Winning Attention with That Book Proposal

From Publishers Weekly:

As a former acquisitions editor at a publishing company, I well remember the ritual wherein executives gathered in a conference room armed with their tabbed notebooks. Once a month, department leaders—including those in editorial, marketing, and sales—and key sales representatives arrived for the pub board meeting. As a new editor, I had my spot on the schedule to present several books from my authors. Authors, retailers, librarians, and others in the publishing business never see or attend these sessions. I could feel the tension and intensity in the room. Each person knew the high stakes built into these meetings. Every book involves cost and risk to the publisher, and the pub board is where individuals are held accountable for their choices.

To get on the pub board agenda, a book passes through a number of checkpoints. An agent or the author pitched the book to the editor (me), and if I believed the proposal had merit for our house, I presented the book to our editorial team. They had to agree with my assessment before it was added to the agenda. Finally, editors prepared specific P&L documents for the pub board, to highlight our reasons for the book to be acquired before we made our in-person presentation to the department heads.

For decades, before attending pub board, I had been writing books for various traditional publishers. Until I joined a publishing house, I had never witnessed how they made the acquisition decisions. My experience was eye-opening and at times brutal. Occasionally, when I began to present a book and author, the COO would pipe up: “Terry, we could sell two of these books. One to me and one to someone else.” His statement was a deal killer for that book. We were looking for bestsellers. My presentation for that book was finished.

As I presented books at pub board meetings, there were many instances when writers missed an opportunity to get the attention of the board because of poorly written book proposals. While there isn’t an industry standard proposal, each should include an overview, author background, potential buyers, author marketing plans, competing books, and possible endorsers. Some agents have proposal templates for authors to submit and refine before going to publishers.

Often author pitches I saw were missing key elements in the competition section or were filled with untrue statements like, “My book is unique and has no competition.” With thousands of new books entering the market every day, the competition within publishing is fierce. There are no unique books—every book competes. Writers need to complete this section and detail their competitive titles. Imagine their books in bookstores. Which titles are beside them? These competitive titles need to be included.

Every author should treat a proposal as the book’s business plan. Authors should take their time in developing a proposal to ensure they make all of the points they want to make. A solid proposal typically runs 30–50 pages and can be the difference between getting a contract or losing a deal.

In 2004, I was a frustrated editor who wanted to get better submissions from authors. After reading many submissions, I wrote Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success, and my book has since helped countless writers find a literary agent and a book deal. The publishing world has changed a great deal over the past 17 years. For example, one of my “secrets” was to always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). At that time, publishers received and processed piles of paper submissions. If the author didn’t include the return postage, they did not get their submissions returned.

Today, submissions are received electronically, but even these require care to avoid sending viruses and malware. In my attempt to get rid of typographical errors in submissions, another secret was never to trust a spellchecker. Instead, one should read one’s work aloud before submitting, since the ear is less forgiving than the eye.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG looked for the book pitched in the OP, Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success, on Amazon to see how it has done during its first six weeks of sales.

He couldn’t find any Amazon listing for the book on Amazon.

PG then searched Amazon for the publisher of the book, Morgan James Publishing and still couldn’t find any Amazon listing for the book.

That lead to PG discovering that Morgan James had only 8 books listed on Amazon that showed a publication date in 2021.

The 2021 Morgan James book with the most Amazon ratings was Your Pocket Therapist: Quick Hacks for Dealing with Toxic People While Empowering Yourself, published in January, 2021, with 105 ratings and a five-star average. The book ranked 85,923 in Kindle Store and 169 in Dysfunctional Families (Books).

Digging a little deeper into the ratings, PG discovered that the Pocket Therapist book had:

  • 96 global five-star ratings
  • 3 four-star ratings
  • 4 three-star ratings
  • 1 two-star ratings
  • 1 one-star rating

These ratings averaged 4.8, which PG thought was a little high for a non-fiction book that had not sold very well. The only critical review asked, “Why is the print so small?”

PG checked the latest Amazon Charts data for the Top 20 Most Read and Most Sold Nonfiction Books for the week of November 14. He discovered that 11 of the top 20 had average star ratings below 4.8. Only Barack Obama’s autobiography, A Promised Land, had an average star rating above 4.8.