Book Proposals that Don't Deliver

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Traca Savadogo of Seattle Tall Poppy sent me a Wall St. Journal story about business plans that don’t deliver, and wondered if I saw parallels to book proposals. Indeed I did.images-1

Here is the newspaper’s top 5 points of flawed business plans. They translate well to the same reasons book proposals end up in the trash:
1. Writers are smitten with the elegance of their technology. The corollary is  writers who are so in love with the subject of their book they don’t bother to explain why it needs to be published in the first place, and who would care
2. The writer isn’t sure what the initial target market is. Even worse  are book proposals writers who say “everyone” will buy the book. “Everyone” is not a market. It’s better to have a smaller, identifiable market than a vague large one.
3. The numbers look good on paper. Book proposals don’t contain numbers. But they do need to be believable. Agents and editors can see right through hype, such as saying the book is destined to become an immediate bestseller.
4. The team doesn’t have hands-on experience. The author lacks sufficient qualifications to write on the subject of the book.
5. The writer can’t find anything but good things to say about the opportunity, instead of acknowledging some weaknesses. It’s best to address any fears or doubts that might come up in the mind of the reader, instead of leaving him or her to wonder.

I’ll take a realistic and specific proposal every time that’s easy on the hype, and one that answers and slays any concerns that come up.


  1. says

    My favorite–after years of reading proposals at agency and pub house–are the ones that say, “This book will be more popular than the bible!”

  2. says

    Thanks for writing, I very much liked your newest post. I think you should post more frequently, you evidently have natural ability for blogging!

  3. says

    GlutenFreeExpert says:

    Dianne knows what she’s talking about. Having a really professional presentation is invaluable if you want to catch the eye of a major publisher. And yes, you will probably have to work on your proposal for weeks — I know I did — to incorporate all her good advice! Trust me, it’s worth it.