So, you have an idea for a book. You know it’s a seller. You can feel it in your bones. Great! Well done you! Wait, though! Before you hoof off to the publishing houses to sell your wares, consider this, who’s going to want to read it? Or perhaps more important, who’s going to want to publish it?
When you ask yourself this question, your book proposal comes into sharp focus.
Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, it’s a good idea to write your book proposal in advance of completing the manuscript. Why? Because writing a proposal before completing the manuscript gives you a much clearer vision of what your book is about, who will read it, and how the publisher can market and sell it. Your proposal may spur you to sharpen and improve the text, or at the very least motivate you to complete your book promptly. There is a psychological advantage in knowing that the proposal is ready to send out to publishers. Writing your actual book should be a piece of cake after that, right?
Think of your book proposal as a sales document. It puts your personal creativity to the forefront and gets you thinking of your potential readers, and by that, I mean key people such as acquisitions editors and agents. First, let’s talk about platforms. Presumably, you are not writing a book for it to languish on a shelf somewhere. Therefore it’s critical that you think of the sales platform for the book. Where will your book be visible? Will you market it at readings, on websites, blogs, libraries? On YouTube?
Keep in mind that the landscape has changed in book publishing, even from ten years back. Nowadays, regardless of whether you are self-published or published by one of the major publishing houses, you still have to market and promote your book – a fundamental fact of life for a writer. So, being visible, promoting and platforming your work, in advance of submission to an agent or editor, is critical in today’s publishing world.
Yep, it’s a publisher’s market
You know it. Publishers and editors can pick and choose their writers, so doesn’t it make sense that they would want to work with authors who already have a presence in the media? Even if that presence is with local outlets such as book clubs or open mic events. After all, publishers want to know that they can sell copies of your book to an existing audience.
The challenge for a writer is to adopt the best means of getting his or her work out into the arena, and this will impact the work’s commercial potential. Check out the media outlets available to you as a writer. With the rise of eBooks and self-publishing, you can publish at any time, or even turn your book into an audio book, such as a podcast. As a writer, your challenge is to find the best way to get your work out there. If you are not expecting to make millions from your book right away, you can go ahead and self-publish. But if you want to go down the traditional route, i.e., getting an agent and publisher interested in your work, then choosing the most effective marketing platform is essential.
Do keep in mind that book publishing is always evolving with advances in publishing technology. Use that technology to your advantage, and I’ll be discussing this later on.
Keeping it short n’ sweet n’ real
A significant trend in publishing these days is chunking the text. Let’s face it, we are all busy people, so reading in short chunks is a way to absorb information quickly, and this applies to fiction as well as non-fiction. One of the chapters in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, “Angels and Demons” contains no more than 15 lines. Some publishers are advocating the concept of stand-alone chapters for non-fiction books, allowing people to download chapters in much the same way as we download songs from an album on iTunes. Many book publishers prefer writing done in ‘short chunks’ because it keeps readers’ attention focused on the page. Much of course depends on the subject matter of your book, and your individual writing style, which may lend itself to lengthier exposition and not suffer as a result.
This shortening trend also applies to book proposals. At one time editors demanded a full-page outline for each chapter of a book, however nowadays a few paragraphs will suffice. Often editors expect the proposal to be as short and digestible as possible with only the key elements highlighted in the overview, or the opening part of the proposal. Editors, (like the rest of us) are time starved, and they expect your book proposal to be as compact and readable as possible.
The same will apply to agents. Every word of your proposal must have maximum impact. As always, this guideline depends on upon the nature of the book, and the length of the chapter themselves. Some chapters may only need more of an outline than others. Top agent, Michael Larsen, advises writers to choose other writers as role models, and do what they do, only do it better.
Platform your masterpiece
Too often writers neglect to insert the promotion and platform element of their proposal. For example, failing to provide a list of things they have done (and are continuing to do) to gain visibility for themselves and their work.
