10 Questions About Book Proposals
1. Why do I need a book proposal?
When you call or query an editor or an agent, if they’re interested in your book, they’ll say, “Send me something.” They are referring to a book proposal, a specific document tailored to their interests, particularly marketing.
A book proposal is a document that comprises:
- An overview that establishes what the book is about, plus the selling handle and positioning.
- A discussion of the market for the book, including target audience, size of audience and other details that would interest a publisher.
- A discussion of books that compete and analysis of each.
- The author bio.
- A description of how you will help promote the book.
- A detailed table of contents.
- A sample chapter.
3. Why can’t I just write the whole book and send it?
If you write the whole manuscript, agents and editors will most likely return it unread. Agents and editors want to be sold on why they should publish your book. They need a sales pitch that includes your promotion plan and why you are the best person to write the book.
4. To whom do I send a book proposal?
Send it to agents who specialize in your type of non-fiction. You might have to send a one-page letter first, if that is what they prefer.
An agent is your industry insider and advocate. It’s the agent’s job to know which editor and publishing house would be most interested in your book. Agents work on a percentage basis and therefore have an incentive to get you the best deal.
Editors respect good agents and are accustomed to working with them. They review agented proposals first. If they wish to buy your book, they often prefer to work directly with agents.
The other main part of an agent’s job is to negotiate the contract for you, and to get the best possible deal on your advance, royalties and rights. Plus, once you’re working with your publisher, if you have a disagreement, the agent can step in to resolve it.
Some agents are willing to help you shape your book further, some are not. But you have to get their attention first with a killer proposal.
6. Can’t I just send the proposal to a publishing house myself?
Yes, but why would you? Only around 10-15 percent of all books published are unagented. Since publishers accept so few books from authors, why increase your chance of rejection?
7. How long will it take to get an answer, once I send off the proposal?
It can take up to six months. If they are interested, though, you might get a call the same week.
8. What happens if a publisher wants my book?
An editor will prepare a contract, which the agent negotiates on your behalf. If you don’t have an agent, you can have a publishing attorney review the contract, but the attorney will not negotiate directly with the publisher or be your advocate. The contract will discuss the book’s content, the time frame, how many copies they will publish, your advance, your royalties, and other issues.
If you’re lucky and more than one publisher wants the book, the agent may hold an auction and sell it to the highest bidder, but this is rare.
Once you and the editor agree on deadlines, the publisher will probably give you a year to 18 months to write the book. The editor will make suggestions for revisions. It takes around nine months from when you turn in the revised manuscript to the publication date. The whole process can take at least a year to 18 months.
9. How long does it take to write a proposal?
Most of my writers have other jobs and take six months or longer. It takes a while to focus on the best approach, do research and write a few drafts.
10. What can I do to increase my chances of writing a book that publishers will want?
Create a platform that establishes you as an expert on your subject. If you speak or teach on the subject of your book, you will be more exciting to an agent, because you already know how to promote your work. For these reasons, consultants, teachers, speakers and bloggers with big audiences are my most successful authors.
What is a “big audience? Today, because authors can establish a large audience through social media, publishers expect them to do so. They are looking for authors with built-in audiences so that it will make it easier to sell the book. If you have only a few thousand followers on social media, agents and editors are likely to not be interested. Read more about platforms in this interview with a cookbook editor.
4 Questions About Me
No, but I do part of the work that many agents no longer do. In the past, agents were willing to work one-on-one with people on their book ideas, from the beginning. Today, however, many good agents get too many proposals to invest that much time with potential authors. When they’re reviewing 100 proposals a week, they want your proposal to knock their socks off first. Then they might spend some time with you.
2. I have to pay an agent, and on top of that, I have to pay you?
Yes, but I will make it worth your while. I will show you how to create a proposal that is so good that you’ll get a better quality of agent and a higher advance.
3. What if I don’t want to use an agent or traditional publisher?
That’s your choice. One of my authors went directly to a publisher and they bought it immediately.
If you want to self-publish, you don’t need a proposal, although people find them helpful in terms of positioning the book, understanding the target audience, and defining a promotion plan.
4. Will you work on a percentage or commission?
No. Only agents work on a percentage or commission.