What Do Editors Want? The Five Things to Include in Your Business Book Proposal

Our editors see business book proposals every day–some great, some bad, some…interesting. Senior Editor Stephen S. Power would rather see the great, so he’ll be writing a blog series to help business book authors make it so. Here’s his inaugural post on what editors want.

Editors have the best job in the world: We’re encouraged to buy as many books as we can with other people’s money, and we get to read them first. So when we receive a new proposal, our consideration switch is already set to “accept,” and there’s nothing more awful than feeling the switch flip to “reject.” Here, then, are the five things to include in your business book or proposal to prevent that from happening.

  1. New research. Why are The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Good to Great, Capitalism in the 21st Century, The Power of Habit, and Thinking, Fast and Slow bestselling classics? All are based on bold new research applied to the concerns of everyday life and written in layman’s terms by the people, in most cases, who conducted it. Indicate the new studies and objective findings that support your points, and don’t rely only on anecdotal evidence about anonymized people you’ve worked with.
  1. A quantifiable following. When publishers ask about an author’s platform, what they mean is, How large is your following? It’s not how many Twitter followers you have, for instance, that’s important; it’s how many who are engaging with your tweets. Publishers want to know how many people are waiting to read a book by you—and how many of those want to read one on the topic you’re writing about. By quantifying your following, you will size your immediate market and make your proposal more attractive.
  1. A defined market. Who will buy your book: leaders? Managers? HR professionals? Entrepreneurs? A book that’s for everyone is for no one at all. It would also be tough to package because books for C-suiters, for example, tend to be hardcovers while books for managers tend to be paperbacks. Worse, it would be tough to slot the book in stores because it wouldn’t sit easily on any shelf. Even if your book has crossover appeal to several markets, it should be written for one specifically. Go to a bookstore and determine what shelf in the business section your book would sit on best, given the topic, and then aim your book at that shelf.
  1. A defined problem. The nice thing about doing business books, unlike, say, fiction, is that they are generally prescriptive. Someone has a problem, recognizes the problem, and (we hope) looks for a book that will solve their problem. The recognition of the problem is key. Lots of authors want to write books with information people should know, but no one likes castor oil: people buy books on what they must know. So: concisely define the problem your book solves (and for whom), offer data that demonstrate how wide-ranging and important the problem is, and provide an easy, step-by-step solution.
  1. Authority. Stores want business books by authors who’ve been in business or who have academic business credentials, so your professional credentials must support the book you want to write.

As much as they want books, editors need the right books by the right people at the right time. These five elements will show that your book fits the bill.

Stephen S Power author pic


STEPHEN S. POWER is a senior editor at AMACOM and author of The Dragon Round (Simon & Schuster July 2016). See his recent posts for the AMACOM blog here.


2 responses to “What Do Editors Want? The Five Things to Include in Your Business Book Proposal

  1. Pingback: A Million Tiny Links – Stephen S. Power

  2. Pingback: What DON’T Editors Want? | AMACOM Books Blog

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