Book Proposals

The Biggest Question About Your Book

Authors are like small businesses. They have a finance department, a marketing department and an editorial wing. Then there’s the travel, human resources, IT and facilities management departments, all managed by one person, the author.

While writing quality and author platforms are discussed at every writer’s conference, those aren’t the only factors contributing to the success or less-than-success of a new book.

While it may appear author platform is everything, it isn’t. In fact, the author’s platform can only take them so far. And at the risk of being called a literary heretic, the impact of good writing is limited as well. Successful books are not “only about the writing.”

Books are turned down by agents and publishers every day for lack of platform and for quality of writing, but many books are rejected by their inability to answer one simple question.

“Why is this needed?” (or the more commonly used, “So what?”)

The answer to this question is the literal pass/fail test for every book. And part of a passing grade for a book is not difficult to understand.

And it’s not just in publishing where identifying the benefit to the user is important. If you pay attention to most advertising, you will see how professional marketers emphasize user benefit to advance their cause.  A product isn’t “low cost,” it “saves you money.” The “low cost” is a feature, but “saves you money” is the benefit.

Every successful business is customer-benefit focused, first and foremost.

Often, authors have a hard time identifying the true reader-benefit of their book and need an outside perspective to find it. And if they still can’t locate an easily-defined benefit, then it might indicate a larger problem…there might not be one.

It isn’t a good thing if there’s no easily identified reason for a reader to buy a book.

In fact, as an aside, difficulty developing a platform might indicate followers or readers might not see a benefit to following.

How this applies to various types of books are as follows:

Personal life stories can devolve into books which are “all about the author,” with nothing for the reader’s benefit, unless you are uber-famous and then we want to know the kind of bicycle you rode when you were nine years old.

Information books or opinion books can also be cold, disconnected tomes of detail from the author’s education and experience.

Literary musings can end up being an author simply “showing off” their immense writing prowess.

Even Christian-themed books can elicit a “So what?” response from reviewers if there is no clear application to the reader.

Why do these types of projects get the thumbs-down from agents and publishers?

Because it reveals the author has a greater need to be known, heard and understood, than benefit the reader.  Successful books of all types give something of value to the reader. In general, one or more of the following:



Enflame the imagination



Insight into something important to the reader

Promise of something good

Every type of book must have one or more of these benefits for the reader and if there isn’t, or the benefit is confusing or obtuse, it won’t be a successful.

Keep working on your platform and your writing quality, but first, think of the platform followers and your eventual book readers. If you don’t give them a compelling reason to follow you or something which will improve their life, you might need to go back to the drawing board or ask someone to help you identify something.

Books are meant to be read and for this to happen, you need a reader. Think of them throughout the writing process, giving them something of value in exchange for their money and time.


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Of Making Many Books There Is No End

This past week Bowker, the company that issues ISBN numbers for published books, released their annual statistics. They broke out the numbers for self-published books and revealed a stunning statistic. (If you want the history and explanation of the ISBN, read my scintillating post on the topic here. Each country …

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Remove the Easy “No”

These are both amazing and perilous times for writers seeking to publish. Whether you’re pitching an idea to a magazine editor, book editor, or agent, an important part of your job is removing the easy “no.” That is, some submissions make it easy for an editor or agent to say, …

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Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

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The Ultimate Sound Bite

Can you boil the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea into twenty-five words or less?

This is one of the keys to creating a marketing hook that makes your idea sellable in today’s crowded market.

You have less than a minute to make that hook work.

It is also called creating the “elevator pitch” or the “Hollywood pitch.” The goal is get the marketing department to exclaim, “We can sell that without any problem!” And ultimately to get a consumer to say, “I want that” or “I need that” or “I know someone who should have that.”

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Create Magic with Words

Years ago, I took my five-year-old daughter to Toys R Us to meet “Barbie.” “Barbie” turned out to be a cute and charming teenager who, yes, looked like the classic blonde image of the doll. She wore a pretty pink gown. I expected a lot more fanfare around this event. …

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Is It Okay for Me to Resubmit?

When approaching agents and editors, sometimes even veteran authors are unsure if there is some unwritten rule they may unwittingly violate. I assure you, all of us in the industry appreciate your thoughtfulness. But we don’t want fear to cause you to miss an opportunity! Over the past few conferences, …

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