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Booking it? How to Pitch and Package Your Proposal

By Tanya Hall, a YPO member since 2016

As a successful business leader, you may be considering writing a book, whether it’s to tell your story for brand-building purposes, legacy reasons or just to get it off the proverbial bucket list. As a business leader, you also may be wondering how you can assess the marketability of a business book on the front end before investing time and effort in writing it.

If nonfiction is your proposed genre, before you write your book, you need to develop a proposal to pitch to publishers and agents. A well-done proposal will go a long way toward answering questions about marketability. In addition to a few sample chapters and a table of contents, a good proposal will cover four key areas: author biography, audience analysis, comparable titles and proof of an author platform.

All about you

Book sales are driven by many factors, but the most powerful driver is the author. The author biography should highlight how you are uniquely qualified and/or credentialed to write this book. A book about the trials of entrepreneurship, for example, is more marketable when written by someone who has that experience versus someone who is observing an entrepreneur.

Before writing anything, ask yourself, “What qualifies me to write about this topic?” Then, push beyond that question and ask, “Why does it need to be me who writes it? Will readers be missing out on if someone else writes this book?” Don’t underestimate the power that your experiences, your humor or your ability to break down a complex topic has on the reader.

Understand your audience’s pain  

Another important element of a book proposal is the audience analysis. Who will buy this book?

The answer to this question should never be “everyone.” While your content may be useful to a wide range of people, find the two or three groups it will help the most. Using the entrepreneurship book as an example, your target audience could be startup founders who need help understanding funding. It could also be small business owners looking for guidance on basic operations principles.

Quantitative information is more time consuming to locate, but can be valuable in determining the strength of your idea. If there are many potential readers, publishers will consider a project more favorably. Specialty or niche topics can be more difficult to place with a publishing house and are even more difficult to distribute countrywide. Here are some resources for locating audience statistics:

  • You’ll find all kinds of statistics related to the economy and workforce at regional, national and international levels. For example, U.S. writers can start off at the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Contact organizations that serve your market and ask for data on the size and demographic nature of their membership.
  • Identify the top magazines your audience reads. Go to their advertisers’ page. They typically offer an advertisers kit that includes audience size and demographics.

Understanding who you’re writing to and how you will help them overcome their pain points will help ensure that there will be demand for the book when it launches.

Analyze the competition

Now it’s time to do some reconnaissance to confirm that you’re offering something new.

Begin by identifying your book’s genre or subject category. Browse your local bookstore and search online for books in the same genre. Take notes on your competitors, their writing and how you differ.

It’s critical to define this differentiation with as fine a point as you can make. You can set yourself apart in several ways:

  • Do you challenge any of the assumptions or strategies those authors make?
  • Do you have a fresh approach or new information to add to the discussion?
  • Do you have a more engaging or unique voice?
  • Do you have more credibility or experience?
  • Are you more specialized or more comprehensive?

Knowing the answers to these questions will also help you to further hone your overall brand strategy.

Start talking to your audience early

The importance of an author platform can’t be overstated. When a publisher is reviewing a manuscript, they also consider whether the author has a blog, a podcast, a large social media following, an impressive newsletter list or frequent speaking engagements. In other words, they are looking for proof that you already are engaged with your readers.

For example, if an audience already is interested in your content in blog form, they will likely convert to book buyers.

Before writing your manuscript, use this to your advantage. A blog is a great way to do research and development on your writing to see what your audience likes. Use the data on content with the most engagement, shares, etc., to inform how you develop your book.

Would-be writers often are derailed by the struggle to understand whether there might be a market for their work. Given the level of effort required to write a book, it’s important to spend this time evaluating the viability of your concept on the front end. In doing so, you will have a game plan for developing your content and the confidence that your time writing is well spent.

As CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, YPO member Tanya Hall drives the company’s growth efforts and fosters a culture built around serving authors. Learn more about Greenleaf Book and connect on Twitter (@GreenleafBookGr and @TanyaHall) and Facebook.

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