25 Tips on How to Impress a Book Publisher by Cheryl Tardif


1. Understand that publishers are very busy people. We are juggling multiple authors and manuscripts, as well as promotions, events, and marketing. We have little time to spare, especially when swamped with hundreds of manuscripts, many of them sent when a publisher is closed for submissions. Showing a publisher that you understand they are busy and submitting during their open submissions time shows you respect their time.

2.Learn everything you can about the publishing company. Learn about the publisher, their authors, and the works they’ve published to ensure that you’d be a good fit. Connect with them on social networks. Share their posts and tweets. Buy some of their titles, especially in the genre in which you write.

3.Read and follow their submission guidelines. Most publishers post their guidelines on their websites. Read them carefully, and pay special attention to whether or not they have a specific time frame for submissions. Follow their guidelines! Give them exactly what they want. Be prepared to answer questions, especially regarding past sales.

4.Hook the publisher in the first sentence of your query. Just like a well-written book, your query should hook them in the first sentence. Read your first sentence, and ask yourself: “Would this make me want to know more if I were a publisher?” Ensure that you follow the Four Firsts for your manuscript.Don’t know what I’m talking about? Learn about the Four Firsts here.

5.Let your personality shine as a positive person. Don’t be afraid to show publishers who you are. Just be sure it’s someone publishers will like. Be humble, appreciative, and a team player. Don’t act like you know it all. You don’t.

6.Be open to learning. With the ever-changing landscape of publishing, successful authors must always be open to change—and to experimenting when new things come along. Show a willingness to learn and to evolve with the industry.

7.Be everywhere online! Recognize the importance of a website, blog, and social networks, and use them frequently. Even if you’re not yet published, you should have a website, a blog, and Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to your writing. Publishers will look for these.

8.Have an impressive platform in the SAME genre as the one you’re pitching. If you’ve been writing nonfiction and have a huge following there but are pitching a work of fiction, understand that the audience isn’t the same—unless there is a common theme. Example: Nonfiction books on dealing with autistic children have a specific audience of people looking for help with dealing with autistic children. A novel featuring an autistic child as the main character would then appeal to this audience.

9.Don’t rave about how awesome your book is and how it’s going to sell thousands of copies in the first week. Be humble and stick to the facts.

10.Show you understand your audience and that you know who your target audience is. Don’t pitch a book with a ten-year-old main character as a novel for adults. And don’t pitch an unpublished book as “for anyone, any age.” There are few titles that fit that description, but this is established by sales and time.

11.Don’t send the book until the publisher asks for it. Unless the publisher’s guidelines tell you to send it with the query, wait for them to ask for it.

12.Ensure your book is as error free as possible. Run a spell-check and grammar-check before sending it. And have at least one other person edit the entire work, preferably someone with actual editing skills who understands CMOS rules.

13.Know what CMOS is and understand the rules. Have a hard-cover edition on hand or sign up for the online edition. Show your knowledge of CMOS style rules in your manuscript. CMOS is the writer’s Bible.

14.Do not e-mail the publisher to ask if he/she has read your book yet. If the guidelines do not stress a time limit, ask for one when the publisher requests your manuscript.

15.Impress them with your publishing credits. If you have published other works in the same genre or type (fiction or nonfiction) as the book you want to submit, let the publisher know, and point them to your Amazon profile page.

16.Make sure you have an Amazon profile page if you have published works available on Amazon. If you have no profile page, you’ll look like someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

17.If you have won a prestigious award, mention it briefly. Ensure you know the difference between a “prestigious” award and one that means very little.

18.If you have published other works in the same genre, briefly summarize what you have done to promote them. Impress publishers with your marketing abilities and creativity.

19.Reviews are vital! Make sure you have a substantial amount of reviews on your published works, especially those in the same genre as the book your are hoping to submit. Don’t query a publisher or agent until you have 10+ reviews on the majority of your works, and an average rating of 3.5 or above stars.

20.Don’t pitch a publisher your manuscript while also pitching your services as a book cover designer, editor, marketing coach, formatter, etc. Query separately. Be professional.

21.Be editable. Your book isn’t perfect. Even if you’ve had it edited by someone else, the publisher will need to know that you’re open to being edited.

22.Don’t ask if you can supply the cover, cover description, or images for the cover. Publishers have their own creative designers.

