How to Write a Book Proposal, Part II

It’s no secret that the book publishing business is in big trouble. Book sales only grew 1.6 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to Ken Auletta in “Publish or Perish” in the April 26 New Yorker.

That’s not good. In fact, it stinks.

For writers, that means, among other things, that advances will be lower, press runs will be smaller, and getting published will be harder.

The reasons the book publishing industry is in such dire straits are many but publishers think (rightly or wrongly) that their big advantage over the electronic competition, and the place where they add the most value, is in marketing and promotion. So when an editor looks at a book proposal, she wants to know that she can market the book and promote the author.

So you’ve got to help. In terms of your book proposal, that means telling the prospective publisher that you are willing to:

  • Travel to Topeka (or anywhere else) to sign books, give readings, and sit in empty, lonely bookstores to sign copies;
  • Talk to anyone who wants to talk to you. If you’ve given speeches, appeared on television or radio, or worked in the media, say so. Present yourself as a skilled, professional communicator;
  • Network day and night. If you belong to any groups--churches, mosques, political parties, neighborhood communities--name them. If you have a web page, say so. If you don’t Tweet, start. If you don’t have a Facebook page, sign up.

In reality, publishers do a lousy job of promoting books (just ask me) unless they've made a huge investment in them. (And even then, their strategies and tools are pretty primitive.) But the chances are that they will not have a huge investment in your book.

So if you want your book to succeed, you’re going to have to do a lot of the promotion yourself. And letting the publisher know that will help you get that advance.

Remember: As Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

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