7 Questions for Preparing a Proposal

Many thanks to Jeevan Sivsubramaniam, Managing Director Editorial at Berrett-Koehler Publishers and a speaker at the San Francisco Writers Conference for this first-rate handout:

Many people have great ideas for books to help change the world politically or socially, or to help individuals grow in spirit and purpose. Keep these seven questions in mind when writing your proposal:

1. Is your book really needed?

Authors often write books that they feel people need to read, but that does not mean people will read them. More and more people are getting cancer, recovering from mental illness, overcoming addictions, or getting sick of the economy every year, but there are already 1,001 books on these subjects. Why is yours different? What makes your book especially compelling? If you have teenage children or nieces and nephews, pitch your book to them and gauge their interest –you’ll receive the same response from the marketplace.

2. Is your book tightly focused?

Too many people want to write a world-as-I-see-it-and-how-it-should-be type of book in  which  they comment on all aspects of a particular subject. These sprawling works hold little appeal for most book buyers. Readers don’t want a grand vision or blueprint for a new government or economy or behavioral model, unless you are an influential world leader who has the clout to make these changes happen. Exhaustive books are just that–exhausting. If you can’t sum up your book’s core premise in two sentences, it’s too scattered.

3. Who is the audience for your book?

Don’t look for overly general markets and say that your book is “for everyone concerned about “the environment,” ” democracy,” or “spirituality.” In nonfiction, there is no such thing as a general reader. Be specific and carve out a niche for which a sizable yet specific audience exists. No one walks into a bookstore and asks for a book about “something that could be for everyone.”

4. Are your qualifications, background, and knowledge directly related to your subject?

There are doctors who write about politics, politicians who write about economics, and economists who write about spirituality. The problem is that these people lack the qualifications and professional consulting and speaking experience in the subject they are writing about. Are professional qualifications the only measure of authority on a subject? No, but if you needed surgery, would you go with someone who has conducted a lot of independent research and learned a lot about medicine or a board-certified surgeon? You can disregard everything above if you are a celebrity, which explains why Tori Spelling can write a New York Times bestseller about parenting.

5. What are the competing titles?

This question is related to question number 1. Who else has written on this subject and what other books are already out there? How does your book differ–again, in a compelling way–from those? Be realistic and don’t list books by Elizabeth Gilbert, Deepak Chopra, Thomas Friedman, and Malcolm Gladwell as competing titles, unless you are as famous as they are. Then again, if you’re famous, you can write about anything you want.

6. What will the length be and how will the book look?

Be aware of parameters that affect your book. Books are getting shorter, so you will run up against more reservations once you pass the 200-page mark. (Book pages are different from 250-word manuscript pages.) Color photographs and other graphic elements increase the costs for most publishers, so they will have to price the book higher to recoup costs. Inserts such as CDs or other materials also drive up costs. Be mindful of factors like these.

7. How will you actively market and support the book?

Books don’t launch movements; movements launch books. A book doesn’t launch an author’s career and build visibility; an author’s career and visibility are what launch a book, so don’t expect a book to kick-start your career. Don’t tell a publisher you are available to write articles, speak at events, and engage in other promotional efforts. You should already be writing, speaking, and consulting. Have an audience ready to buy your book before you start it so you have a base you can market and sell it to.

A Final Suggestion

Be careful when making assumptions about publishers and how publishing works. Publishing is an industry unlike any other, and the rules that govern other businesses don’t apply. Learn the lesson that Borders learned. The company’s last five CEOs did not have a publishing background and tried to run the company like their previous businesses. What could have worked wonders in other arenas drove a great store to bankruptcy.

 

To subscribe to Berrett-Koehler’s excellent newsletter, visit www.bkpub.com.

 

The goal of the blog is to help you and me understand writing and publishing. Rants, comments, questions, and answers most appreciated.

The 10th San Francisco Writers Conference/A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 14-17, 2013/www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / http://sfwriters.org/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/www.sfwritersu.com/sfwritersu@gmail.com/@SFWritersU

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Collaboration: The 7th C to Becoming a Successful Writer in a Hyper-Connected World

Elizabeth and I just got back from two weeks in France, which gave me the chance to read one of the most important bestsellers of this young century: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. It provides a comprehensive perspective on America’s four largest problems and how to update our five-step formula for national greatness so we can play the role only America can and for which the world depends on us.

The World at Your Fingertips

One reason the book is essential for writers is its vision of a hyper-connected world. Two billion people are already on the Web, many using the 4.5 billion cell phones for the planet’s 6.8
billion people. Smartphones explode your potential for connecting, creating, and collaborating. They are already transforming the world. You can get online on the top of Mt. Everest. By the end of the decade, most of the people on the planet will have smartphones that will be even more amazing at delivering all media all the time anywhere.

