Skip to main content

Behind the Scenes of a Book Proposal Meeting

To help you understand why your book proposal needs to be so thorough, the editors at Writer''s Digest offer this behind the scenes look at a typical book proposal meeting. This peek behind the publishing curtain will demystify the proposal process so that you can more easily give editors what they need, and significantly increase your chances of getting published.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

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.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Dismissing Stories That Aren’t From Books

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Dismissing Stories That Aren’t From Books

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is dismissing stories that aren’t from books.

Why You Should Beware Homophones

Why You Should Beware Homophones

Mistaking a word for a similar one is not an uncommon mistake, but an important one to catch when editing your work. Here, Audrey Wick shares why you should beware homophones and shares a homophone-catching test to practice with.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blackmail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blackmail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, one character blackmails another.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

30 Poetry Prompts From 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge

Get all 30 poetry prompts from the 15th annual November Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge here. Actually, 35 prompts if you're counting Two-for-Tuesday prompts!

How to Stalk Publishing Professionals on Social Media in an Appropriate Way

How to Stalk Publishing Professionals on Social Media in an Appropriate Way

Many people are self-professed "stalkers" on social media, whether they're following life events of friends or celebrities. But writers can learn quite a bit on social media by stalking publishing professionals too, and this post covers the appropriate way to do so.

Vérant

Samantha Vérant: On Romance and Recipes

Author Samantha Vérant discusses how her writing process changed while writing her new contemporary romance novel, The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 633

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a warm up poem.

Do I Pitch Different to Agents vs. Editors?

Do I Pitch Different to Agents vs. Editors?

Every so often writers ask if they should pitch different to agents vs. editors. This post answers that question and provides some extra help on how to successfully pitch both.

Urban Legend

Urban Legend

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, feature an urban legend in your story.