Seven Tough Questions for Useful Proposals

Many people have great ideas for nonfiction books that help change the world politically or socially or that help individuals grow in spirit and purpose. That said, keep these seven questions in mind when formulating your book proposal:

1. Is the book really needed?
Authors often write books that they feel people need to read, but that fact does not mean people will read them. More and more people are getting cancer, recovering from mental illness, overcoming addictions, or getting sick of the economy every year, but there are already 1,001 books on these subjects. Why is yours different? What makes your book especially compelling? If you have teenage children or nieces and nephews, pitch your book to them and gauge their interest level -- you'll receive the same response from the marketplace.

2. Is your book tightly focused?
Too many people want to write a “world as I see it and how it should be” type of book where they comment on all aspects of a particular subject. These sprawling works hold little appeal for most book buyers. Readers don’t want a grand vision or blueprint for a new government or economy or behavioral model (unless you are an influential world leader who has the clout to make these changes happen). Exhaustive books are just that –- exhausting. If you can’t sum up your book's core premise in two sentences, it’s too scattered.

3. Who is the audience for your book?
Don’t look for overly general markets and say that your book is "for everyone concerned about the environment," "about democracy," "about spirituality.” In nonfiction, there is no such thing as a general reader. Be specific and carve out a niche for which a sizable yet specific audience exists. No one walks into a bookstore and asks for a book about "something that could be for everyone."

4. Are your qualifications, background, and knowledge directly related to your subject? There are doctors who write about politics, politicians who write about economics, and economists who write about spirituality. The problem is that these people lack the qualifications and professional consulting and speaking experience in the subject they are writing about. Are professional qualifications the only measure of authority on a subject? No, but consider this scenario: if you needed surgery, would you go with (1) someone who has conducted a lot of independent research and learned a lot about medicine, or (2) a board-certified surgeon? Keep in mind that you can disregard everything stated above if you are a celebrity, a fact that explains why Tori Spelling can write a New York Times bestseller about parenting.

5. What are the competing titles?
This question is related to question number 1. Who else has written on this subject and what other books are already out there? How does your book differ (again, in a compelling way) from those? Be realistic and don’t list books by Elizabeth Gilbert, Deepak Chopra, Thomas Friedman, and Malcolm Gladwell as competitive titles, unless you are as famous as they are. Then again, if you're famous, you can write about anything you want.

6. What will the length be and how will the layout look?
Be aware of certain parameters that affect your book. Books are getting shorter, so you will run up against more reservations once you pass the 200-page mark. Color photographs and other graphic elements increase the costs for most publishers, so they will have to price the book higher to recoup costs. Inserts such as CDs or other materials also drive up costs. Just be mindful of factors like these.

7. How will you actively market and support the book?
Remember, books don’t launch movements; movements launch books. In the same vein, a book doesn't launch an author's career and visibility; an author's career and visibility are what launch a book (i.e., don't expect a book to kick-start your career). Don't tell the publisher that you are available to write articles, speak at events, and engage in other promotional efforts. You should already be writing, speaking, and consulting. Have a ready audience before you start your book so you have a base that you can market and sell the work to.

And finally, be careful when making assumptions about publishers and how publishing works. Publishing is an industry unlike any other, and the rules that govern business elsewhere don’t apply here. Learn the lesson that Borders recently learned. The company's last five CEOs did not have a publishing background and tried to run the company like the ones they used to run. What could have worked wonders in other arenas drove a great store to bankruptcy.

Alright, now get back to work.



Seven Tips for Selling Your Book Overseas

Hello BK community members,

I just returned from a trip to Singapore, where I met with our partners at McGraw-Hill Asia, who distribute our English-language print editions in that part of the world. I was pleased to see that BK books were amply represented on Singapore bookstore shelves; click here to see the 100+ or so I spotted. Our partners offered some advice about what authors can do to help their books sell overseas, advice I’ve heard echoed by other distribution partners in Europe, Australia, and Africa. Here are their pointers for the top six things authors can do to influence international sales (and a seventh one from another, equally helpful source):

1. Travel overseas. The single most impactful thing an author can do is visit in person. Just as in the US, immersive speaking events build community and drive sales. And foreign media is much more likely to cover your book if you’re coming to town.

2. Include international examples in your book. Overseas book markets are just as crowded as the US’s. If the stores are faced with choosing between a book that has local applications and one that’s just US-centric, they’ll go local every time. If your book is already published, consider creating an online supplement showing international applications and case studies illustrating your ideas in action.

3. Make connections with international professional associations. Groups like Global Speakers Federation and the Australian Institute of Management may be interested in hosting member events featuring YOU. AIM has a particularly good reputation for planning events well and supporting book sales at those events.

4. Collect international endorsements. Space on your book's cover is limited, of course, but just like us, publishers can share endorsements from overseas luminaries with their partners, to help build buzz and sales in their territories.

5. Team up with other authors. Over the last several months, I’ve seen impressive and inspiring examples of authors helping other authors by sharing their international networks, or by planning joint overseas trips. If you’re planning international travel, consider posting about it on Community Groups that you belong to on LinkedIn, or post news of your trip and what help you’re looking for on your blog site. And if you haven't started blogging yet, bkcommunity.com is a good place to start.

6. Keep in touch...and plan ahead. If you’re planning international travel, or if your community of fans already has a sizable international component, do let your publisher know, so they can alert their relevant partners. Remember that it can take several weeks to ship books across oceans and continents, so the more notice, the better. Many of our partners request at least two months notice to ensure adequate support of author travel in their territories.

7. Read
7 Ways to Get International Publicity, a piece by Alan Stevens that BK author Jennifer Kahnweiler recommended to me (thanks, Jennifer). It's brilliant and I have also posted the piece on my blog.

I hope this advice is useful to you. If any globe-trotting authors or others have additional suggestions, please do feel free to share with your fellow BK community members here.

All the best,

Johanna Vondeling
Vice President, International Sales and Business Development
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