Developing a Strong Editorial Appeal for Your Book Idea

Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal

You’ve been thinking about and taking notes on a great book idea; perhaps you’ve begun researching the idea, too. But how do you know if the idea will appeal to an editor? In this workshop, you will learn to subject your book idea(s) to the same rigorous examination a publisher thinking about investing in your idea would use. Your first step in creating a book proposal, therefore, is to ask yourself the same questions an editor would ask:

* Is this book needed? In broad terms, readers seek instruction, information and entertainment (and ideally some combination of all three). And within those areas, readers are interested in basic human issues: life; health; security (monetary, professional, societal, shelter-related, spiritual); prestige/status; sensual stimulation (food, music, physical activity, sports); mental stimulation; relaxation; and altruistic outlets.

* If the book is needed, can you quickly appeal to that need? In other words, will a reader be able to glance at the book and quickly realize, "I need that" or "I’m interested in that"? Finally, can you convince an editor of that at-a-glance need? To establish need, your book must demonstrate a clear subject "hook," which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this workshop.

* How many people are interested in the topic? Does your idea appeal to a wide national or special-interest readership? The answers to these questions have two implications:
a) Should you write the book in the first place if the potential audience is only a few thousand? Can any publisher reach them? If this number is low, consider finding a way to broaden the book’s scope or enhance its utility.
b) If the number is low because it’s a specialized but passionate audience, you must look for a publisher who specializes in small-audience books, or books on your particular topic. We’ll discuss how to establish the size and scope of your book’s market later in this workshop.

* Of the people interested in the topic, how many would naturally seek information about the topic in book form? For some topics, books provide a natural format—cookbooks, biographies and so on. For others, people might first turn to other information sources—television, in-person advice from clubs, etc. An even better way to phrase this question might be: How many people will think to walk into a bookstore or go to an online bookselling Web site to find a book on this subject?

* Is the advice and information you’re offering best suited to print format in the first place?That is, should it be delivered as a book, or would it be better presented in an audiotape? A videotape? A Web site?

* Of the people interested in the topic in book form, how many would pay hard cash for the information? Good books have been turned down because similar information is readily available free in brochures, catalogs and other give-aways.

* Is the subject matter "big" enough to warrant full-length book treatment, or would it work better as an article or a booklet? For example, "30 New Ways to Cook Chicken" is a magazine article. The Complete Chicken Primer: 300 Ways to Cook Chicken is a book.

* Can the book be produced economically? For example, large-format, full-color hardcover books are expensive to produce. And books using spiral binding, fold-out charts or other unusual features come with high production price tags, too. By answering these questions first for yourself and then for an editor, you will better be able to "picture" your project as a needed, compelling, potentially profitable book. Part of helping the publisher—and you, too—visualize the book is to have a strong title in place as soon as possible. The book’s title must tell and sell…

You’ll get one-on-one instruction for successfully marketing your nonfiction book idea in the Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal workshop. Best of all, by the end of the workshop you’ll have a proposal package fit to submit to agents or publishers!

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