You are writing for a hyper-connected world. This offers you vast opportunities for reaching a growing worldwide audience in as many forms, media, and countries as you wish. To be a successful writer in a hyper-connected world, you need to be a one-person, multimedia, multinational conglomerate. This requires a large continually growing team of collaborators,
online and off. In Part 4 of my six posts on “The 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age,” I mentioned collaboration in the section on “Contentpreneuring.” But reading That Used to Be Us made me appreciate how essential collaborating is to every part of the writing and publishing process and why its importance will continue to grow. I think we will see more authors, like Friedman and Mandelbaum, collaborate to take advantage of both their combined craft, creativity, and ability to promote their work, and the growing opportunities to profit from it, but most authors will continue to write their books alone.

9 Ways Collaborate on Your Success

Once you finish your manuscript or proposal, the rest of the process requires collaborating with

  • early readers, a critique group, or a freelance editor
  • an agent, if you use one, on prepping and selling your book
  • an editor on preparing, publishing, and promoting your book
  • the rest of the house on your book’s success
  • your communities of fans, writers, and publishing professionals on building word of mouth and mouse
  • the media to develop effective appearances
  • co-agents to help you sell the subsidiary rights you keep, such as film and foreign rights that create more opportunities for collaboration
  • pros who can help you develop your book for other media such as apps, if you have electronic rights
  • organizations that can offer you speaking engagements

You and your communities will help each other. You can barter for goods and services, partner with professionals, and hire virtual assistants. Be creative and resourceful in choosing the best people and tools to get a job done. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the challenges, just do your best, and you’ll get better at it, and benefit from your efforts.  Collaborating will be a continual learning process, but the Web has opened a world of possibilities, and I hope you will make the most of them.

(A money-back guarantee: If you read That Used to Be Us and feel I wasted your time, I will happily refund what you pay for it. Just send the receipt and tell me where I went wrong.)

[Formatting anomalies not in draft. Suggestions welcome.]

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community /February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com /415-673-0939 / http://sfwriters.org/blog / @SFWC / http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, CA 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / sfwritersu@gmail.com / @SFWritersU

 

 

 

We are all Egyptians: Writing on the Square

We Are All Egyptians: Writing on the Square

Egypt is in the square.

–author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on Charlie Rose

I just watched the most moving interview I’ve ever seen: Charlie Rose interviewing Thomas Friedman in Cairo about the revolution. It had tremendous immediacy and even more hope.

Predicting what will happen is impossible, but Friedman sees what’s happening as a growing, authentic, bottom-up revolution involving all parts of Egyptian society from the poor to the wealthy, demonstrating in Tahrir Square. No one is controlling the revolution, and no one knows where it’s going, but for that reason, it’s the most amazing, exciting event on the planet. The revolution is being televised around the world. If you’re not an oppressor, you’re in the square cheering for freedom, holding up humorous signs, helping ot prevent violence, and reading the newspaper the protesters publish.

After I wrote these words,  Mubarak stepped down! The people won! What a victory for Egypt and for humanity! It’s the fourth of July in Liberation Square. (Tahrir means liberation.) It will inspire oppressed people everywhere, including the United States.

If the revolution leads to democracy, it will be one of history’s greatest moments. Who knows what other countries will throw off their oppressors?

Overthrowing an autocrat who had been ruling for thirty years in eighteen days with relatively few casualties. Hope without government is better than government without hope, but let us hope that America’s example will help Egyptians make the transition to the democratic government for which they’re struggling. The military has vowed to help ensure an election that reflects the will of the people.

Watch the interview if you can, but prepare to shed a tear. Friedman quoted the president of Stanford Research Institute who said that “What comes from the top is dumb and slow; what comes from the bottom is smart and chaotic.” But it’s also authentic.

As Egypt reinvents itself, now is an opportunity for you to think about how you can liberate and reinvent yourself so you’re living in harmony with the only person you were born to be. If you have to, start your own revolution.

What’s coming up from your bottom? What revolution do you need in how you think about yourself, your life, and your future? People and institutions tend to change only when change is less painful than the status quo. But yo don’t have to wait until then.

Your revolution probably won’t have to have anything to do with politics, although everything, including doing nothing, is political. But it should have everything to do with being the best writer and author you can be by serving your readers as well as you can. That’s all you can do, but it’s enough.

The revolution has unleashed a torrent of repressed creativity. May it do as much for you. It’s time to join the Egyptians in the square, which, for the moment, is the Earth’s beating heart. Find the authentic center of your life and celebrate being alive.

The Big Bang Theory of Writing, Publishing and Technology

The new frontier lies not beyond the planets, but within each one of us.

–Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Biodynamics

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.

–historian Arnold Toynbee

There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate….[We need parents who] elevate learning at the most important life skill.

–Thomas Friedman, New York Times (11/21)

Critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating effectively, and collaborating; all essential skills for writers as well as students. And if learning is the most important life skill, writers have to be perpetual students as well as teachers.

Technology’s Gifts to Writers

The ability to string words together that have the desired effect is a gift as well as a craft. Writing that delivers the value the author intended is a gift to readers worth more than what, if anything, they pay to read it. But technology is also giving priceless gifts to writers, among them the opportunities to

  • learn about anything on the Web instantly.
  • keep up to the minute on new developments.
  • write about more subjects. 
  • making your work immediately accessible to readers around the world.
  • find agents and publishers.
  • promote and profit from your work and your services in a grow number of ways.
  • communicate in the media your audience prefers.
  • collaborate with people around the world.
  • create and maintain communities of writers, fans, and people to help you.
  • accomplish these things without leaving your desk.

How to Thrive in a New Universe

The advent of technology was the Big Bang of a new universe that continues to voyage outward at an accelerating rate. Nobody’s in charge of it; no one knows where it’s going; and no one understands what it means. Publishing is a rapidly spinning planet in the media galaxy of that universe.

What does this mean to you as a writer? How can you plan a future that’s as full of uncertainty as it is opportunity? What do you need to do and have to thrive as a writer?

You need to

  • develop the crafts of writing, storytelling, and communicating online and off.
  • have literary, publishing, and financial goals that keep you passionate and motivated.
  • be a contentpreneur who keeps generating new work, balances commerce and creativity, is responsive to the markeplace, and takes responsibility for your success.
  • keep figuring out the fastest, most productive ways to use technology.
  • build the communities you need.
  • build your visibility while test-marketing your books.
  • promote your work and yourself.
  • stay committed to your future.

What an exciting time to be alive! Discover your future on the frontier of your unexplored potential. Find the stories and ideas that you must share with your unique voice, and give them to the world. And endowed with the gifts technology provides, you will thrive in this amazing new universe.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / Indie Publishing Contest / www.sfwriters.org  / sfwriterscon@aol.com / blog: http://sfwriters.org/blog / twitter: @SFWC /
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / free MP3s at www.sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com / sfwritersu@gmail.com

Growing a Tribe of Believers

All the great things that have been achieved in the world have been achieved by individuals, working from the instinct of genius or of goodness.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A recent Thomas Friedman article in the New York Times quoted Curtis Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International: “This is the best time ever for innovation for three reasons:

First, although competition is increasingly intense, our global economy opens up huge new market opportunities.

Second, most technologies — since they are increasingly based on ideas and bits and not on atoms and muscle — are improving at rapid, exponential rates.

And third, these two forces — huge, competitive markets and rapid technological change — are opening up one major new opportunity after another. It is a time of abundance, not scarcity — assuming we do the right things with a real national growth strategy. If we do not, it rapidly becomes a world of scarcity.”

Friedman’s column was about kick-starting new businesses, but change “markets” to “media” and “growth strategy” to “strategy for change,” and you have the reason for the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference. The world has abundant needs, and the creative, passionate, dedicated people it needs to meet them.  What people need is the vision and leadership to mobilize the will to do what we must to ensure the future we want.

This is where writers come in. Writers have the opportunity to be the voices, visionaries, mentors, consciences, and inspiration for change. They can summon us to our highest selves. It is easier than ever to

* Reach readers around the world online with a blog, articles, videos, podcasts, interviews, and comments on what others write

* Grow a tribe of believers who share your goals and help you achieve them

* Use your writing to change the country and the world

The larger and older an organization, business, or institution is, the harder it is to change. That’s why we can’t rely on government, business, or religion. Non-profits are helping, but they are limited in what they can accomplish.

Americans are open to new ideas. They’re pragmatic about abandoning what fails for what works. United by the same needs, problems, desires, and the willingness to do the right thing, Americans will accept change.

Facebook exploded from an idea to 500,000,000 users in six years.  You cannot stop an idea whose time has come.  What’s needed is a barrage of ideas, forcefully and eloquently presented in all media with urgency and relentless determination, tempered with compassion for the human condition.  

Anyone can participate at any level in this transformation. The author James Baldwin wrote: “The hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself.” There is no time to lose. Start making demands.

The San Francisco Writing for Change Conference will take place, Saturday and Sunday, November 13 and 14, 2010 at the Hilton Financial District. The keynoters will be Dan Millman, author of The Way of Peaceful Warrior, and John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, www.sfwritingforchange.org.