23.Understand you have competition. Know who your competitors are and who has written works comparable to yours. Watch how they promote their works on social networks. Learn from those who are selling.

24.Make the publisher curious enough to want to ask you questions. Don’t tell them everything in your first e-mail.What you want is for the publisher to engage in conversation with you. You want to give them everything they ask for and hint at anything outside of that. For example, if a publisher doesn’t ask for sales data in their guidelines, you could mention you made a best-sellers list for two weeks in a row. Let them ask for more information. When they do, give them everything you can, including where the best-sellers list was published, what ranking you got, and total sales to date for that title.

25.Express gratitude. Be thankful for the publisher’s time and for any feedback or advice they give you. They don’t have to give you any feedback­—or their time.

Cheryl Tardif is the publisher at Imajin Books, a hybrid publishing company based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is also known as Cheryl Kaye Tardif, an award-winning, international bestselling author represented by Trident Media Group in New York. She is best known for Children of the Fog, Submerged, and Whale Song. Booklist raves: “Tardif, already a big hit in Canada . . . a name to reckon with south of the border.” Check out Cheryl’s website and Imajin Books website, and connect with her on Twitter (Cheryl and Imajin Books) and Facebook (Cheryl and Imajin Books).

http://www.imajinbooks.com
http://www.cherylktardif.com

Blog: http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/09/29/25-tips-on-how-to-impress-a-book-publisher

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Everything You Need to Know to Create a Bestselling Book by Ryan Holiday


“I love books. Probably too much for my own good. I’ve written three, edited several others and also had my fair share of success helping turn books into bestsellers (cumulatively, the books I’ve worked on or advised have sold well over five million copies).

I know how hard authors work on their books and how far out of their element many are when it comes to doing the sales and marketing. So when I see someone doing it wrong, and giving bad advice, I do my best to help–even when they’re not my clients.

As authors, we’re all trying to fight against obscurity and outside distractions, but it’s a tough battle. Watching well-meaning authors follow in the footsteps of someone going in the wrong direction breaks my heart.

I’ll give you a specific example: Jose Casanova recently wrote an article on Medium explaining how he “growth hacked” his book (about growth hacking), mainly by drafting off the success of my most recent book (about growth hacking). I don’t fault him for doing this, in theory this is actually a pretty smart technique.

The problem is that he happens to be wrong. Jose Casanova has internalized a lot of bad advice about book writing and book marketing and then attempted to pass it along to others. I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to explain how this happens, and the lessons to take away from it, because authors who take him at his word are going to be led astray. I hope he won’t take offense, but I am going to use his book as example to explain everything I think authors–particularly self-published authors–need to know about marketing a book.

Bear with me because this isn’t a short post, but I think it’s important. As I said, there is a lot of bad advice out there and it takes time to knock it all down. The last thing I am doing is laughing at or criticizing what Jose has accomplished with his book–I’m happy for it. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that listening to someone whose self-published book that has 11 reviews on Amazon might be a mistake.

I’m picking Jose because I happen to have written a book about the same topic so I can use that campaign for contrast. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising has now been the #1 marketing bestseller on Amazon for several weeks in a row. It has already earned back its advance from my publisher, Penguin/Portfolio. It’s been written about or featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Huffington Post, Betabeat, BoingBoing, Mashable, Marketwatch, Shopify, Thought Catalog, and Medium, was the most viewed presentation on Slideshare, and translated in four languages and brought out as an audio book. I still want more for it, but it is doing well enough to learn from.

Now, let’s get into how to market a book and how not to market a book.

Writing IS Marketing

For starters, this quote from the first paragraph of Jose’s article reveals a really dangerous assumption of book publishing. He writes: “Did I do much marketing for it? Not at all.”

The most common error I see authors make is they think of marketing as a separate and distinct animal from writing. They go into a cave for two years and write their book and only begin to think about marketing when they emerge. You have to understand that as an author you’re competing for attention with so much other media, you can’t afford to just sit on your ass and pray. Book marketing is such an essential part of the process Seth Godin–and this might be an extreme view, I understand–says you should start marketing your book THREE YEARS before it comes out.

The most important marketing phase of a book actually comes while you’re writing it. If you don’t realize that now, it’s a big missed opportunity.

