More often than not, aspiring authors who send me nonfiction book proposals for editing haven’t included all the information required. They think they know what should be in the document’s pages. They may have read books on how to write a book proposal or found helpful articles on the Internet, but they still don’t understand how to compose a book proposal that addresses the questions agents’ and acquisitions editors’ must have answered before they take on a book project.
Why? Because they don’t know what questions to answer.
Literary agent Katharine Sands today offers a variety of questions aspiring authors should ask themselves—and answer—if they want to become published authors—“Authors” with a capital “A.” With this unique insight, you can fill the pages of your proposal with a perfect pitch. If you want to be an Author, answer the questions carefully, put the information into your proposal and send it off.
The Author Questionnaire
By Katharine Sands
In today’s vastly changing publishing industry writers are now asked by their agents to prepare an author questionnaire long in advance of the book sale. This information is provided to editors as an integral part of the book proposal submission process and later used by many sales and marketing professionals as a source for promotional plans.
The days are long gone when agents—even though we must have the nerves and instincts of riverboat gamblers—were simply willing to take on a project because it has an intriguing premise or even because its writer is capable, well published and talented. Forced to adhere to the bottom line, today’s agents and acquisitions editors look for authors who come with an established audience and/or have a clearly identifiable readership.
The Author Questionnaire contains all intel that relates to your work and is the basis for communicating information about the marketability of your book to a publisher and beyond. Today's agents need to understand all of the ways your material can be marketed and the best ways to show you are “Author” material. Cobbled from various questions from author questionnaires, this blog post will help you thoughtfully prep and polish the information you need to provide insight into your book's outreach before you pitch it in the form of a proposal. Use this to think about you, the author, and the “commYOUnity” you are reaching out and into with your book.
From conception to content-creation to contract to completion to competing in the marketplace, your non-fiction proposal is part blueprint, part closing argument. Let's say your writing is wonderfully intelligent and the depth of your knowledge of your subject impressive. From the minute the agent brain dings you are a winner, s/he will start to conceptualize campaigns, begin marketing and strategizing all of the ways to boost your book's chances of attracting offers in the publishing world. Today we stress the importance of extending your book's content into other sales areas. Your content might spawn a series, a movie franchise become the basis of a Broadway musical or launch a product line, which fuels your book's brand leading to sales. In other words, today being an author means becoming a contentpreneur™.
Use the Author Questionnaire to give you the best insight into what you would like to accomplish by sharing your writing with readers. The Author Questionnaire is designed to provide us with highlights to be used as sales, marketing, and publicity information, which will ultimately help all of us sell your book. This is an editorial baton you give to your agent to pass to the acquisitions team inside the publishing house. No one knows your book as well as you do, and with many books each season to tend to, publicists, and sales and marketing folks can use all the extra insight you can provide. From the time the acquiring editor becomes interested in your proposal and beyond, s/he shares the questionnaire with in-house departments, including sales, publicity, advertising, and subsidiary rights. From this questionnaire, all strategies and marketing plans are developed with a view towards creating buzz, media, story ideas, talk-show segments, movie pitches.
In this section you will be asked your book’s title; indicate how you want your name or pseudonym, or co-author’s name, to appear on the book and in advertising, and if applicable, include your affiliation or title as you wish it to appear:
Here you want to underscore anything relevant to your book. You want to amplify your chances for successful publication by showcasing your personal insight, your experience and outreach. What is your personal background and how did it inspire this book?
Did you have any interesting experiences while you were writing, researching your book or getting it published?
What credentials do you have in the subject area? Include your education with any honors, literary honors, citations, scholarships, or prizes bestowed. Talk about your areas of study, any interesting faculty instructors or early mentors. Mine your hobbies and avocations for quotes and contacts. Mention your present occupation, your previously held positions especially where relevant to book. Include names and/or occupations of family members, if newsworthy or relevant. Life challenges or medical problems can be included here if they pertain to the premise for the book. What were/are your personal reasons for writing this book? What was the inspiration? What kind of experience has writing your book been for you (exciting, eye-opening, fun, agonizing, transformative…)?
Don’t forget to list the cities and states in which you lived, as well as foreign countries in which you have resided or traveled extensively, including approximate dates.
List other books you have written with the title, publisher, year of publication, description of the book, (e.g., fiction, biography, etc.) and estimated or confirmed sales figures for each. Resist the urge to tell any negative details about previous publication. Have any of your books been serialized, reprinted, (e.g. paperback), adopted by book clubs, made into a film or published in foreign editions, specify details and give the names of each magazine, book club, film production company, and/or foreign publisher. List magazines or periodicals that have published your writing, giving specific titles; include a list if you are a contributor as an expert in a publication or are quoted by someone who has had experience relevant to your project. If you have ever been a guest on internet, television or radio talk shows, give the name of the show, host, date, and topic of interview. Detail all media, lecture and seminar experience. Attach any publicity about your work, especially letters, endorsements, blurbs, book reviews, mentions in magazines and newspapers, ads, etc.
