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:
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.
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.