Write Something Good

Also, Jose seems to gloss over, well, writing the actual book: “Once the content of the book was completed, so [sic] our next step was design.” Whoa there, buddy. Books take time. The single best marketing decision you will make is to take the time to write an amazing book. Don’t worry about beating someone to market–think about owning the market by creating an indispensable book. Like Paul Graham says, “Make something people want.”

By doing that you create the only marketing that matters: word of mouth. And the great thing about ebooks is you can see if your writing resonates with people very easily by what they highlight on Kindle. People apparently love GHM. Writing in a clear, concise and helpful way–a way that elicits the reaction “Oh, that’s great I need to highlight that so I remember”–is a marketing choice. You can tell just by looking at a book’s Kindle page whether the author accomplished that. Sadly, they often fail.

Writers should write books because they have something they have to say. Ideally, they should be the only person who can say it in their unique voice. Jose admitted that he decided to write his book because “growth hacking” was showing a surge in traffic on Google Trends (That’s almost as bad as people who write about stuff because it’s trending on Twitter, for SEO reasons or because other blogs are writing about it.) Books last because they have a unique voice, solve a common problem, and stand the test of time, not because of something as ephemeral as a trending topic.

By “unique voice” I mean: what is the book that only you are qualified to write? Initially my publisher wanted me to do a complete guide to growth hacking. Midway through my research it struck me that this would not be an honest or authentic thing for me to do. I am not a born “growth hacker”–my background is in traditional marketing. I did some hard thinking and realized that the best and most marketable book I could write would be about the transition from traditional marketing to growth hacking. So I sat down and wrote a book about my journey, rather than pretending to be something I wasn’t.

Write Something New

Do yourself a favor and choose to write a book with a totally new and unexpected hook. This bakes marketing and word of mouth into the content and sets you up for a perennial seller. The first place to start is the thesis or overarching idea of your book. Especially for nonfiction books, your thesis has to be a simple, spreadable, articulable idea to generate word of mouth. If your thesis is confusing or unclear it makes it very difficult to market. An unclear thesis also makes it hard for your readers to talk about it and recommend it to other people, which is the main thing that drives book sales.

For example my first book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, isn’t just another social media or marketing book. Its a part-expose, part-confessional about our current media system and the role I played in it. But the material in the book could have easily been framed differently to make it like any other marketing book. You can even bake marketing into the cover of your book like when Greg Smith used an eerily similar font to Goldman Sachs’ for his expose Why I Left Goldman Sachs. Ask yourself: What’s exciting about what I am saying? What will make people share my insights with their friends? How can I use that to get more attention? When I’m writing I come back to these types of questions over and over because its essential to understanding marketing. Baking marketing into your content helps create word of mouth, the only marketing that matters.

But there are limits to this. Seeing a book pop up on Amazon and quickly writing something just to beat it to market? This kind of short-term thinking dooms many writers who cut corners in essential areas…like you know, writing a good book or not.

Write Something Well

My guess is that Jose didn’t hire a professional to edit his book or even proofread it himself, because it’s riddled with needless grammatical errors. Professional editing is essential for self-published authors because it’s the easiest way to separate the professionals from the amateurs. Take it from the pros: “Without strong editors, writers are like cars with accelerators but no brakes.” The distinction in the publishing industry today isn’t published vs. self-published, it’s professional publishing vs. unprofessional publishing. If your book looks amateur and doesn’t read well, it doesn’t matter how well you “growth hack” your book, it’ll be dead on arrival.

A great example of an author putting in the effort to professionally self-publish a book is James Altucher’s Choose Yourself. In contrast with some of his previous efforts, James hired professionals to edit his book ruthlessly and design it from cover to cover. The results? Choose Yourself debuted on the WSJ bestseller list and sold over 40,000 copies the first month. There is still a stigma around self-publishing because readers think your book wasn’t good enough to get published. Self-published authors have to clear this hurdle and the best way to do it is to make your book look like it was done by a big publisher and get social proof from credible people that the book is worth reading. You might not be able to get the CEO of Twitter to write the foreword to your book, but you have to form relationships with other successful people in your space. (Nils Parker is who I recommend for editing.)

Packaging & Positioning

Every content decision you make as an author has marketing implications. It was encouraging to see Jose understand this in regards to book cover design, “You can’t skimp on design! Why would you spend all this time writing a book, and then get a shitty cover design?” That’s the exact right approach.

