Behind the Scenes of a Book Proposal Meeting

If you want to get your nonfiction book published, you”ll need a good idea, reasonable writing ability, and the following:

  1. Cover Letter
  2. Cover Page
  3. Overview
  4. Marketing Information
  5. Author Information
  6. Chapter Outline
  7. Sample Chapter(s)
  8. Attachments

That list is enough to drain the enthusiasm out of even the most determined writers. Marketing analysis? Overview? If you”re doing all of this work — not to mention having to write the thing too — what the heck is the publishing company doing?

The proposal meeting is where your proposal takes center stage and your idea and credentials are given a “yea” or a “nay.”

An editor has approved your query and has written a proposal. Now comes the hard part: facing the firing squad. The following re-creation is representative of, though not identical to, proposal meetings at many publishing companies.

It”s 9:05 a.m. when publicists, marketing managers, editors, vice presidents of product development and the book division, and other dubious sorts walk into a fluorescent-lit meeting room, steaming hot joe in their coffee cups, weary expressions on their faces. They slowly gather their strength to launch a barrage of questions at the editor, who will have to prove that the book she”s proposing will become the company”s crown jewel and the envy of all other publishers in the land (or at least in the genre). Once everyone is seated, the editor puts on her most convincing face and starts her presentation. She has about 15 minutes or less to convince the proposal board that your book will be a hit. The easiest way for her to do this is to have your book idea boiled down into one sentence, with a few bullet points to back it up. (Hint: Definitely provide this boiled-down sentence in your proposal, along with a few concise reasons that the reading public wants your book.) After the editor presents our book idea, the interrogation from her colleagues begins:

  • “There are already several books on this topic. How is this one different?”
  • “This book”s genre is ambiguous. Where do you envision it being shelved in the bookstore? Will booksellers readily recognize the title and know where to shelve it?”
  • “Can this author promote the book with articles he writes or at conferences related to the topic?”
  • “Will it have graphs, charts, photos or illustrations?”
  • “Will it be easy to browse through, even for bookstore patrons with short attention spans?”
  • “That title is confusing. It needs work.”
  • “The buyers at Barnes & Noble told me this topic is dead. Can this author”s slant on the topic make it fresh again?”
  • “Where else could we sell this book? Specialty shops? Grocery stores? Could it sell in Europe? Asia?”

The people from marketing have to sell your book to bookstores, book clubs and other buyers, and they want to know that it won”t be an uphill battle. The information you provide in your proposal, especially the boiled-down sentence and the bullet points, will be used by the editor to sell the idea to marketing; by marketing to sell your book to book buyers; and by book buyers to sell your book to the public. So the work you put into formulating that one sentence and those few points, along with your marketing analysis, is essential.

Exhausted from battle, the editor finally gets a yes from the proposal board on the condition that you make some changes that they feel will improve the book”s sales. These changes may or may not be what you had in mind when you came up with the book idea, but if you”re a first-time author, you may have little bargaining power. After the meeting, the editor will call you and discuss the changes, and if you agree to them, you”ll start your contract negotiations and celebrate because you”re going to be a published author.

You”ve weathered the toughest part of publication-selling your idea-now all you have to do is write the book. No problem! You”re talented; you”re determined; and now you”ve got a friend or two in the publishing world. You can do it!

To find out more about how to put your meeting-worthy proposal together, check out Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook, for fiction and Michael Larsen”s How to Write a Book Proposal for nonfiction.

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