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.
Outline. This is the meat of the proposal with specific information of what you plan to provide. Don’t be too brief to adequately represent the project. This can be much like a table of contents, with chapter titles, subheadings, appendices, and glossaries. Include a brief explanation (fewer than 100 words) of each chapter, so the editor can see your entire focus at the outset.
Sample Chapter. If you’ve already started writing, include a sample chapter–preferably one that is representative of your work. Everyone sends their introduction; be different–send your ending chapter.
Presentation. Make sure your proposal looks polished and is spell-checked. Send an original each time. No editor likes to get something somebody else has read. Also, use paperclips, not staples or bindings.
Matching Book to Publisher
Most big-name trade publishing houses demand celebrity names and may even require that you approach them through an agent. Smaller publishers may be more willing to take a chance on an unknown writer if they perceive that the topic is commercial. Most don’t work with agents simply because they can’t offer much money up front. Better publishers specialize in one or two niche markets. They know their subjects and do not have to send your manuscript out to a reader for evaluation. They also know how to reach the potential buyer and can jumpstart your sales by plugging your book into their existing distribution system.
Research and a professional approach are often the difference between acceptance and rejection. Once you have created a list of publishers and agents who might be interested in your book, learn as much about the books they publish and their editors as you can. You will likely receive some rejections, but don’t give up. Rejections in the book publishing business are like hang-ups to a cold caller. Applying to a number of appropriate publishers will maximize your chances of getting an acceptance. You can also contact literary agents.
Finding a Publisher
I’ve found all my publishers by standing in my favorite bookstore or library, looking at and reading books similar to the one I want to write, or consulting certain Web resources.
o Writer’s Market is a directory of over 8,000 editors’ names and addresses and what they publish.
o The Literary Marketplace is a fairly expensive book ($300+) published by Information Today Inc. (ITI). It contains hundreds of names and addresses of publishers, literary agents, book packagers and printers, and what they do–everybody who’s involved in the book publishing industry.
o You can find agents in the Guide to Literary Agents by Donya Dickerson, a book that includes probably 30 or 40 pages of literary agents, their addresses, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, and their specialties; in Literary MarketPlace; and from the Association of Authors’ Representatives (available at www.publishers-weekly.com/aar/).
Promoting Your Book
Once a contract is signed, the publisher puts the book into its production schedule (it may be anywhere from three to as long as nine months before publication). Their publicity and marketing people prepare catalog copy, and sales representatives push the bookstores to order the book. When the book is published, it may receive a concerted promotional campaign for a month or two. Beyond that, it’s on its own. “The best thing an author can do is work with the publisher to promote their book,” advises Jeffrey Krames at McGraw-Hill. “Speak on the topic, write articles or editorials, and coordinate that with the publisher’s publicity department.”
To demonstrate that you believe in your book, agree to buy a large number of copies in advance. The publishers call this a “buy back.” And, since pre-sales help cover the publishing costs, it lowers their risk. The cover price the consumer pays may be $15-$20, but when you buy in bulk (usually a minimum 1,000-book order), you can usually get a deeply discounted price (maybe as low as $2-$4 per book). When you order from the publisher once your book is printed, you will get an author’s discount of around 45-50% off the cover price; even that is a huge savings. You are not required to buy any copies, but I predict that you will easily use a supply of 1,000 copies as your credibility calling card.
To succeed, you must learn the rules and understand the players. The key to all this is to remain clear about why you are going through this arduous process. It’s great to see your book in the window of Barnes & Noble or listed as a top seller on Amazon.com, but that’s short-lived. Your primary goal is to build your expert-status recognition through the third-party endorsement of a commercial publisher. That’s where you’ll get the largest long-term return on your investment!
Larry Chambers spent 10 years as a broker before becoming an independent coach and writer. In addition to his 30-plus investment-related books, he has helped high-profile industry spokesmen gain expert-recognition status. He can be reached through www.competitiveforce.com.