The writer needs a promotion plan, that is to say a list of things they will do to market and promote the book. A plan tells the agent whether or not the book is suitable for a mid-sized or mainstream publishing house. For smaller presses, this list need not be so extensive, but it is still paramount. Writer Jack Canfield says that a book is 10 percent writing and 90 percent marketing.
Two kinds of goals, literary and publishing
Literary goals are what you want to achieve in the book. Publishing goals come into play once you have completed the book. You as a writer need to be clear about both of these goals and think about how you are going to achieve them. If Canfield is correct, the actual writing is a mere 10 percent of the challenge.
The holy trinity of writing
What are the three essentials of writing good, marketable prose?
1. Read other books. If you are writing a horror story, read horror novels. If you are writing a thriller, read thrillers. If you are writing a memoir, read memoirs. Get a sense of the length, structure and style and of a bestselling book in your chosen genre.
2. Write. Take the time to draft and re-draft your work, and don’t stint on revisions. Colleen McCullough wrote, “The Thorn Birds” ten times on her typewriter!
3. Get feedback. Get as much feedback as possible. Remember, you won’t always see the flaws or the brilliant passages in your work. Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to point them out. Join a writing group and allow others to critique the writing as often as you can.
Something you really ought to know
Agents and editors reject around 90 percent of what they see, and many will only read as far as the covering letter. A saleable idea will go a long way towards getting your work accepted but the writing must be of a high standard. Editors and agents look at thousands of manuscripts every year and can size up a book’s sales potential from a single line of a proposal, or even from a covering letter, or sometimes even from a title. Your job is to inspire them with excellence.
The writing you do about the writing is as important as the writing itself
Most agents or editors will only read far enough into a proposal to enable them to make a swift decision. It is crucial to take great care over your query letter, capture the book’s atmosphere, and show who you are as a writer. Do this in as few words as possible, making sure that each word you write has MCV, (maximum communication value).
Glaring mistakes in a query letter will turn an editor or agent off right away. Errors indicate two things to a reader. First, the writer is not working at a professional level. Second, the writer is not receiving feedback on the work before submission. These two things signal to an agent that the writer’s work is not worth pursuing.
Polish, polish, polish your work before sending it out. Well-crafted text will almost certainly increase your chances of being taken seriously.
Remember too, that editors and agents are people who love books, they are working in publishing for that reason. Never be afraid to submit your work, and above all, don’t fear rejection. Rejection by one person doesn’t automatically mean rejection by another. The fact is that editors and agents pick up on different things. Reading is very subjective, and quite often an agent will promote a book to two or three different editors at the same publishing house – two will reject the manuscript, one will accept it. Go figure.
More than 80 percent of books that are published fail. Agents and editors are not interested in pursuing books that are likely to fail. They want publisher-proof books. As top agent Michael Larsen puts it, “Agents love to get excited – as do editors – about their books, and their authors, but success is more important … it’s better for an author to be a big book at a little house than a little book at a big house, where it will get lost.”
(Don’t take the pills just yet, there is hope. Read on).
Technology and the future
The Kindle, the iPad, the Nook – do these e-readers signal the end of the book as we’ve known it? Or are these devices helpful to the modern-day writer? Let’s look at it both ways. Modern technology provides endless opportunities for the new author. You can add media such as audio and video to your eBook, you can add links to your eBooks, you can promote your eBook through social media, you can update your eBook to make it a living book.
There is no doubt about it, technology is a boon to writers, enabling even a fledgling author to promote, market and self-publish their work. Another key advantage to eBooks is that they make it far easier for readers to buy your books. Let’s say a reader reads your book and likes it, the chances are that he or she will download another masterpiece of yours right away.
On the other hand, traditional agents and publishers are sometimes slow to adapt to newer methods of writing and promoting books. Nevertheless, most savvy editors prefer to download material on their e-readers rather than pore through thick manuscripts. It saves time and space. So it’s crucial that your work is available via this route.
Okay, let’s get practical!
As literary scouts, ®New London Writers can offer advice/consultation on the publishing potential of your manuscript. We also provide line editing (style and content) and manuscript appraisal services.
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