may very well be when you just start out, but that's OK -- your audience will grow as you continue to produce good quality work.
  4. Promotion. Identify how much of the audience identified in the previous section you can target yourself. What are you willing to do to promote your book online, among your friends, co-workers, and anywhere else?
  5. Similar Books. Research on Amazon and list in this section a reasonable number of books that are similar to your book. You may already have identified these books during your research in Step 2 of the process. On one hand, these books will be your competitors -- how will your book be better or different? On the other hand, they provide a strong indication of how well your book will sell.
  6. About the Author. In this section describe what qualifies you to write this book. Earlier published work is great; professional credentials, educational coursework, life experiences will do.
  7. Detailed Outline. This is Draft 2 of your manuscript which you prepared in Step 3, tightened and polished one more time.
  8. Sample Chapters. For non-fiction work, you should have 2-3 chapters ready to submit with your proposal. If you have the whole manuscript, wait to be asked before submitting it. For fiction work, you will need to have the manuscript finished before submitting it.
After you finish the proposal, it is time to draft the query letter. This is a 4-5 paragraph summary of your proposal. It contains a description of the book (1st paragraph), your qualifications (2nd paragraph), what makes your book unique and interesting (3d and/or 4th paragraphs) and a strong closing paragraph. 
Now that you have the proposal and draft query letter ready, it's time to send them out to editors or literary agents. Here's what they do for you:
  • Editors work directly for publishing houses. If you convince them to accept your book proposal, congratulations! They just made a business bet on your ability to produce the work. Don't let them and yourself down. Now, you are ready to go to Step 5: Negotiating the Contract.
  • Literary agents work for themselves or for literary agencies. If you convince them to accept your proposal, congratulations! You found someone who trusts in your talents enough to spend his or her time upfront to sell your book to publishers. You have to put your trust in his or her skills as well and work together to make the sale to a publisher.
There are pros and cons to going directly to publishers versus literary agents, which I may address in another blog post. I will just say for now that 50 percent of books today are published by five biggest publishing houses -- they don't accept unsolicited queries or proposals and want to be approached only by literary agents.
Where do you find the contact information for editors and agents? Online at Writer's Market: This is a database-driven website that allows you to narrow down the list of candidates by genre, topic, and many other criteria. It also lets you keep track of submissions and responses, which is extremely helpful after you have sent dozens of queries out on the ether.
Once you identify the targets, visit their website and make sure to follow their specific submission instructions -- they may not necessarily be the same as what's published on Writer's Market. Finally, submit your query letter and/or proposals per these instructions.
Once you submit, sit back and wait. If you submitted a query letter (hardcopy, email, or website submission) you will know within a couple of weeks if they have an interest in your work. If you submitted a full proposal or manuscript, assuming they allow it, it may take 4-6 weeks before you hear anything back. If you don't hear back within these timeframes, assume they have no interest in your work -- don't despair, you will find someone else who will like it. If they reply with a form rejection answer, that's OK, too -- move on to the next contact. If they reject your proposal and a human explains the reasons, that's great -- someone is providing you feedback that may point out to weak areas you need to address. Make sure you thank them and re-send the proposal after addressing the deficiencies if they have left the window open for re-submission. Eventually you will find someone who will like your proposal. Pat yourself in the back and go to Step 5: Negotiating the Contract.
Now that you have finished reading all it takes to write a book proposal, you may say "Why bother with a proposal when I can cut the middleman and self-publish my work?" There are pros and cons to self-publishing, which I will cover in another post in the future. For now, I will just say that even if you decide to go the self-publishing route, I strongly suggest you write a book proposal. It will sharpen the focus of your work, help you understand its market value and begin thinking of the audience and how you will take the book in front of this audience -- all of these things need to be done no matter which way you go.