Writing a good book proposal for Wrox
This is an updated version of a post from my old blog in 2005. Our editors and I get a lot of proposals from authors we know, and from new authors we don’t know at email@example.com. Here are some of my thoughts on what all of the editors here are looking for in a good proposal.
1. Show me you can write.
If you want to write a book that several hundred pages long, or even a chapter within a book, you should be able to construct enough sentences and paragraphs to fill a couple of pages. Especially if you are a first time writer and want to break into book writing, your proposal will be a big part of what we use to evaluate your writing skills.
2. Be specific in your topic.
Don’t write to me "I want to write an ASP.NET book." Tell me "I want to write a book on ASP.NET for experienced web developers. I’ll cover X, Y, Z and those are important to experienced developers because…"
3. Do a little research about other books on the topic or similar topics.
If you want to write on a topic that many books already exist on, you should have read some of those books and should be able to explain what they do well and what you’ll do better in your proposal.
If your proposal is for the first book on a topic, first, make sure it really is the first book on the topic before hanging your proposal on that. Once you’ve done that, tell me what other topic it’s similar too (DotNetNuke plays to the same people who might read IIS or ASP.NET books, Longhorn development books might be compared to Win32 API books, and so on) and tell me what you’ve read on those topics.
4. Include an outline
When you’re sending an unsolicited proposal, the outline doesn’t have to be detailed, chapter titles are a good start and show that you’ve given it some thought. Be prepared once the editor starts reviewing your proposal to put a lot of work into a detailed outline with topic subheadings and page count estimates.
5. Sell me on you.
Including your resume or CV is good. A one paragraph description of your expertise that relates directly to the book topic is better. When I originally posted this, our marketing manager added in the comments:
I’d like to stress the importance of Jim’s 5th point, "Sell Me on You." This is critical, and many authors focus too narrowly in this area. While an acquisitions editor is going to be very excited to get a proposal from somebody close to the technology, they’re just getting excited about the chance to work on what might become a Really Good Book. But the number of Really Good Books that didn’t sell would (and does) fill hundreds of warehouses.
When you’re selling the AE on You, it’s important to talk about the things about yourself that will help the book sell. Sure, you know the technology, but does anybody know you? If you are quietly competant in your area then you may well write a really good book. But unless you’re first to market on a hot topic, that’s not likely to be enough to get that AE’s sales and marketing teams excited about the book.
Your author platform is critical. Looking at Jim’s list of Upcoming Wrox Books, I know that the DotNetNuke title is likely to do really well. Not only are the authors subject matter experts, but they have the ability to talk about the book in places that potential readers visit frequently. They have a book cover on www.dotnetnuke.com, for example. One of the authors is actively blogging about the title. The authors have international connections that have offered the publisher a headstart in selling translation rights. [Jim’s note: Yes, David’s observation was dead on as the Professional DotNetNuke book he was discussing in 2005 did indeed go on to become a great seller.]
All of that falls under Sell Me on You. If you have a way to communicate to potential readers, make it part of your book proposal. Blogs, e-mail newsletters, topical websites, magazine articles, radio programs, or even podcasting would count. If you have both the expertise to write the book and a platform to help push the book, your proposal will have a better chance of getting from proposal to contract.
6. Be timely.
This has always been important but even more so in the last few years so I’ve added here even though it wasn’t on the original list. What does being timely mean? One, it means prompt responses to us on questions about your proposal and requests for more material. If we ask you to write a more detailed outline and it takes a month, you’re not selling us on your ability to write a few hundred pages or more for a book. Second it means look out at the horizon for topics. Right now in late 2009, we don’t need .NET 3.5 proposals or SharePoint 2007 proposals. But beyond that, we don’t even really need .NET 4 proposals and SharePoint 2010 proposals. While those books won’t publish until early 2010, the authors writing for us approached us (or we approached them) 6 months or more ago. If you’re trying to break in with your first, or even second, book, you need to get the publisher a proposal at the beginning of a wave, not the tail end.
If you can do all of that in a couple of pages, you’ll be several steps ahead of most of the "I want to write a book" email we get. That makes it that much easier for us to want to work with you if your idea is good and from there, we’ll help you refine the proposal, fill in details we need, get the TOC ready to be presented to a larger audience, and everything else that needs to be done to turn your idea into a book.
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