Sunday, January 22–Panel Members:
- Phil Sexton–Moderator of Panel; Publisher, Writer’s Digest
- Karen Cooper–Publisher, Adams Media
- Michelle Howry–Senior Editor, Touchstone (an impring of Simon & Schuster)
- Donya Dickerson–Senior Editor, McGraw Hill
A. What is the most common mistake writers make in nonfiction proposals?
- Too much emphasis on the manuscript.
- Not enough evidence of need. Why does this book need to be in the marketplace?
- Not enough emphasis on the author platform.
- Not enough competitive analysis. Need to do research: a) Where will this book go on the shelf in Barnes & Noble? b) How does this book contrast with competitive titles? c) What does this book provide that no other book does? Check publicity volume of competition and occupied shelf space in bookstores. Also check Book of the Month Club offerings and other visible signs of a book’s sales/popularity.
- Writer is not realistic about competition for books by a “new author.” In proposal/query, presents him/herself as “the next ___________ (fill in the blank with a famous author’s name).” This approach brands the writer as inexperienced and unrealistic. Instead, the writer should answer: a) Here’s how my book fits into the market, and b) Here’s how my book differs …”
The approximate length of a nonfiction book proposal should be thirty pages, not including any sample chapters.
Include suggestions about where book could be sold outside of the trade (ex., Walmart, Costco …) Research should include publishers and where they sell.
B. How important is the author’s writing in nonfiction?
- Depends on the imprint, the book idea, and how hungry the editor is for an acquisition.
- Authors should not have someone else write the proposal. Both the manuscript and the proposal need to have the same style. Editors can tell if they’ve been written by different people.
- Editors/publishers vary regarding how important the writing is. If the concept is great, the quality of writing is not as important. Writing can always be beefed up through input from agents, editorial staff, or even ghost writers contracted through publishers.
- The author’s platform plays a role in how important the writing is. The more the author already has in place to help sell the book, the less important the actual writing becomes.
- Editors differ with respect to the weight applied to a) good writing, b) promotion, and c) platform.
C. How has the view of self-publishing changed?
- All three editors said they would enthusiastically look at proposals that included self-published books.
- Writers should keep in mind that, if an author is doing well with self-published book saes, then there is a strong case to be made for not going with a traditional publisher.
- However, publishers can offer access to additional distribution channels, unique book promotions, etc.
D. What is the most compelling proposal you ever received, and why?
- Wreck This Journal. Original proposal was a mock-up that was intended to be torn apart (as is the final product). Sometimes editors have to do a hard-sell job with odd ideas like this one, when channels like Barnes & Noble and Amazon have decided to passed on a project.
- The Starbuck’s Experience. Author had gained full access to Starbuck’s operations. (The publisher was instrumental in changing the title from the original.)
- The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Author had secured permission from J.K. Rowling to use the Harry Potter name.
- Retail Hell. The proposal came in as a self-help book. The publisher reworked it into a memoir.
Editors and publishers want authors who are cooperative and willing to listen, who respond positively to input, and who want to work in a partnership to produce the best quality book possible.
–Cheri’s Note: I’m now studying up on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I will keep you posted on what I’m learning and how the process unfolds once I actually begin writing the document.–