So while it seems like Jose understands how important design is, I think the takeaway here is how important execution is. I would not let one of my clients, and certainly not one of my own books, see the light of day with a cover like this. Why? It’s boring, but still busy, which is a major design flaw. Perhaps worst of all, it does not catch your eye as an Amazon thumbnail (the primary point of sale for this book). The problem is that wanting good design, and getting good design, aren’t the same thing.

In addition to a book’s cover, the title is an essential aspect of book marketing. Bestselling authors like Tim Ferriss and Eric Ries relentlessly test the titles and subtitles of their books to ensure that their audience will respond to it once its on the shelves. By contrast, Growth Hacking: A How To Guide On Becoming a Growth Hacker is a less than ideal book title. Perhaps fatally so. A subtitle is supposed to contextualize the main title, telling the reading what the books central promise is. More importantly, it should be active. (No “becoming,” at the very least it is “How to Become”.)

This doesn’t only apply to self-published authors, publishers–like any committee–have a tendency to screw these things up too. (This is my favorite example of a publisher killing an awesome title, and worse still the author doesn’t even realize what a mistake it was.) For the title of my book, I looked to include every marketing keyword I could naturally squeeze in without sacrificing the authenticity of the work. I have “marketing,” “growth hacking,” “advertising,” and “PR”–or every possible reading audience I could want. This has helped with with search traffic in a major way–and better, signaled to many different prospective readers that the book has something it it for them. “Growth hackers” are a small crowd. Marketers are a much bigger audience.

Distribution & Partnerships

Amazon as a distribution platform is pretty great, but most self-published authors like Jose think once their book is on Amazon their work is done. In today’s digital marketplace you have to get your book in multiple channels to generate sales.

Think about the results of the BitTorrent package I put together for the launch of Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Chef:

2 million downloads

1,261,152 page visits

880,009 Amazon impressions

327,555 Tim Ferriss website impressions

293,936 book trailer impressions

Using BitTorrent as a distribution platform opened up Tim’s book to a whole new audience and allowed them to share his content, which created viral attention.

Partnering with BitTorrent may seem out of reach, but something as simple as tapping into a friend’s email list can help drive impressive sales for your book. For Choose Yourself, James Altucher partnered with Porter Stansberry’s email newsletter and sold 20,000 copies through it. The point is to partner with other people in your space and give them incentive to work with you. For example, James did a 50/50 profit split with Porter, making it a no brainer for him. For GHM, I sent out an email to my own email list of 10,000 people to announce my book, which I built by just recommending books over the years.

It’s also important that you reach out and incorporate other people’s platforms in your book. I went out of my way–even though I probably could have gotten some of the information elsewhere–to interview every single major growth hacker I could reach. Why? Because they were my potential audience and I wanted to make sure my book was great. But also, I knew that by interviewing them they would be more likely to support and recommend the book to their friends, followers and fans. Indeed they did, I got tweets from basically every major, influential growth hacker in the book which certainly helped sales.

When writing your book look for influencers in your space that have a deep, passionate following. Working with them will drive way more sales than getting a review in the New York Times. Ramit Sethi, author of the bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, agrees: “The Holy Grail is a single-author blog with a large audience that is highly focused, and the author loves your stuff. If you can make friends with them and show them that your stuff is great and relevant to their audience, that can really propel you from one level to the next.” Build relationships as you’re writing your book and provide value to others in your space you can partner with them and their assets when it comes time to launch your book.

Promotion & Marketing

Thinking short term and rushing your book to market also prevents you from coordinating a good launch. Velocity is crucial when your book hits the market, so you have to concentrate your sales push to the first week because this helps you get hit bestsellers lists (not just the New York Times but on Amazon and Goodreads), which drives even more attention. Because of the velocity I was able to generate with my launch GHM was #1 marketing bestseller on Amazon, which at one point put me at #1 on Amazon’s Author Rank in Business and Investing, above authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Sheryl Sandberg. I was then able to put a banner on my book cover with the #1 marketing bestseller designation, giving my book even more social proof.

