The following is a guest post by Executive Editor Christina Parisi on common turn-offs encountered in book proposals.
1. Not being qualified to write the book you are proposing. One of the first things I do in evaluating a proposal is look at the author’s credentials. Does he have enough experience to be a credible source of information? Is her experience impressive enough that the media will want to talk to her? And the flip side of this is, does she have anything in her background or experience that detracts from her credibility? For example, if you are writing a book on persuasion and you have a background in advertising, that might be good. If you are using your experience in marketing junk bonds as evidence you are a pro at influencing others, not so good.
2. Exaggerating your platform. Don’t claim a fabulous Twitter following if you have only 20 followers. Platform is really important in most nonfiction books, but not for every book or every topic, so give a realistic impression of who you are and what your reach is.
3. Having unrealistic expectations. Examples of this are: “My book on supply chain is perfect for Good Morning America,” “I won’t accept anything less than a six-figure advance,” “Please let me know ASAP if you are interested in publishing my book because I need it out by next month,” or it could be as simple as, “I am keen to publish my book so I can quit my job and retire.”
4. Asking me what you should write. Once we have an established working relationship we can have this kind of conversation because I will know your strengths and interests. But if I’m looking for a book on hiring an employee and you’ve been an HR hiring manager for 20 years, that does not mean we are on our way to signing a contract. The best books flow from your point of view, your experience, and your voice. If you are not passionate about the project and don’t have something only you can uniquely say, the writing will come off flat and forced. Besides, why would you want to spend all that time writing a book unless you were passionate about it?
5. Sending an inappropriate topic for our program. It requires some work on the part of the author to determine what kinds of books an imprint publishes, but it also takes a lot of work for us to evaluate unsolicited manuscripts. If you want us to take you seriously, please do your homework. Imprints change the areas they publish to meet market demand. Don’t assume that because AMACOM has published parenting books in the past that we are currently publishing parenting books. (We are not, though who knows, we could change again in the future.) To find out what a publisher is currently looking for, you should look at their site and their postings in publications such as Writer’s Market.
These are not exactly turnoffs, but they aren’t much help either…
6. Including only bestsellers as competition. Some authors think that listing only bestsellers, even if they have very little to do with the subject of the book, will convince editors that their books will also be bestsellers. Actually, it generally makes the editor wonder whether the author has realistic expectations, and whether they understand how their book fits into the market as a whole.
7. Claiming there are no competitive books. Other authors think it will improve their chances of getting published if they claim there has never been another book out there on the topic. Not only is this highly unusual, it only takes a minute (or less) for the editor to discover this is not true with a quick search on any online bookseller. Search for competitive books on an online bookseller and choose the most recent or bestselling titles from your search.
8. Forecasting audience size based on statistics. This kind of argument goes something like this: “There are more than 500,000 certified project managers worldwide, and thousands more who are not certified. If only two percent buy my book…” This is not how it works in the real world. Just because they exist does not mean they will buy your book. Clearly identify your audience (in this case project managers) and indicate how you are uniquely positioned to reach this market.
These should be obvious, but alas, they bear repeating…
9. Crashing my computer. Don’t send an extremely large file to my email. Usually this happens when an author has created a jacket for his unpublished book and has a large image file as the first page of the proposal. I have never signed a book based on a proposed book cover and I probably never will. I have, however, been put off by having my email blitzed by files that crash my computer.
10. Making it hard to evaluate your proposal. We provide submission guidelines to help you give us the information we need to evaluate your book. Please follow them—we need all the information requested to do a thorough evaluation.
Christina Parisi is an Executive Editor at AMACOM Books and the Director of AMA Self-Studies. She has been with AMACOM for 12 years and acquires books in management, leadership, training, HR, and general business. For book submission guidelines, see our website.
Earlier posts by Christina: