An author may choose to be published with an established commercial publisher or may choose to self publish a book. If the author wants an established publisher to publish the book, he or she may need to help research which publishing companies might be right for the book.
We go into more detail in the publishing section of this course, but a firm that charges the author fees up front to publish his or her book is NOT an established commercial publisher and will not require a book proposal.
The chart below details some of the differences between established commercial publishers and self publishing.
The remainder of this section applies only to established commercial publishers who will require a book proposal. The author will be required to submit a book proposal to each publishing company to pitch them on all the reasons they would want to publish this book. To increase the odds of success, select which publishing companies are most likely to say “yes” because they publish similar books for the same type of reader.
Create a Preferred Publisher List
The point of this exercise is to get information on anywhere from 6 to 12 publishers. As you develop information about publishers you want to find and list:
• The publisher name
• Contact information (physical address, phone number, email)
• One or more editor’s names at the publisher
• Titles of the books complementary to the author’s at this publisher
• Useful facts about the publisher (how many titles it produces each year, what it specializes in, how it likes to receive manuscripts)
There are six primary places to research which publishers are appropriate to add to the spreadsheet: the author’s bookshelf, bookstores, Amazon.com, Titlez.com, Writer’s Market, and publisher web sites.
Doing Personal Library Research
An author who is a subject matter expert probably has accumulated many books on this topic. Start here to find complementary books. However, there can be many books an author hasn’t seen or hasn’t purchased so this is just a starting point.
Doing Bookstore Research
The local bookstore is a prime research location. Locate the section in the bookstore where the author’s book would be shelved if that book were already out.
Look at the other books on the shelves and locate those most similar to the one the author is writing, but not directly competitive. In other words, if a publisher already publishes a book very similar to the one the author wants to write, the publisher is unlikely to want a second book exactly like it. However, publishers love to sell more to an audience they’ve developed, so if the author’s book is similar or complementary, that is a good fit.
On the spine of every book, or almost every book, towards the bottom is the publisher’s name or logo. On the title page and on the copyright page you will find publisher information as well.
Create a list of the book titles by a publisher that seem complementary. Now, look inside these same books published by these publishers and go to the table of contents to see if there is an Acknowledgments section. Look for a passage that says: “If it hadn’t been for Jane Smith at Random House this book never would have come out. She is the best editor in the world.” If you find such a passage, note the name of the editor and any other important information about the editor.
The next step is to try and find the editor’s email by searching on Google. The publisher’ web pages rarely give out editor emails.
Doing Amazon.com Research
First, search for the title you are planning to use to determine whether it has already been used. Titles cannot be copyrighted so most of the time it is fine, from a legal perspective, to use a title that has been used before (although there may be strategic reasons not to).
Then search for titles with similar wording, looking again for complementary books to find their publishers. Next, search by one, two, or a few words that are by the generic topic (diets, leadership, careers, etc.). Pay special attention to Customers who Bought This Item Also Bought (a special section on each book’s page if you scroll down) to find as many similar books as possible.
Writer’s Market Research
Your next great source is to go to an annually updated book, packaged with a CD, called Writer’s Market. You can usually find it in libraries and in bookstores and look up information about this publisher and you can also access the information right online for a fee ($24.99 for a year, but you can try it free for 30 days) at www.writersmarket.com. You would like to find the editors who are assigned to the kinds of books like yours and then find their contact information.
Doing Publisher Website Research
Once you have their web URLs (or you can Google them), look up the publisher web sites directly and look for sections on the site for “Authors”. It is here you should get information about what they want to see in book proposals how they want them submitted. You can also find on their websites their new books that are not out yet, but will be coming out in the fall and winter.
How to Write a Book Proposal
We offered this section as a specialty class for those of you who want to add to your services. We don’t consider writing a book proposal to be one of the 24 core administrative services, but if you are good at research and writing, this might be good advanced service for you.
Book Proposal eWorkbook (free exclusively for VAA members)
Additional downloadable worksheets, audios and sample to use with the ebook.
Click here for a Book Proposal Class Transcript of a class given by Jan B. King
PDF, 59 pages
Trish Avery interviews 3 publishers to ask what they are looking for in book proposals
Audio MP3, 22 minutes
Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks; Joann Deck, Celestial Arts; Kathleen Hughes, Capital Books
Submitting the Book Proposal
• Full proposal should be in one file and the book manuscript should be in another separate single file
• Proposal and manuscript pages should be separately numbered
• If a full manuscript is submitted, it must have a table of contents. The heading in the chapters should be set up to allow for an automatic table of contents.
• Make sure the author’s contact information is on the title page (all phone numbers, email, physical address)
• The book proposal and sample manuscript can be sent in either as a PDF or in Word.
Manuscript Submission Log
The author should list the preferred publishers into groups of three – the top three, second three, and so on. The author will want to submit the proposal to only three publishers at a time. You can keep a manuscript tracking log to keep track of submissions and follow ups.
Follow Up Schedule
It is hard for many authors to understand but the publishing industry is on a very slow schedule. Where it might be typical in the business world today to expect a response from a proposal in a few days or a week, for the publishing world, at least 2 months is the norm. It is recommended that the author wait for six weeks after the initial submission for any follow up correspondence, and then follow up every three weeks after that.
The way the follow up is done is also very important. Never telephone for a follow up, always use email. Never make any follow up sound the slightest bit angry or impatient – that will only signal a prima dona or needy author and make it less likely the author will get an offer. Follow up emails should also never ask, “Have you read my book proposal?” or “When will you read my book proposal?” The email should only remind the editor of the book proposal that was sent in to him or her a few weeks prior by title and then be for the sole purpose of updating some exciting good news that might be helpful to have when they look at the proposal.
For instance, a great follow up would be (from the author): “I just wanted to let you know since the time I sent the proposal, I’ve been booked to speak at a keynote address for the ABC organization next March. This will be to an audience of 2,000 and I’ve been asked to speak on the exact topic of my book.
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