Why you only get one chance to create a great proposal

An author contacted me recently regarding his book proposal. His agent had accepted it and shopped it to some publishers; there were some nibbles, but no bites. This guy was well positioned: good speaking career, solid book idea, well-written sample chapter. Now he wanted to know if I could help him to improve the proposal.

I regrettably turned him down.

It’s not that the proposal couldn’t be improved. I’m sure it could. But you only get one chance to put a proposal in front of publishers.

That author would never get a second chance to pitch this idea to the same publishers. No publisher is going to look at the same proposal again — they haven’t got time for that. Even if your idea is about to go from good to great, nobody is going to see it.

What you can learn from this

Here are a few lessons from this experience:

  1. Make it great the first time. Your proposal has to blow people’s doors off. Killer title. Amazing and intriguing opening. Great table of contents. Highly polished and persuasive sample chapter. And most important, a truly impressive promotion section that proves you can sell books. If it could be better, then make it better. You don’t get a second chance.
  2. Listen to the agent. If the agent says the proposal has flaws, fix the flaws. Because that’s the only feedback you’re going to get from the publishing world before the proposal gets rejected.
  3. If you feel you have to go back, change something radical. Add a coauthor who’s a proven seller. Include a 30,000-person consumer survey. Come back with interviews with the CEOs of the top ten companies in your industry. Get signed to do the keynote at a 100,000-person convention. Yeah, I know those are impossible “gets.” But they’re the only kinds of things that will make a publisher who has already given up on you take a second look.
  4. Consider hybrid publishing. It will cost you, but there’s more than one way to get your idea out there. If you’re sick of banging on the door of traditional publishers, contact some hybrids.

Some things in life allow you to make constant improvements. Regrettably, your book proposal isn’t one of them.

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