Four Things You Shouldn't Say In Your Book Proposal

Over the years I have enjoyed the opportunity to review thousands of book proposals. I realize that every proposal must contain some sales pitch-type statements to make the project more attractive to publishing houses, but some of these declarations don't really help your case. Here are four statements to avoid in your proposals (and why):

1. "There's presently no other book that covers what my book covers." In some sense, this bodes true of everything anyone writes. We are all individuals and so each project presents a unique individual's voice and approach. Authors sometimes define the uniqueness of their work a little too narrowly. The truth is that there's little that is really new (if the Bible said it back then, it's truer than ever now). A book arguing how leaders must be visionaries first, practical second, and leaders third offers little different from another book arguing that leaders should be leaders first, practical second, and visionaries third. Authors shouldn't try so hard because publishers know that there is little that is truly new out there, but publishers do want to see how authors can take something and put a compelling and new spin on it.

2."I am a Pulitzer-Prize/National Book award/award-winning/award-nominated author." Using the word "nominated" in this instance involves some creative wordplay. Anyone can apply to win the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, or just about any book award as long as they cough up submission fees and submit an application. So, yes, authors could simply submit an application for their own work and then refer to themselves as nominees, but for the reason mentioned above, such a declaration carries little weight. If an author is a finalist (or winner, of course), then that is a different matter entirely. Also, the phrase "award-winning author" carries minimal weight unless the author specifies the name of the award so that the publisher can verify its prestige. There are no legal requirements as to what constitutes an award, so I could be the recipient of the "Frick Peacemaker Award 2011," which sounds impressive until you realize that Frick is my wife's last name. (Of course this is pure fiction because my wife would never deem me worthy of any awards.)

3. "Upon the release of my book, I intend to aggressively sell and market the work."
Author marketing plans often show great drive and acumen. However, such marketing plans represent statements of intent, not statements of fact. With no way of knowing whether such statements or actions will actually translate into book sales, we can't rely too much on them. But telling us what you have already done in terms of media appearances, writing articles, features, networks, presentations, speeches, conferences, and so on proves far more helpful. If someone comes to us with a solid book idea and a list of previous achievements and affiliations, we can deem this author's plans as realistic given his or her previous achievements. However, sometimes authors think that a book is just the thing they need to build a solid platform. Unfortunately for them, books don't launch movements and careers, careers and movements launch books.

4. "This book is for everyone between the ages of 19 and 75/working in any size business in America/all people concerned with the current state of the world/etc." The myth of the general nonfiction reader remains just that -- a myth. Just because an author addresses millions of middle managers/working mothers/frazzled leaders in America, it doesn't mean those intended audiences will immediately run out and buy that author's book. People who go into bookstores online or in person most often go to a particular section that interests them. Within this particular section, they'll seek out a favorite subject, and within that subject matter, authors they like. Almost all readers have their favored literary niches, and this fact only reaffirms the importance of writing for a particular audience rather than a general one. Besides, when have you or anyone else you know ever wandered into a bookstore and asked for a book that could be for, well, anyone?

Right, now you know!


  1. Love it, Jeevan - excellent advice!

  2. Thanks for keeping it to "Four Things" although I'll bet you have quite a list of don'ts! I'll share this with my author clients as well.

  3. Thank you much, Kimberley and Vickie -- I do my best to be a pain to all authors!

  4. Thanks Jeevan. I think your advice is helpful for everyone between 19-75, it covers things no one else does, and you should market it aggressively. I am so moved, I plan to nominate you for a Nobel Peace Prize. :)

    You are indeed a pleasurable pain to have.

  5. Jeevan, you forgot to add:

    "Everybody I know has told me I should write a book."