If you think about it, the first step leading to the eventual sale of any book begins with grabbing someone’s attention with a short description of the book content.
The proposal or short description motivates the agent, publisher, book retailer or reader to take the next step, which is different for each, but everything is set in motion by something less than the full manuscript.
No one first reads an entire book to decide if they want to take the next step. They read a short description and then make the decision.
Many authors who submit their work to agents or publishers will make the same plea, “Please just read the whole book!”
Sure, but only if the proposal is compelling enough.
Let’s think about this in reverse, starting from the reader’s perspective.
At the very end of the book-chain is a reader. They will decide to buy or check out a book based on everything except for reading the book. The title, author, product description, reviews, recommendations, even the cover design will entice someone to pick up a book.
Readers buy a promise, a solution to a problem, a unique experience or a key to unlock something within them.
Before the reader is the place to obtain the book. While Amazon sells anything, the majority of the bookselling and lending world (retail and libraries) decided to stock a book based on the author, title, product description, author sales or rental history, reviews and even the cover design. They never read the book before they carry it. And most will not read it afterward. (Good luck selling anything on Amazon without a good product description.)
Before this, the publisher will agree to publish a book, with the first step being a proposal from an agent or author. In many cases, the full book is not yet written.
By the way, one reason traditional publishers take so long to publish a book is they want to make certain the manuscript they get from an author matches the proposal they agreed to buy. Often enough to cause hesitation, authors will write a different book than the one contracted, sometimes mildly different, but sometimes an entirely different approach or subject. (It can also be an issue of the quality in the original sample chapters not carried throughout.)
With agents, the proposal is even more important. Agents look at hundreds and thousands of proposals and need to make a decision quickly whether to spend more time reading the actual book chapters. Only if the proposal caught their attention and motivated them to read further will agents take a next step.
This agency blog often speaks to the elements of a good proposal and also what makes up a poor one, which receives a quick decline. Still, many authors downplay the importance of the proposal and just want an agent to read their book instead.
It won’t happen.
Authors need to give away the book (figuratively speaking) to gain an agent’s interest. In the same way, agents give away the book to publishers and publishers give away the book to retailers.
Only with readers can you get creative and not give the entire story away. They need to be intrigued enough to use their own money to purchase it. Readers don’t need to know whodunit. The journey is the fun part for them.
But everyone before the reader needs to be handed the entire story, with no mystery or hesitation, described succinctly and quickly on a silver platter:
“The gardener was the killer with the rolling pin in the pantry.”
“The five key elements for a happy life are…”
Not every book is read, but every proposal is, which makes it the most important part of the book whether you are on your twentieth book or just starting out.