Being a #1 bestseller is good and all, but using Amazon rankings as your metric for success obscures some of the more valuable goals to work toward when launching a book. In Jose’s article he bragged that his book reached #21 in the marketing category on Amazon. Weeks later, how is that accomplishment helping his brand or business or even book sales? Authors should measure success by the assets they’ve accumulated via the platform they’ve built. This means emails collected, partnerships made with influencers in your space, speaking gigs, evergreen content placements on blogs, etc.

The question you have to ask yourself before starting a book project is: for what purpose am I writing this book? Is to grab some quick book sales with a subpar book, or to build a brand or business around it? I’d choose the latter.

Today, books are used as a tool for first-time authors to build a platform. It’s not enough to just write a book that sells some copies. In GHM, I put a page at the end that gave a bonus to all the readers who made it that far–transcripts of all my interviews with growth hackers, plus the first chapter of my other book. The result? Nearly 1,000 people signed up for my email list in case I ever do a sequel or a physical print version. (I also did a similar version of this in my first book and that list now more than 10,000 people).

Build Your Brand

If you read Jose’s book, he purports to be a “seasoned digital executive, entrepreneur, author, leader, and strategist,” but you’d never know this by looking at his book’s Amazon page because he failed to even write a bio for himself, missing a tremendous opportunity to build his brand. Authors should not make this mistake. Your bio and your Amazon page are like business cards. Brand yourself, reinvent yourself, whatever. Just don’t waste the opportunity. You will be shocked at how often these self-descriptions are borrowed and repeated in the media until they become true.

Perhaps he was busy or perhaps he felt that as a first time author he could not get them but for some reason there aren’t any blurbs about the book on its Amazon page. You’d think blurbs would matter less in 2013 but in fact they matter more. There were 400,000 self-published books released in 2012. So how do you differentiate yourself from the crowd? With social proof. One way to do this is with blurbs from established, respected individuals. Blurbs say: someone who’s time is valuable read this book before you and liked it. This is why I gave up a significant portion of the 2,000 characters Amazon allows to give space to blurbs from Tim Ferriss and even the guy who invented the phrase that my book borrows its title from.

Another big mistake I see plenty of authors make is they leave the job of writing the cover copy (the book description section on Amazon) for their book to their publisher or don’t put in the effort and do a crappy job, but this is critical to the success of your book. Amazon only gives you 2,000 characters to sell ebooks, so you better make sure every one of them count because it’s your sales page. For this I recommend doing the classic copy writing exercise of one page, one paragraph, one sentence to describe your book. Or even better, use Amazon’s “working backwards” approach, where product development people have to write the press release for the product BEFORE Amazon approves the project. This crystallizes your value proposition to the reader and helps you make decisions throughout the book marketing process.

Remember as a first time author, discovery is your big hurdle. An eternity in obscurity is the fate for most authors. Why should people give you their cash? Why should they give you their time? It’s crucial that your pricing makes your book accessible, especially early on. Do not discourage people from taking a chance on you. So while it was smart for Jose to initially make his book free on Amazon, I think it was a huge mistake to price his ebook $9.99 and then have paperback at $12.99. Most ebooks are priced at $2.99 because you get a 70% royalty from Amazon instead of 35%. For Jose to sell his book for more than triple that puts it at a price point that will prevent people from buying his book. And while there’s a lot to be said for pricing based on value, when taken to an extreme you end up hurting sales. Lower prices brings more revenue, more new readers, and a better sales ranking. Since ebooks cost you nothing to distribute, price them lower to encourage discovery. Physical books can be sold at a premium because they people who have to have it will gladly pay.

There is a reason that Growth Hacker Marketing is $3. I learned this lesson with my first book. I asked the publisher why, after my marketing campaign had made the book the most talked about marketing book of the year, sales did not explode (they did well, but they weren’t explosive)? They admitted that they’d probably priced it too high. Jose’s book, as a first-time author, is a $9.99 ebook…and $12.99 paperback. James Altucher’s last book–which was also self-published and debuted on the WSJ bestseller list–picked a better ratio with a $2.99 ebook version and a $9.96 paperback.

PR & Media Stunts

When an author signs with a traditional publisher, they think that their publisher will handle the marketing for them. Bad news: that’s still on you. Even if you hire a publicist, the creative part of the marketing efforts are your responsibility.

