How Do I Write a (Non-Fiction) Proposal? (Part II: Your Market Summary)

Book WhispererLast week we covered how to write a query — that initial point of contact between an author and an editor, in which they do a little dance to figure out if a project has potential (key word) to be a good fit for that particular house.

Going back to our metaphor about computer dating, if the query is your dating profile, the proposal is your first date. Impressions matter. Both sides are eager to achieve a mutually beneficial connection. So . . . how do you get ready to present yourself (and your book)  as the most desirable, fascinating prospect imaginable?

It’s all about the proposal. When  I  present your editor presents your idea to the editorial team (usually comprised of the publisher, editorial and marketing staff, creative director, and assorted other finance and sales staff), s/he needs to feel confident that both you and the project are a good fit. A strong proposal is your editor’s ace in the hole. It needs to be fresh, compelling, imaginative, unique . . . in other words, utterly irresistible.

The first two parts of the proposal (the query with expanded table of contents and the writing sample) I’ll cover next time. This week I’d like to tackle what is arguably the most difficult part of the proposal: the market summary. This piece of the proposal identifies . . .

  • Your target audience (Millennial parents, middle-school soccer players, parish ministers). Who are you writing this for, why are they going to want to read it, and why are they going to want to buy THIS book out of all the other options on the bookstore shelves?
  • Your competing titles (books published in the last 3-5 years for similar audience on similar topic). Hint 1: “There’s nothing like this on the market” is not an option. Hint 2: Be able to articulate how your book is similar to at least one of the prospective publisher’s current, successful offerings.
  • Your market reach and brand (what you are currently doing in terms of speaking, writing, teaching, or otherwise connecting with the people who are going to want to buy this book). Specificity is very, very important; details matter. For example, don’t just mention that you have a blog, but the number of email subscribers, unique visitors, and monthly page views. If this is not your first book, how many copies each of the first two books sold and by whom were they published? Don’t say you’re willing to speak — say that last year you had six speaking engagements to audiences of more than 200 people on the topic of this book, and have eight more lined up already for next year. See? (If you haven’t started developing your brand, you may need to start here and put off proposal writing for a year or so.)
  • Your circle of influence (prominent individuals who are already known and respected by your target audience who know and like you). These people are usually called upon to write a foreword or endorsements, or help you in some other way to promote the book. Radio and television personalities, high-ranking clergy, magazine and newspaper editors or columnists, established authors, professors, and prominent bloggers and podcasters are all good choices.
  • Your marketing ideas. Are you write for any newsletters, magazines, ezines, or newspapers that might be willing to review your book? Are you affiliated with or aware of any colleges, organizations, or other groups who would have a natural interest in your book? Have you been on any radio or television shows that might be willing to invite you back?

Why does a publisher want you to participate so heavily in the promotional process? In a word: competition. You are your book’s best and most natural advocate. People often don’t read to obtain information; they read to have a personal connection with the author. Provide this, and your book will likely be a success. If you sit back and wait for the world to come to you . . . in publishing as in computer dating, that “first date” . . . could be your last.

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