My first book, The Courage Habit came out with a traditional publisher: New Harbinger Publications. I had dreamed of inking a book deal for several years, and had even submitted my proposal a few times, but I wasn’t gaining any traction. Before I sent my proposal in to New Harbinger, I had a session with the genius Debbie Reber who helped me polish an existing proposal that I had already written.
Write a Book Proposal That Sells
I recently reached out to Jennye Garibaldi, an acquisitions editor at New Harbinger, to ask her if she’d share more insight into the sorts of things that acquisitions editors are looking for.
1. What are some of the common mistakes that you see made in a book proposal?
Not doing your research is a common mistake. Some people put a great deal of work into their proposals, only to discover later that a book exactly like theirs already exists in the market. Spend some time on Amazon doing keyword searches. If a similar book is already out there, think of ways you can differentiate your content. Where are there gaps in the market? What unique perspective can you offer?
Another mistake that I can spot a mile away is a manuscript that hasn’t been read by anyone else. It’s important to get honest feedback from as many people as possible on your work. Don’t just give it to your mother, who is likely to tell you you’re a genius and you don’t need to change a thing. Give it to your friends. Give it to your ex-boyfriend. Give it to your former professor. Give it to your coworker. Ask for critical feedback. Would they buy this book? Would they even want to read this book? Why or why not? Be open to their feedback and then be ready to make changes to your manuscript.
Finally, I think the biggest mistake I see made most often is not knowing your audience. I can’t tell you how many people seem to think their book is “for everyone.” When you’re researching comparative titles on Amazon, take a look at the reviews. If you’re unsure who you’d like to target your book to, this will give you a good idea. Consider who these people are – their demographics, their interests, their buying habits. Look for patterns, and create a profile based on what you find: “This audience is predominantly 35-50 year-old women who enjoy cooking and yoga.” Having statistics and data on your audience also helps: “In 2015, 94% of millennials reported making personal improvement commitments.” (Just be sure to point to your sources, this one came from Field Agent.)
2. What are some things that make a book proposal particularly successful?
Aside from really nailing the points above (knowing your comps, getting eyes on your manuscript/proposal before sending it out and knowing your target market), the number one thing that makes for a successful proposal is a great hook. If you can’t give me an elevator pitch (summarizing your book in one or two sentences) and really draw me in right away, then chances are I’m not going to make it through the rest of the proposal. A great hook will tell me not only what the book is about, but how it’s unique from other books and what it promises to deliver. That’s not easy to do in one or two sentences, but it’s crucial to selling your idea.
3. These days, a writer’s platform/audience size is almost as important as a great idea and writing style. What sort of platform size do publishers look for?
It’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have one yet, but websites are very important for marketing yourself and at a certain point, you’ll need to build one out. On your website, you should have an opt-in to sign up for your email list, a blog, links to your social media accounts, links to purchase your book(s), media clips, etc. It’s worth spending some time (and yes, potentially some money if you aren’t tech savvy) to create a great website.
In terms of social media, there’s not a magic number that will get your foot in the door, but I typically look for well over a couple thousand followers on the main social media platforms. That said, followers aren’t everything. We’re looking for engagement as well. We want to see that you’re having conversations with your audience, that they’re actively “liking” your posts, commenting and asking questions. (This is also an easy way for us to tell that you haven’t just paid for followers.) So, if you’ve been hesitant to join Instagram or haven’t tweeted in 3 years, it’s time to dive in. Additionally, being a contributor on third party blogs always helps. If you’re trying to publish a book in the self-improvement category, writing for sites like Elephant Journal, Tiny Buddha, or Mind Body Green will not only give you writing clips, it’ll help you grow your platform.
4. What’s your biggest encouragement to aspiring writers who want to be published with a traditional publisher?
Don’t shy away from constructive criticism, and don’t let rejection deter you. If a publisher comes back with suggested changes and tweaks to your original proposal, it just means that they see potential in your book and want to make sure it succeeds. If a rejection letter comes with specific reasons why they are turning it down, take that into consideration and apply it to future proposals. Rejection means you’re one step closer to success.
Also, feel free to pitch me! ????
Jennye Garibaldi is an acquisitions editor for New Harbinger Publications.