But that’s fine because the media is a SELLER’s market. It isn’t hard to get legitimate coverage. Blogs can publish an infinite number of articles and want good stories. In other words, when Business Insider writes about you, you are doing them a favor. You don’t have to orchestrate publicity stunts that I talk about below. But, what you pitch bloggers has to be interesting and provocative, because they are incentivized by pageviews. The “Unknown Author Writes First Book” pitch will never work. So, find out what’s interesting or relevant in your book and pitch it.

But as a starting point, you have to understand how your marketing efforts affect sales. Jose seems to have confused correlation with causation when he writes, “Once we finished the book, we launched it using the KDP program that Kindle offers. This helped rocket the book to #1 of all (free) Kindle books for 3-5 days. This enabled us to get ranked on Hacker News and Reddit /r/ startups.”

First off, getting on Reddit isn’t hard, all it requires is submitting a link to your work. Places like r/startups love great content and if you provide it, they’re happy to have you. But he’s right it is good marketing–I did a Reddit AMA for my launch. However, putting your book up for free on Amazon does not cause you to get attention on Reddit, its the other way around, an important distinction.

Also, book publishing isn’t a zero sum game so I agree with Jose when he writes, “I didn’t see Ryan Holiday’s book as competition but opportunity. Why? The Amazon description showed that Ryan’s book was only about ~60 pages, this gave me the opportunity to provide a longer and more comprehensive book for readers that wanted more.” No author should look at other authors as adversaries–books complement each other rather than compete. In fact, I tell a lot of my clients that they should look for recent books like theirs and pitch them to the media together. To a reporter, one book is an anomaly. Two or three is a trend piece.

Creating controversy–provoking a reaction–is only one way create a discussion around your book, and often its counterproductive. It only works with some books when the material calls for it. In his own way, Jose did this well by writing his Medium post. It motivated me to write a response–so I respect his hustle there. Otherwise I would have had no reason to ever write about him. For GHM, I deliberately positioned my book as an attack on traditional marketing. This helped drive attention to my book and created a media narrative that gave that attention some staying power.

For TMIL I created numerous media stunts for two important reasons. The first is the obvious one: to get attention and media coverage for my book. The second reason was to prove the concept of my book in real time as my book came out. For example, long before my book was to come up I had begun a controversial experiment: signing up for Help A Reporter Out, a service connecting journalists with sources, I was able to get quotes into numerous publications, even the New York Times, about subjects I had not idea about. I proved that the “experts” you see quoted in the news are often not really experts at all. When the story broke on Forbes it became their most popular story that week and I was able to stay in the news cycle for weeks with responses from both sides. (Thanks Peter Shankman, you did me a huge favor.)

In my book I also called out Irin Carmon for the role she played in creating controversy about women employees on The Daily Show, among other things, which generated a response from her in Salon and got even more attention for my book. Or the stunts I’ve done for my clients, like the Planned Parenthood stunt with Tucker Max that dominated the news for a week, or the Twitter stunt I created for the release of his last book. If you want to be in the news sometimes you have to create news yourself.

You may not think can pull off a big media stunt as a self-published author, but you don’t have to. You can what this author did and turn your book release party into a game where fans take sides from characters from your book. Or turn your book into a dress and have an impromptu photo shoot like this author. You can even make waves by demanding that readers not buy your book on Amazon.

Whatever works for you–go for it!

None of Jose’s mistakes are stupid or malicious. In fact, they’re all very common. But make no mistake, they were mistakes and he made a lot of them unnecessarily. I get it, no one–least of all publishers–teaches authors how to market books, and the fact is, almost all the information out there about book marketing is either misleading, ineffective, wrong, or worse, counterproductive. It’s a tough gig and this lack of accurate information forces people to take wild guesses at what works. But we’ve got a lot on the line with our points–our life’s work in some cases–and we want them to succeed.

That’s why I wrote this piece, to try to help tip the scales towards better information. When you’re thinking about writing a book, you have to think about marketing it in tandem. As we have just seen, the content and design decisions you make in the beginning of the process fundamentally shapes what you are able to do with your book down the line. The focus should be on concentrating your forces for the first week to create some velocity–to literally launch your book. Its also important not to make short-sighted decisions when marketing your book. You want to build a platform, not just get ranked on Amazon. Its about building assets that you can use for years to build a legitimate business.

Hopefully I helped shed some light on the aspects of marketing a book people don’t talk about and we won’t make these kinds of mistakes in the future.”

