How to Make Your Book Proposal Rise to the Top

How to Write a Book Proposal to Get a Publisher (long)

But first, the publishing stories worth reading this week:

The Elements of Style (Stefan Beck for The Wall Street Journal): Hat tip to Jarrett for telling me about How to Write Like Tolstoy, a new craft-of-writing book coming out. As the WSJ puts it: “Part of the value of a college education is that it alerts the autodidact to his embarrassing blind spots. This book is a decent substitute.” Well, that sounds essential, doesn’t it?

How to Read Critically and Become a Better Author (Kristen Kieffer of She’s Novel): “Just as writers create books, books are integral to the creation of writers. Think about it: would you be a writer today if you hadn’t first fallen in love with reading? Books can make an incredible impact on writers. And this impact? It thrives when you read critically.”

The Rise of Plagiarism in the Age of Self-Publishing (Joy Lanzendorfer for The Atlantic): A fascinating look at how and why plagiarism happens: “Some observers believed Harner resorted to plagiarism to keep her rankings up, Carew said. Before she was caught, Harner was considered unusually prolific, producing 75 novels in five years. Amazon rewards writers who come out with new books quickly by putting them higher in the rankings, which in turn means more sales. This policy also puts pressure on authors to write more to maintain visibility and to offset the dropping price of ebooks. ‘This may sound crazy, but I have 18 releases planned for this year,’ Carew said. ‘In order to survive, I have to put out as many books as I can … If you’re living on your writing like I am, the stress can get to you.'”

Traveling Salesman (Roy Blount, Jr. in Garden & Gun): If you want to have a good giggle about the very ridiculousness that is selling books for a living, take a minute with this Roy Blount, Jr. piece.

 

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at What Makes Proposals Rise to the Top of the Stack

How to Write a Book Proposal to Get a Publisher

I’m very happy to have Chad Allen on the blog today to talk to us about how he reviews proposals and acquires books. He’s also going to give us an inside look at how editors pitch books to their own teams (because yes, every editor has to learn the art of the pitch, too!). 

Chad is a writer, editor, and creativity coach. He’s also the creator of Book Proposal Academy, an online course that helps nonfiction writers craft winning book proposals. He serves as an editorial director for Baker Publishing Group, an independently owned faith-based publisher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You’ll find him blogging at www.chadrallen.com.

Over to you, Chad!

This year I will review well over a hundred book proposals, and my personal goal is to acquire at least fifteen high-quality original books within the year.

Just because I present a book in pub board does not mean I’ll acquire it because other publishers will also be pursuing it. Assuming a 50 percent success rate, I need to pick about 30 books to bring to pub board. Other editors may review hundreds of book proposals and have a goal of acquiring more or fewer books, but at least in trade publishing I doubt the math I’ve laid out here changes much from house to house or editor to editor.

We review a humongous number of book proposals and try to acquire a fraction of them.

So how can a writer make sure their book proposal rises to the top of the stack? In this article I’m going to share exactly how I review a book proposal and how you the writer can make sure I keep reading. That should be the goal, by the way: keep us reading. Here we go:

Read More

4 Common Mistakes Bloggers Make That Hurt Traffic and Engagement

How to build a nonfiction platform

I spend a lot of time looking at blogs and websites. Maybe too much time. Sometimes I feel like if I have to see one more watercolor Facebook icon or read one more About Me page, I will just flop over, dead from too much Interneting.

But 95% of the time, I just love it. It’s fascinating to see the front end of a blog or website and then talk to its owner and learn more about their back end stats and strategies. I guess it’s sort of like seeing how the blog sausage is made. (“Blog sausage” sounds wrong. In a hilarious way. I will now have to dedicate my remaining years to proliferating this phrase.)

ANYWAY. It’s become so incredibly important to have a strong online platform before you launch a book that it’s impossible to overlook the power of a well-done website or blog. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve seen from speaking to hundreds of bloggers, it’s that very few of them know what the heck anyone else is doing. Sure, there are plenty of online courses you can take that could help you build traffic, but there’s nothing like seeing how that traffic converts into real business (as in product sales) to show you how important certain overlooked areas are.

