Most writers who are hoping to sell a non-fiction book know that in order to do so it is necessary to create a book proposal. This document can be critical not only to the sale of the book but to the size of the publisher’s offer. I often tell prospective clients that doing the proposal is an unnatural act—it can actually be more difficult to create a good one than to write the book itself. Our website describes exactly what is required to be in the proposal clearly and concisely (see “Nonfiction Proposal Guidelines”).
These days, I am consistently trying to push writers to create proposals that are well focused and that clearly define the different readerships, both demographically and statistically. Inevitably, as I learned last week, a writer will try to “game” the system—describing his or her book as neither fish nor fowl and thus confusing the reader (the editor). The result is a rejection letter instead of an offer. So I am stressing here that it is extremely important for the writer proposing a work of non-fiction to clearly define exactly what he or she wants to do in his or her book in a keynote sentence or two. That keynote is so very important! If a sale is made, the proposal goes from the writer, to the editor who buys the book, to the publisher, to the person who creates both the catalog and cover copy and, finally, to the sales person who is selling the book in to the accounts. It has to be right.
And, sometimes, for it to be “right” takes time. The other thing that was brought home to me again this last week is that rushing a book proposal never pays. It results in shoddy work which can be misinterpreted by the editor considering the material. I use the saying “better late than lousy” so often these days—and it is very important to remember. Doing the proposal the right way can make all the difference in the world.
Of course, as always, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences on the subject of proposal writing.