Whenever I mention I have written and published a book, some of the questions that tend to follow include ‘I want to write a book, how do go about it’, and how do I get my book published?’. It is said that everyone has a book within them, and for first-timers taking your book proposal from idea to published can be a daunting challenge, the prospect of which prevents many from doing so.
Digital books and the ability to self-publish have made it much easier to publish a book, but once done you are then faced with the challenge of marketing, promoting and selling it, which most authors find to be tasks much harder than the writing of the book itself. Also printing physical copies of a book and storing them can be costly. These are just some of the reasons why authors are attracted to publishing through traditional publishers.
Whilst publishing through a traditional publisher does not relieve you from marketing and promotional duties -authors are still expected to do their share- doing so can provide some help and guidance and remove some of the burdens when it comes to areas such as editing your manuscript, dealing with distributors and negotiating foreign licensing; and if the publisher is well-known they can add a measure of credibility to you as an author and expert in your field.
But getting a publishing deal is easier said than done in an industry with a high rejection rate. Publishers are busy people who receive a large number of manuscript submissions from authors wanting to bring their ideas to print, and as such don’t always have the time to read every proposal submitted. This makes it important to create a proposal that stands out, catching the reviewing editor’s eye.
So if you are thinking about submitting your book idea to a publisher here are some of tips and guidance to help you prepare, starting with the most important:
1. Read the submissions guidelines.
Most publishers will have a submissions guidelines section on their website with instructions on how to structure your proposal, the information you need to include and who to send it to. Ignoring these guidelines can see your manuscript placed in the reject pile without being read. If they have asked for two pages and you submitted a 30-page document chances are it will be passed over, as will sending it to the wrong person.
2. Be clear and get straight to the point. Do not waffle.
Your proposal is your chance to get your idea across in a few words. So make them count. Don’t keep the publisher guessing, they have a few seconds to decide whether or not to take your proposal to the editorial panel for further consideration.
3. Have an eye-catching, yet relevant title.
Going back to the previous point about being clear, your title will be your proposal’s biggest selling point in the decision as to whether to read or pass over. This applies to your email title too if submitting electronically, which tends to be the norm.
4. Make sure the publishers you are submitting to specialise in your genre.
Sending a proposal about historical romance fiction to a publisher of young adult sci-fi is just wasting everyone’s time. Rather take the time to research the publishers you would like to work with, outline the reasons why, and make a note of why your book will fit into/complement their existing titles, you may get asked this at an interview should your proposal be of interest.
5. Proofread and spellcheck your text.
Nowadays it doesn’t cost much to get your document proofread. Use platforms such as People Per Hour and Upwork to find a freelancer to help you. If you do not have the budget for this an online tool like Grammarly can help to at least minimize the errors.
6. Be engaging and try to convey the sentiment of your book.
If your book proposal is boring this can signal to the publisher that your book may be too. If you can get someone to read through it for you and get their opinion. Make a note of the questions and queries they have. This could signal that the information is not clear and needs further clarification.
7. Don’t submit your completed manuscript unless specifically asked to do so.
This is one, for legal reasons more than anything else to avoid disputes if the publisher were by chance to publish something similar and two, if you send an original manuscript you will most likely not get it back, the publisher will just bin it and you would have lost months/years of hard work.
There you have it an actionable list of tips for creating a winning book proposal and submitting to publishers. We hope these tips will help you polish up your proposal and submit to the right publisher. And remember that publishers don’t always get it right. The proposal for Harry Potter received 12 rejections before being picked up by Bloomsbury! So, what is rejected by one could become the centre of a bidding war by others. The takeaway being if you are not successful on your first attempt, keep trying.
And if you are looking for more information on publishing a book, my book How To Publish Your Book will guide you through the journey.
– Tapiwa Matsinde