There are 4 areas that I think are especially overlooked, and where I think many people are stifling their engagement, throttling their traffic, and overall slowing down the growth of their businesses. Here are the mistakes I see most often:

Read More

Read, Eat, Drink: William Zinsser on Nonfiction and a Wild Feast

Literary Agent Advice

Read:

How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing (Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed): “It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.” As Jane puts it, “we have a serious epidemic of impatience.” The truth is that publishing a book is easy, but finding readers for a book is hard. More here on how to decide if self-publishing is right for you.

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include (Maggie Langrick on The Write Life): “I now counsel all of our authors to build a relationship directly with their readers.” The wonderful thing about this Internet age is that no one can keep you from your readers but you. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also a lot of opportunity.

The Biggest Business Mistake I Ever Made (Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer): “My big mistake was ignoring my email list. I just didn’t understand why it was crucially important until a friend showed me the light.” From my data, there are tons of bloggers and aspiring authors who are making this same mistake. In fact, of the last 10 calls I had with aspiring authors over the past few weeks, exactly ONE understood the importance of building an email list. Guess which one I offered to represent.

The Art of Science Communication: William Zinsser on How to Write Well About Science (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings): The day William Zinsser passed away, I picked up my old yellowed copy of On Writing Well, and it pulled me back to my journalism days in college. I didn’t realize it then, but Zinsser, McPhee, Mitchell, and the whole crowd from my Literary Journalism class are the ones who dragged me, happily, into making a career in nonfiction. I remember picking up The New Yorker sometime in high school, spotting an article about UPS, and being so riveted I couldn’t stop reading. Good nonfiction makes even the most dense and mundane subject fascinating. As Zinsser says: “Writing is not a special language owned by the English teacher. Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all. Science, demystified, is just another nonfiction subject. Writing, demystified, is just another way for scientists to transmit what they know.”

Eat & Drink:

Before I jump into this week’s Eat & Drink, an important question: Does your diet consist almost entirely of chicken tenders, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and other delicacies from the kids’ menu? If so, please avert your eyes. Things are going to get what you would consider “gross.”

Read More

How to Measure Engagement and Why It Matters for Your Platform

How to measure engagement

A few weeks ago I was asked about how to measure engagement, and I gave a quick answer in a comment thread. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I spend a lot of time talking about how crucial engagement is, and not enough time talking about how to measure it.

But first, a story about meetings and why they can be so painful.

When I was an editor at a New York publisher, I would have anywhere from 7-15 meetings a week. Mostly that was because I had to be at meetings for two different teams, but it still meant anywhere from 1-2 full work days a week spent sitting around a conference room with a group of people. Some of the meetings were awesome and energizing and full of smart people brainstorming about our books. But some of them were painful. If anyone has ever been in a production meeting where you’re reviewing deadlines title-by-title, you’re probably as accomplished of a doodler as I am. I can now draw quite a menagerie of miniature animals. This is in no way a life skill.

But the point is that it was the content of the meeting that determined whether I was an active or inactive participant. If we were talking about one of my books, or about marketing strategies, or about titles, I was usually giving my full attention and input to the meeting. If we were talking about production dates that had nothing to do with me, it was giraffe-drawing time.

If you had put a two-way mirror in that conference room and placed a randomly selected group of people on the other side, they could have easily told you which people in the meeting were engaged, simply by looking at who was interacting with the meeting content—by offering opinions, asking questions, or expressing emotion.

The meeting of the minds that is your blog/vlog/website is no different. Some people are just popping their head into the room and leaving, some people are present but not engaged, and some people are all in. The people who are all in will be interacting with your content in one way or another. So measuring engagement is really about measuring action.

Here are a few of the metrics that can quantify the actions of engagement:

Read More