Ryan Holiday is a bestselling author of Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator and Growth Hacker Marketing and is an adviser to many brands and bestselling authors. His company is Brass Check Marketing.

 Follow Ryan Holiday on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanholiday

Proposal Power: What Publishers Desire in a Proposal


As resume writing is a path to a successful career, the publishing proposal is a gateway for being published, especially for fiction. Unfortunately, very few neophyte authors are experienced in publishing proposal writing. Novice authors are rarely considered by publishers. Why should a publisher spend several thousand dollars on an unknown, unproven author? Since very few rookie authors have a literary agent, it’s up to the author to design a proposal that not only meets their expectations, but sweeps editors off their feet. Non-fiction authors who are known subject matter experts should still design a proposal. But it is vastly more critical for unfamiliar fiction authors.

Before we go any farther, if you think that this article will enable your book to be published by HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House or any other major publisher – STOP READING. Only trusted, well-connected literary agents deliver author proposals into the hands of major publishers. If you don’t have such a literary agent, or a close friend or relative in the industry, you will NOT have a proposal read by a major publisher – PERIOD.

Many small independent publishers around the world specialize in one or two genres. However, you can have a proposal read by one of the many thousands of small independent publishers around the world; and that’s a good way to start an author platform and propel your nascent writing career.

Publishing proposal writing is a science and an art form. Your proposal must not only explain very succinctly the synopsis of your book, but also how it compares to similar successful books in the same genre. It must contain, at a minimum, one section each on: the author, a concise synopsis, a market analysis, a competitive analysis, promotional and marketing concepts, a chapter outline; and sample chapters. This cannot be thrown together and submitted carte blanche to any and every publisher. It should be re-worked and customized for each publisher. You must explain why you and your manuscript are a good fit with each publisher, based upon the publisher’s past experience, areas of success, author and genre predilections. You accomplish this by analyzing each small publisher and demonstrating why your manuscript will make sense given the publisher’s preferences.

The author is the easiest section to complete. Expand upon all of your accomplishments as a writer or as an author of fiction. This can go back as far as your high school newspaper. Include all writing competition awards, published articles, prior published books, media outlets that have accepted your work, positive reviews from persuasive review organizations, etc. Include all major media interviews via radio, television, cable, Internet and local newspapers, journals and magazines. This section tells the publisher that you have had successful writing responsibilities and that you have been rewarded and recognized for your talent. It explains what makes your writing and literary experience relevant to this topic and to the specific publisher.

The synopsis sounds easier than it is. In about 500 words or less, you must describe your target audience, why your book is exceptional and why it is a worthy expenditure for the publisher. Concisely describe the most compelling and persuasive aspects of your book. Lead with a powerful description. You must grab the editor’s attention immediately. Here is one example that led to a publishing contract for one of my novels about young Jewish lovers during the Holocaust:

“How would you feel if, at age seventeen, the government removed you from school, evicted you from your home, looted your bank account and took all of your family’s possessions, prevented your parents from working and then deported you and your loved ones to a prison camp run by brutal taskmasters? How would you feel if you suddenly lost contact with everyone that you know and love? How would you feel if you were sent to the most frightening place in history and then forced to perform unspeakable acts of horror in order to remain alive?”

If that doesn’t grab your heart, maybe you don’t have a pulse. It makes everything that follows easier from the publisher’s perspective. No, the paragraph above does not constitute the synopsis. It says nothing about the protagonists, the story line, scenery, character development, dialog or the ending. But, it’s a start that may be sufficiently emotional to grab the editor’s attention. Avoid creating a long-winded, detailed synopsis, which is a very common mistake. Your synopsis should be about one page. Keep editing it until it describes everything relevant in your manuscript within a page. You do not need to explain the ending. But you definitely must hook the publisher’s editor.

The market analysis is relevant and essential. It tells the publisher that you comprehend the market for such books and how your manuscript is consistent with market needs. In describing the potential for your book, you must compellingly submit how expansive that market is today and where your book fits into it. Describe which authors are doing well with which similar books within this genre and why. This is where you’ll explain who will purchase and read your book, how many readers enjoy such books, where they are and why they will pay for it. You’ll need to perform enough research to cite specific examples and statistics to back up your claims.

