It’s What’s on Paper that Counts!
Not a day goes by without an author pitching me on one book idea or another. That’s the cost of admission in the life of an editor, and I would be lying if I didn’t say how much I love hashing out book ideas with highly imaginitive authors. As I have said in prior posts, it’s not only the idea that gets the once over, it’s how to package and position the idea into a viable business book. Title, subtitle, approach, the book architecture (i.e. table of contents and organization), the book’s tone and voice, first person vs. third person—getting these elements right is one of the keys to a strong-selling book, and their importance cannot be overemphasized. Talking all of this through with a seasoned editor is a critical early step in the publishing process.
However, there must come a time that an author has to put pen to paper and describe the book in detail in a full blown proposal or at least a “mini-proposal” (see previous posting). There is no way around this part of the process, which is the pivotal step prior to producing the manuscript. If a prospective author is a first-time author, the proposal is the first clue a publisher gets about an author’s ability to write a book.
But, some prospective authors have argued, “I have written white papers, op ed pieces for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal…surely I can write a business book.” Not necessarily. Articles and books are different animals. I have seen journalists from a leading business magazine not be able to put a cohesive and well structured book together.
It is also in the author’s best interest to start the process with a strong proposal. While a publisher is pleased to receive a well articulated proposal, it is the author that benefits the most from the submission. First, if really well executed, that proposal should garner an offer to publish the book. Also, when that proposal is circulated internally, as it invariably is, great word of mouth can create early buzz within the house, something that will pay handsome dividends down the road for that project. For example, that proposal is used to prepare other important documents such as “tipsheets” or “book briefs,” which are executive summaries read by sales reps and other key people such as international rights managers charged with the responsibility of selling the foreign rights of your book. And a book brief is only as good as the source used to write it.
Lastly, no matter how articulate you are, when that book is ultimately published and sitting on a store shelf, you will not be there when a prospective buyer picks it up and gives it the thumb test. There, where it matters most, it is only the written word that counts. All the great talk in the world won’t help sell the book then.
Worth checking out: One author we recently signed—thanks to our own author and superblogger—Seth Godin, is Hugh MacLeod’s Gapingvoid “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards” (book proposal 657). Hugh takes the lighter side of what it takes to write a business book proposal, and is unique in his use of cartoons to convey his message. His work is legendary, and he helps to illustrate some of Seth’s works. Here is a Q&A put to Seth after Hugh completed work on The Dip, and then read Meatball Sundae. Seth’s answers form the basis of an interesting book proposal.