writing like you belong there. Meanwhile,
here are some other tips:
KNOW HOW AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS WORK. Many people don’t realize
that you don’t write a book first, and then
shop for a publisher. Most nonfiction
books are sold on the basis of a proposal, which includes a summary, detailed
outline, marketing analysis, and one or
more sample chapters. Learn how a good
proposal is structured, from resources such
as agent and publisher directories.
KNOW YOUR COMPETITION. You ultimately want to know where your book
stands relative to other books that sell in
large quantities. One of the first places a
publisher looks in your proposal will be its
competitive analysis, to answer the single
biggest question that lurks in their minds:
How many copies will your book sell?
CREATE A KILLER TITLE. Why did you
pick up your last book? Because its title
attracted you! Be creative, think like a
reader, and keep wordsmithing your own
title until it is bright, shiny and perfect.
BOIL IT DOWN INTO A PARAGRAPH.
Your book may run two or three hundred
pages. But you will first “hook” an agent
or publisher with a one-paragraph email
query that describes its benefits. Nail this
one paragraph, and you will have a receptive audience for all that follows.
Most people think about writing a
book in terms of starting on page 1 and
finishing somewhere on page 253. Instead,
I want you to start looking at it as a
process that is similar to creating a seven-layer brownie: Get a good recipe, measure
carefully, and start baking. Drink deeply
from the many resources out there for creating good nonfiction book proposals, and
use this knowledge to wrap your great idea
in a form that is comfortable and familiar
to the publishing industry.
Finally, just like dating, you have less
than 30 seconds to make an impression
when an agent or editor looks over your
proposal. So let’s close with some of the
things well-intentioned authors do that
make their editors’ eyes roll and move on
to the next proposal:
1IT’S ALL ABOUT ME. Your story is very interesting—to you. And there
is often a time and place for it in a book.
But make sure you put your reader in the
2THIS BOOK IS FOR EVERYONE. No, it isn’t. All books sell to particular demographics. Identify and target the
markets that books in your genre sell to,
and the more specific, the better.
3IT WILL BE A BEST-SELLER. The market gets to decide that, and
publishers know it. Even they only guess
right a percentage of the time. Save the
self-aggrandizement for your relatives.
4LONG PARAGRAPHS. Some authors purposely use these to
add “weight” to the tone of their book.
But most readers need to come up for
air once in a while. Shorter is generally
5TOO MUCH DESCRIPTION. Beginning writers often have “too
much sauce and not enough steak.” Learn
to get to the point.
6IGNORING THE BASICS. Loose is the opposite of tight. If you use this
word in place of “lose,” and do things like
this too often, you lose. Have someone
really good proofread your work.
7LIMP OPENINGS. Your book, and each of your chapters, in turn,
should go “pow” with benefits for the
reader. For example, one of my favorite
books is Just Listen by fellow communications skills author Mark Goulston, MD.
He trains hostage negotiators, and starts
his book by walking you through what to
say to someone pointing a gun at himself
in the parking lot. Who wouldn’t want to
The deeper point, of course, is that
these are all areas where good writers are
supposed to know better, and publishers know it. So take a look at your own
writing through a fresh set of eyes, and
keep learning from how the best do it.
GO FOR IT!
There is one other type of book proposal that never, ever gets the attention
of a publisher—the one that doesn’t get
written. Have faith in yourself. Think
of what a great book will do for your
speaking career. And then get to work!
With a little luck, you, too, could soon
be on bookshelves around the country.
Rich Gallagher is a communi- cations skills author, speaker, and writing coach who heads Point of Contact Group in Ithaca, NY. His eight books
include the national No. 1 customer service
best-seller, What to Say to a Porcupine, as well
as his latest book, How to Tell Anyone
Anything. His site for writers is at www.