The most common omission on book proposals

The most common error I see would-be authors make with their book proposals is omitting marketing information. In my time at Zondervan publishing I’ve had the privilege to read piles of books proposals. Many of them have been very good and eventually became viable book projects. Unfortunately, even more of them had to be rejected. But regardless of how clearly their point is made, regardless of how nicely they’ve formatted the information, and regardless of their publishing history, the continual mistake I find is an omission of pertinent marketing info.

Every book proposal should contain two different types of marketing information:

  1. An understanding of the marketplace
  2. A list of how you, the author, will help promote the book

Understand the Marketplace

It really used to intimidate me to hear things like this. How was I supposed to understand the marketplace? I’m unpublished. Shouldn’t it be understood that I don’t know a thing about the marketplace?

I used to think that it meant I had to read the NY review of books, that I had to know who had more marketshare – Simon and Schuster, or Harper Collins? – or that I had to understand how sales and distribution worked.

It doesn’t meant any of those things. What it means is that you are familiar with the other books in the genre you’re writing in and have a clear idea about how your book fits.

For example, if you are writing a book about dragons for 12-16 year olds, you should read the other books about dragons out there for 12-16 year olds and be able to articulate how your book is different. It means that you understand how many competing books are out there that are just like yours, and that you can succinctly describe how your book is unique from all the others.

Checklist_WikiHow You Will Help Promote the Book

Publishing is a partnership. It’s essentially an agreement between a writer and production company. Yes, there are a lot of other more nuanced aspects of the relationship (artistry, mission, consumers, profit, etc.) but in the end it’s an agreement between two parties to create and promote a product for consumers.

Part of this agreement is that both parties will do their fair share of time promoting the product. Some authors think that “big” publishing houses don’t need their help. They might think, “How helpful could my little Twitter following really be?” But the truth is that publishing houses need a lot of help. No one can reach the core market for a book quite like it’s author.

Here’s a list of simple things I wish every would-be author would agree to do for their book:

  • Post frequently on their social networks about their book. These posts could be giveaways, or links to reviews, or fun pictures of your book on a library shelf. They don’t need to be self-centered or “salesman” like. Rather, authors need to talk about their books the way people talk about their kids. Like they’re proud of them and happy to mention them at any point.
  • Agree to send review copies of your book to all the small local media in your town. Some authors are given publicists by their publisher. Those publicists are going to reach out to national radio shows, tv shows, and national print/online media. Authors can send books to local radio stations, local newspapers, bloggers that they know, local organizations with magazines or websites that might care about the book, local librarian’s groups, local book store owners, etc. etc. etc. All of this legwork is a huge boon for the book if the author is willing to do it. While the publisher makes sure the book is sold nationally in B&N, the author makes sure the book is known about locally.
  • Develop a list of influencers that would benefit from hearing about your book and write them a cover letter. By “Influencers” I mean people that are in positions to help others decide to buy your book. If you’ve had a novel published, you’re influencer list should include: directors of writing conferences; fiction buyers at bookstores in your area or bookstore managers; librarians; bloggers; if your fiction focuses on a certain theme (like adoption, or poverty) then the leaders of adoption agencies or homeless shelters. It requires research to put lists like this together, but the time invested can pay big dividends.

These are a just few things authors can do to help publishers. But the only way publishers will know that authors are willing to do this is if they first put it on their book proposals. It’s the type of stuff I think many authors are willing to do, but for whatever reason, don’t remember to put it on their proposals.

Write strong!


3 thoughts on “The most common omission on book proposals

  1. Reblogged this on Tell Better Stories and commented:

    In a little over a month my writers group, The Weaklings, will host our first ever Writers Mini-Conference here in Grand Rapids, MI. It’s called, “Jot.” You can learn more about Jot at this website. I wrote the post below which is featured on the Jot home page today.

  2. Great tips–I used to think that I would write a novel, then have the publisher edit and market it for me. But the truth is that the publisher can only help a little. If it’s to be, it’s up to me.

    • You’re right Daniel. And that’s true not just for novelists. I would say 80 to 90 percent of books published will find success only if the author is heavily invested. The exceptions are gift books (in which the author doesn’t matter) or books by famous “brand” names (like James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks).

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