It’s All in the Proposal

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Business book publishers seldom receive complete drafts of manuscripts. And when we do, they are almost never viable projects. That’s because in these hyper-competitive times, it is very difficult for an author to write a whole book without help from an industry insider and have it come out good enough to publish. The reality is that authors need the help of a good literary agent and/or a talented editor in order to produce a viable work with a strong probability of success. And it is the author’s book proposal that must convince publishers of the strength of the project— right from the start. That’s where a good literary agent comes in—he or she can help an author position and frame the project and cast it in the best possible light.  

The key to a good business book proposal lies in its ability to capture—and hold— the attention of a book editor. That is, unless you are a genuine superstar of the book industry. Let’s take the leadership category, which is one of the most evergreen of all business categories. Books like Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan and Winning by Jack Welch are two examples of leadership books that led their categories for long periods of time. These are compelling, original books that tell managers how to do something better. (Most business books have that “how-to” characteristic in common).

Since few of us have the profile of a Jack Welch, aspiring and other authors must make up for it with the quality of the book idea and the strength of the author’s proposal. Books with great ideas can still sell in huge numbers, even if the author isn’t a household name at the time of publication.

For example, Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week was a genuine “phenomenon book” (my term for a book that defies all to make it to #1 in its category) that sold because of its incredible promise. It’s a book that emerged from a “wildly popular” course the author taught at Princeton.

Come back later in the week when the elements of a good book proposal will be examined and discussed at length.

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