About Your Book
Now you are asked to provide a summary of your book. You want to make the perfect pitch: Provide the description of your book in 200-250 words. Many writers make the mistake of offering the beginning of the book. This is not your introduction or preface to your book; this is the introduction to you, the author. This is how you would like to see your book described. Keep in mind that this summary may be a major source of promotional copy, and the agent most likely knows nothing about the subject of your book. Explain why this subject—specifically your treatment of the subject—makes this book different from other books on this subject in this market. You obviously see a real need for a book of this nature in the marketplace, but the key to successful sales and marketing of your title is to be able to convey to potential readers what specific benefits they will receive from reading your book. In other words, why do they need this book? Why should they buy your book instead of a different book on the same subject? Explain any significant relationship between material in your book and current events or discoveries of news value. List 3-5 interesting highlights from your book. Ask yourself why someone would be interested in your book. Think about the things that are going to excite them. What is the main point you would emphasize in telling others about this book?
Here are a few examples:
- Imagine a new take on that bestseller: something like What to Expect in Your Heart, Mind and Soul When Expecting. That is just what Spiritual Pregnancy: Nine Months That Will Change Your Life Before You Give Birth delivers. The authors found powerful synergies and emotional and spiritual connections that will heighten the reader’s awareness of herself and her unborn child in amazing new ways.
- For the 40 million Americans that suffer from IBS, the word “gut” is as loaded as a .57 Magnum.
- As Anthony Weiner, Elliott Spitzer, John Edward, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods know…monogamy is not for sissies. If any of these gentlemen had a copy of this book, their stories may have ended up quite differently.
- You will be surprised at the answers when this book blows the lid off common misconceptions about workplace rights. Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired is an essential new title that will reap the readership of thousands of workers, job seekers and their loved ones and families desperate for this resource.
Additional Questions to Consider
Agents think: Why you? Why now? Show yourself to be the author acknowledged as a leading expert in the field. Make it clear that in this book you dispel common myths and present some fascinating (detailed, comprehensive, one-of-a-kind) information that readers won't find anywhere else.
As a writer you are always going to be asked to introduce your work, to share your enthusiasm for your writing, and to get others excited about what is exciting to you.
What is your unique premise? (What are you setting out to prove, examine, share or explore?) What specific and distinct features distinguish your book from all others on the subject? This is what agents and acquisitions editors want to know.
Is the book a solution to a problem? Are your identified readers challenged in some way? Is the reader asked to do something, try something, think something, understand something or do you have way to urge or inspire people to improve themselves (and/or their world) as a result of reading it?
In your book proposal, your writing “voice” needs to come across as likeable, authoritative, readable, warm, accessible, and the perfect author to provide loads of good advice, ideas or new insights. List the names of popular books that seem to have the same kind of readership you want to reach. Think about books which might provide useful comparisons or sales handles for your book. List current books or work of colleagues or works in progress that you know of, which might compete with your book for public attention, or could be called “complimentary.” What does your book reveal that is new compared to these? How will your book be unique as compared to other books on the market?
When you answer these questions you will succeed in showcasing your book as a bold, new entry into the category—and yourself as a non-fiction Author and Contentpreneur™.You will demonstrate that you are solidly platformable, mediagenic, blogospheric with an intriguing book poised to spring forth from you.
About the Author
A literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, Katharine Sands has worked with a varied list of authors who publish a diverse array of books. Highlights include Dating the Devil (producer: Vast Entertainment) by Lia Romeo; XTC: SongStories; Chasing Zebras: THE Unofficial Guide to House, MD; Make Up, Don't Break Up with Oprah guest Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil; Playwright Robert Patrick's novel, Temple Slave; The New Rules of Attraction by Arden Leigh; The Complete Book on International Adoption: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Child; Hands Off My Belly: The Pregnant Woman's Survival Guide to Myths, Mothers, and Moods; Under the Hula Moon; The Gay Vacation Guide; CityTripping: a Guide for Foodies, Fashionistas and the Generally Style-Obsessed; Writers on Directors; Ford model Helen Lee's The Tao of Beauty; Elvis and You: Your Guide to the Pleasures of Being an Elvis Fan; New York: Songs of the City; Taxpertise: Dirty Little Secrets the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know; The SAT Word Slam, Divorce After 50; The Complete Book of Bone Health; The Safe and Sane Guide to Teenage Plastic Surgery; Talk to Strangers; Trust Your Gut; Spiritual Pregnancy, to name a few. She is the agent provocateur of Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye, a collection of pitching wisdom from leading literary agents.
Actively building her client list, she likes books that have a clear benefit for readers' lives in categories of food, travel, lifestyle, home arts, beauty, wisdom, relationships, parenting, and fresh looks, which might be at issues, life challenges or popular culture. When reading fiction she wants to be compelled and propelled by urgent storytelling, and hooked by characters. For memoir and femoir, she likes to be transported to a world rarely or newly observed.