by Steve Laube
Putting together a great book proposal takes a lot of work. I suggest writers look at them as if they were a job application, and they are. 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 reason. Here are two mistakes:
1. Divine Attribution. Also known as the claim, “God told me to write this.” Recently we received a proposal with this line which 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.
2. Resume Puffing. With all the talk about Platform and the need to have a major social media presence we are starting to see more writers attempt to inflate the value of their resume 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 it 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.
Another 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 or past sales without revealing their small size. In my opinion it is best to simply lay it all out there unvarnished. Hiding poor numbers or presenting them in a clever way to avoid the facts is actually transparent to those of us who see proposals every day. At some point the direct question will be asked and the numbers will have to be revealed.
The key to a successful book proposal? Write a GREAT book with a GREAT idea.
Have you seen resume puffing in your business?
What else would be considered “puffing” the resume in a book proposal.