Tag s | book proposals

Two Mistakes Made in Some Book Proposals

Putting together a great book proposal takes a lot of work. I suggest writers look at it as if it were a job application, and it is. You are trying to get someone to pay you to write your book via a stellar “job application” or book proposal.

But every once in a while, we get something that is not going to work, for obvious reasons. Here are two mistakes:

Divine Attribution

Also known as the claim, “God told me to write this.” We once received a proposal with a line that claimed, “I literally hear from GOD,JESUS, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT.” (Capitalization and punctuation left intact.) One of the most widely read posts from our blog is titled “God Gave Me This Blog Post.” Please read the post, and please avoid this mistake in the future.

I also see authors write or hear authors say, “I know you don’t like it when we say it, but I really felt inspired by God while writing this.” Trust me, I understand. In fact, I believe you and don’t deny the validity of inspiration. But try not to make it sound like your book idea or sample writing is extra special because of it.

Résumé Puffing

With all the talk about platform and the need to have a major social-media presence or visibility, we are starting to see more writers attempting to inflate the value of their résumé in order to attract an agent or a publisher. This doesn’t mean you don’t or can’t list the various activities, awards, or social-media analytics; it simply means don’t exaggerate or lie.

I once saw a proposal where the author claimed to have won a Nobel Prize. I googled the name and the prize and found that the author had been on a large research team that was granted the prize. But the way it was written sounded like the author was the sole recipient. The claim was not inaccurate, but it felt like it. The author was right to be proud of being on such an extraordinary team, but the author should have described it as a team award.

When someone claims “best-selling author” status, I try to take the claim at face value. But if we are not familiar with your work, we will investigate the claim. If it cannot be verified or it comes to light that what has been described is only receiving a “#1 on Amazon” label in an obscure category, I’m not as inclined to be impressed. My annual Christian Writers Market Guide is often #1 on Amazon in the new release category of “Christian Encyclopedias.” Think about it. How many “new releases” in that category come out every week? Not many. So having that label in an obscure category may look nice, but I would certainly not claim to be a best-selling author because of it.

Awards are a little trickier. Here on our site, we have a section for author’s awards. (See the drop-down menu in the Authors section above.) We have tried to focus on those awards that are fairly national or have a strong measure of gravitas attached to their name that will be significant to a major publisher. It isn’t an exact science.

One author claimed to have been nominated for a major book award. Since I had been a consultant for that award, I knew the truth. The author’s publisher had “entered” the book in the contest. It was one of twenty books entered into that category. This author’s book was not a finalist nor was it “nominated” for anything. It had been entered, nothing more. I had to assume that the author was unaware of the difference, but it left the wrong taste when reading the proposal.

The hardest thing is listing social-media numbers. The fear is that what you have isn’t enough. But then what is enough? A mistake of late has been calculating “reach” and not actual numbers. One author claimed to have a “reach” of one million people. But what the author had done is calculate the social-media size of every person who followed them–added everyone’s “audience”–and then claimed their personal social media had a “reach” of 1,000,000. In reality, their actual number was less than 10,000.

“Reach” is a technique used in the media. See this linked article, where they correctly claim, “During an average week in June 2021, radio reached 88.1 percent of all American men aged between 35 and 64 years of age. All adults of this age group were the most exposed to radio, regardless of gender.” It doesn’t say any of that 88% were listening, only that they were “reached.”

Be careful about overstating your platform. We know the tricks.

The Real Secret

The secret to a successful book proposal? Write a GREAT book with a GREAT idea.

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Bring the Books (What Steve Laube Is Looking For)

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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What I Am Looking For (Dan Balow)

(Updated 1/19/2022) I know it is frustrating for aspiring authors to “decode” the processes involved when working to get published. It seems everything is organized to keep people out, rather than find new writers. On top of this, the publishing world is highly subjective, where no one can speak with …

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When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in past years that did not sell to a major publisher.

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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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How an Agent Reads

I’m seldom at a loss for words (though often at a loss for something of value to say), but the question took me aback for a moment. I was on an agents-and-editors panel at a writers’ conference within a few months of becoming an agent. I’d done this sort of …

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What Does Your Reader Need?

I attend many writers’ conferences, as an author, speaker, and agent. As a result, I meet and become friends with many fine people and outstanding writers. At a recent gathering, I enjoyed a spirited and stimulating conversation with an aspiring author who has a passion for reaching readers with the …

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Author Says / Agent Hears

Many aspiring authors communicate things they think are positive, or at least in the spirit of honesty and transparency, but end up being understood entirely different than the intended message. In an attempt to show commitment, an aspiring author says, “I’ve been working on this book for ten years.” An …

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