You’re at the point in your
career where you’ve decided it’s time to write a book, and you want to ensure that your efforts are successful. You’ve tested the waters by getting an article published, done enough research to determine a real need for what you have to say, and outlined your thoughts into a solid premise. Now you’re ready to begin the writing process. Or are you? Keep in mind that the publishing process for your non-fiction business book should begin right along with the writing process.
The Query Letter
The query serves a simple, but important purpose–a direct contact with a publisher to stimulate their interest in learning more about your book idea. Jarred Kieling of Bloomberg says, “A good query gives us some basis on which to say yes or no. It needs to be specific enough to convey that the author really has the wherewithal to be an authority on the subject, and that they’ve taken a deep enough look at what’s in the bookstores and what’s available in magazines and on Web sites or other sources to persuade us that they’ve really checked the market out. The concept has to be exciting. If the writer can’t establish that in a query letter, they probably can’t do it in a book.”
Never send anything that resembles a form letter. Personalize your query letter by addressing it to the editor by name. A query letter addressed “Dear Editor” will get deleted or deposited into the round file. Keep it brief–one page is the ideal length. It’s important to get your idea across quickly and succinctly. Whittle your idea down to the bone so you can summarize it in one or two sentences. After less than 30 seconds of reading, the editor should know everything they need to know to make a decision: the subject, the focus, the essential details, the content, and the length.
The idea is to sell the book to a commercial publisher before you spend a year writing it. But that doesn’t mean to wait for a response before you construct your book proposal–which, by the way, is mostly the outline of your book. That process could take weeks.
The Book Proposal
The book proposal has to convince a publisher’s marketing department why your prospective audience would buy your book. The process of writing your proposal will also force you to assess whether your book is marketable and allow you to make adjustments in direction or content before you invest a lot of time writing. Plus, if you can write a good proposal that sells the book, you then have more incentive to finish it.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll provide a publisher with all the information needed to judge your proposal fairly and quickly:
Brief Description. In two or three sentences, summarize the content of your book and the market for which it’s intended.
Content Summary. In two or three paragraphs, describe your book, its purpose, approach, organization, and content. What prompted you to write the book? If you have clips of any news articles supporting the popular interest and relevance of your topic, be sure to attach them to your proposal.
About Yourself. Tell something about your background, abilities, and relevant experience. What experience or professional credentials do you have that uniquely prepare you to write this book? This includes any public speaking, and books and articles you’ve published. Self-promotion is appropriate here–as long as it’s the truth.
Your Audience. Describe the primary and secondary markets for your book. Don’t just state: “My book is for wealthy individuals.” You need to be more demographically sophisticated. Where appropriate, indicate both the general type of reader (for example, people interested in real estate) and the specific type of job or function held by the reader (e.g., bank mortgage lender).
Sales/Marketing Handle. Describe an aspect of your book’s content that will sell it. How will your book benefit the reader? What will make someone buy your book? How do you intend to help sell it? Suggest ways you plan on promoting your book, such as seminars and book events, or by obtaining a commitment from a special group to purchase a specified number of copies. Do you have a list of clients to whom the book could be sold? Do you have ties to any appropriate professional associations? Do you regularly hold seminars at which the book could sell? Do you have any contacts with the media that would help promote the book? Use your imagination.
Comparisons with Key Competition. List the title, publisher, and premise of two or three competing books; then positively distinguish your book from the others by listing benefits that are unique to your system or your approach or your service. What is it about your information that is new and/or different? Search your local bookstore and through Amazon.com. Distinguish yourseIf by listing what will make your book unique. Never say, “There are no competitors,” because there always are.
Project Status. How long will the manuscript be? When will it be completed? Will it contain photos, art, charts or graphs, or include any special features, such as worksheets, templates, case studies, or references to recent research? Give details.