More Insider’s Secrets on How to Get Published
In the last post I gave step-by-step instructions on preparing a book proposal that could impress even the most skeptical business book editor (if executed to precision). There are many layers to this process and many small things that can make a huge difference in the eyes of a publisher. Here are more tips, in no strategic order, that have made a difference in the many hundreds of book proposals that I have evaluated over the years:
* Letterhead: this could seem to be the most trivial thing in the world. However, proposals that come to me on plain white paper with no letterhead have short lives. The same is true for cheap-looking letterhead. Many of the best business proposals come from authors who occupy high positions in their firms and the letterhead is the first indicator of that. Even if sent via email, it is best to get a high-quality, visual letterhead even if it is only going to be scanned into your electronic proposal. I can’t tell you the number of proposals that were ultimately rejected after eyeballing that first, hapless page.
* Your cover letter: this sets the tone for the proposal. You want to really pique the editor’s intetest by writing a brief letter (1 to 2 pages) describing the book “package.” The package refers to everything—the theme(s) of the book, the author’s profile, the hook of the book—everything that makes the offering viable. You should outline—point by point—each and every key item that makes the book publishable (that’s not a real word, but it should be). Use bold to emphasize the book’s title, your previous successful books and their respective sales numbers. But do not go overboard. I distrust overwrought cover letters emblazoned with line after line of italicized and bolded words.
* Highlight the research/findings (if you have any): within your description, or in a separate section (depending upon how significant your research is), describe your findings. Some of the best business books of all time—from In Search of Excellence—to Good to Great—were based on extensive research studies conducted over years, not months. This kind of material can lend great credibility to your proposal. If you have it, flaunt it, and don’t bury it so an editor has to search for it.
* Press clippings and media hits: remember with 300,000 books published each year and more than 10,000 business books, the hardest task for a publisher is to garner attention for any book. This is especially true in the electronic, you-tube era, in which books (which take more than six months to produce) must battle electronic media where the flow of information is immediate. Anything you can send to a publisher that demonstrates your news-worthinesss—or the news-worthiness of your book topic—will make an enormous difference. However, it will work against you if the articles are old, from say, the 1980s (I have even received clipppings from the Nixon years). You need to demonstrate your relevance today, so articles or TV appearances (via DVD or tape) must be from the last five years or so. If you have some powerful ones, like an op ed in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, put those items up near the front of your submission. Editors love this stuff and for good reason.
* Titling your submission: I mentioned this before but it is worth emphasizing again. We in publishing agonize over titles and subtitles for days and nights on end. A truly compelling, thought-provoking title can make a huge difference. Think about some of the best-selling business books of all time, like: The One Minute Manager, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or The Millionaire Next Door. I doubt that most of these proposals came in with these titles, but imagine how persuasive they would be if they did. If you are having trouble titling your book, go to Amazon.com and pull up business best-sellers (double-click on best-sellers and then hit business). This may help you to come up with the right title for your book, even if it doesn’t end up being the final title.
* Stay focused: It’s really important that you tell us what the book is about right at the outset and stay on message. I have seen countless proposals that either rambled (leaving me to search for the point of the book), or started out strong before going straight off the rails by straying from the main theme of the book. Like a high-priced attorney, you need to be constantly building a convincing case. You must pile evidence upon evidence on why your book will succeed while the majority of business books do not.
* Your bio: this is another important opportunity that many authors throw away. Your bio should be limited to no more than half a page in length. Just the highlights, please. Three-page vitaes are death. A muIti-page bio makes any author look like too much of an academic (because a long resume often includes descriptions of published journal articles and the minutia about various teaching assignments) or someone who is insecure because he lists every job he ever had since college. Highlight only key positions (COO of IBM is perfect); your best-selling books or better-selling books (if there are any); and just major highlights of your academic career (if they are impressive and pertinent).
I hope this helps. If you have any specific questions on any of this, please don’t be afraid to write to me. Also let me know if there are any specific topics you want to see covered in future posts.