The competitive analysis is perhaps the most critical portion of the publishing proposal. Here you contrast and compare your book with at least three similar books that have achieved prodigious public success. Select these three similar books carefully. They certainly do not need to be contemporary. Feel free to select a book from the Eighteenth Century, if it is relevant. Explain why people by the millions purchased that book, which is very similar to yours. Then explain why your book adds to the success of that genre.

It is not appropriate to suggest that your book is the same or better than the best-selling books in your sample group. Nor is it a place to suggest that your writing is better than that of Edgar Allen Poe (it is not). It’s a place to analyze why those similar books were a best-seller and how your book has the same potential. Heavy use of statistics is appropriate here. When you compare your book with a famous best-seller in the same genre, use research to produce valid positive statistics. For example, what is the best-selling book’s current Amazon sales ranking? How many editions were created? Was it popular globally? How many copies have been sold? How many positive reviews from famous review organizations did it receive? What did some of them say? How many awards did it receive? Was it made into a screenplay? If so, how much did the film gross? What awards did it garner? You’ll need to do this at least three times with the most successful books in your genre.

At the same time, discuss how your book treats similar situations differently and why. NEVER try to convince a publisher that your book is “exactly like…” the famous book. It isn’t and you will be perceived as insincere or not to be trusted. As you compare and contrast your book with the big-time, well-known successful books, cite similarities and differences in plot, location, dialog, protagonists, narrative, descriptive scenery, etc. Your book can belong to the same genre, but it should always be sufficiently different and for good reasons. Compare your book to the best-selling books in its genre by listing the potential for millions of sales, Amazon sales rankings, number of customer reviews, academic credentials, reviews from the most compelling sources, etc. Facts and figures belong here, as well as why that book sold so many millions of copies and how your book has similar potential. Many editors and publishers view this section as the most critical part of the publishing proposal.

Promotional and marketing concepts is an equally critical section. Here you’ll demonstrate two things: 1) that you are willing to carry forward the bulk of responsibility for marketing and promotion, and 2) that you comprehend the various tasks, requirements, efforts and skills required to make promotion successful.

Today, even large well-known publishers require authors with a platform to take on much of the responsibility for marketing. Unless your name is King or Clancy, it will up to you to market your book. The days of an author delivering a manuscript to a publisher and then doing nothing are long gone. No matter who you are as an author, regardless of your platform success, marketing and promotion are YOUR job now. Show that you understand how to do this. If you are not willing to engage in repeated public speaking, bookstore signings and book tours, if you’re not willing to produce media interviews, if you won’t land newspaper, magazine and journal articles about your book, if you will not create and daily add to a Facebook fan page and a web landing page, if you won’t blog, write on others’ blogs and disseminate an excellent book video trailer, then no publisher, other than a subsidy publisher, will have an interest in your manuscript.

The chapter outline is extremely important. Here, the publisher anticipates that you will deliver a description of each chapter in several sentences (not paragraphs). The publisher wants to digest the content of each chapter within a few seconds. If your chapter descriptions are several paragraphs each, the proposal will go into the e-junk pile. I have worked very hard to reduce my chapter outlines and my agent continues to demand even more brevity. This is an exercise in being extremely concise.

The publisher will want to read a few sample chapters. This is often the first three chapters, because that’s where character development is born. But it need not be. If you believe that three later chapters will better sell the book, use them. However, be advised that if you use later chapters, and the publisher has no way to relate to your protagonist, the quality of your manuscript will be lost. If you decide that the first three chapters are too boring to use, consider that those first three chapters may need rewriting to incorporate more anticipation, expectation, character development and conflict.

Finally, when all is written, edited and re-written, create a table of contents and use page numbers to identify each section’s location. All publishers expect this.

You’ll never attract a publisher by suggesting that you’re a talented author. If you are a novice and have yet to win writing awards or obtain positive reviews from compelling review organizations, don’t worry. We all start in the same place. Instead, show that you understand the publishing industry and your marketing and promotion responsibilities. Explain how you are creating an author platform that will be increasingly valuable to that particular small publisher. If the publisher has some interest in your book, they will be more willing to finance its publication. And if the publisher believes that more of those high quality books in the same genre are on the way, they will be more likely to donate several thousand dollars to print your first book.

Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage. His recent published books can be observed at http://charlesweinblatt.wix.com/charles-s-weinblatt.