Editors no longer drive publishing houses–marketing and sales people do. If you want to get your fiction or non-fiction book proposal accepted, you need to think like the decision-makers.
Vicki Crumpton, Executive Editor at Revell/Baker Publishing Group, taught a workshop on Effective Book Proposals at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference this weekend. We met with her yesterday, and got her permission to share her tips.
According to Vicki, getting noticed isn’t impossible even for a writer who’s not yet famous. Revell/Baker’s ideal proposal combines a well-known author, a great idea, and a motivated target audience. She compares it to the businessman’s triangle of fast, good, and cheap. You need two of the three to sell your book.
I know what you’re thinking. No one outside of my friends and family knows who I am. One thing we’ve heard from multiple sources at Mount Hermon is that platform today doesn’t mean the same thing it did two years ago. Nowadays, even us normal people can build a platform if we’re willing to put in some work.
We’ll be writing posts in the coming months on building your social media platform, but years before you ever try to sell a book, you need to be active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. You also need to be blogging and speaking whenever possible.
Look for endorsements from people who are famous. You might not think you know anyone, but you might know someone who knows someone. You never know until you ask whether or not this friend of a friend will agree. The worse they can say is no.
A Great Idea
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there’s nothing new under the sun. So where do we get a fresh idea from? How do we recognize one when we see it?
Before you ever start writing, take a look at what’s already been published that’s similar to your book idea. From there, you need to individualize. Ask yourself the following questions. What can I do that’s new? How can I put my own spin on this? How can I bring my personal experience to bare on the topic?
Vicki’s key tip for finding a great idea is to avoid fads. Fads are here today and gone tomorrow. While they’re excellent for a magazine with a short lead time, they don’t work for books because by the time a book comes out two years after you write it, the fad is gone. Publishers look for what she calls “perennial trends.” Even if the market is saturated on one of these topics now, in two years time, they’ll be ready to cover it again. Perennial trends include topics like prayer and personal finance.
Motivated Target Audience
Robert Wolgemuth said, “If a book is for everyone, it’s for no one.” When you’re creating a proposal, you don’t want to tell a publisher that you’re writing for all women. That’s too broad. Are you writing for working women? Moms with toddlers? Women whose husbands have recently retired?
Refining your target audience will give you a step ahead in a couple of ways. You can now research the size of your audience. The marketing department is going to want to know that there’s a significant enough audience to make a profit. You can also identify groups connected with your audience that will give additional opportunities to market your book.
You can identify key creditials that prove your ability to write for your target audience. Knowing your target audience will also help you address your proposal to the publisher with the greatest ability to reach your audience. By doing this, you not only give your book the best chance of success, but you also show a potential publisher that you’ve done your research.
As you refine your target audience, you also need to be careful that you don’t make it too narrow–for example, targeting 19 year olds.
Today’s Teaser: We hope we have you all curious about how pitching our work went this past couple of days. Here’s your next hint. We now only need to say one sentence in order to be remembered by industry professionals such as James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, Janet Grant, and Steve Laube. Stay tuned and recommend our blog to your writing friends!