Tag Archives: Author Tips

What DON’T Editors Want?

In this post, Senior Editor Stephen S. Power continues his quest to improve the global state of business book proposals. Read on to improve yours.

Last month I wrote about the five things editors want to see in a book proposal. This month I’ll give you five elements and ideas I’d prefer not to see.

Let me say upfront: I feel somewhat bad about writing this post. I strongly believe that writers shouldn’t self-reject; plus, like all editors, I’m primed to give everything a chance. I’d rather love and lose than never love at all, and I really hate losing. So, here are five elements that can hurt your chances with publishers—and ways each can be turned around in your favor. Please take them in the same spirit in which Mrs. Scalera told my AP English Literature class we should take her red pencil: not as blood, but as valentine.


  1. Sterling’s Gold. On Mad Men, Roger Sterling publishes a memoir about his life in advertising called Sterling’s Gold that he can’t even give away because no one cares about his career. Similarly, many business people want to write about their own careers, especially their secrets to success, but that success rarely comes with a waiting readership. Sadly, the vast majority of these books fail, even though they might be well-written and interesting.

The irony, of course, is that Grove/Atlantic actually published the fictional book Sterling’s Gold because many people in the real world do care about Roger’s career.

Turnaround: Instead of making yourself the subject of your book, write about a problem in your field that your target readers have and that you are best positioned to solve, given your expertise.


  1. “Change is happening, now faster than ever.” I reject any proposal that uses this cliché, often as an opener, because it smacks of alarmism and uncritical thinking. In addition, the change that is happening usually remains nebulous or so all encompassing as to be meaningless and, worse, unmarketable.

Turnaround:  Ask yourself: What, specifically, is changing (or soon will), what and who is causing the change, what specific problems is this change causing for others, and why are you the one to solve those problems? Specificity will give your proposal a better hook and a more clearly defined audience. For a model, turn to Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford, which is seriously alarming.


  1. Bestselling competition. Proposals should have a list of competing titles so editors can see how your book will fit on the shelf—and you imagine your book fits on the shelf. Too often authors put down a list of bestsellers such as books by Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink, as if their huge audiences will come to the authors’ books too because they’re on the same subject. This is the equivalent of a first-time fantasy novelist saying their manuscript is comparable to Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. It smacks of hubris and, more importantly, a limited grasp of a book’s market. And don’t get me started on those proposals that claim to “build on the work of Gladwell and Pink…”

Turnaround: Using Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature, find the books that are most similar to yours in subject and approach and whose authors have platforms and credentials most similar to yours. Look at the books customers who bought those books also bought, and so on. This will quickly give you a list of 3-5 books that yours should be compared to in your proposal. Then revise your proposal as necessary to create a better, more saleable book.


  1. “This book is for everyone.” Which means it’s for no one, however long your bulleted list of potential audiences is.

Turnaround. You may think your book is for managers, leaders, HR professionals, general business owners, entrepreneurs and students, but you have to pick one and the write the book for them alone. Let their concerns dominate and use examples relative to their businesses. This will also help stores shelve the book because the business section is divided up audience. If others come to the book, great—for instance, I’m not in advertising, but I frequently use something I learned from Ogilvy on Advertising—but want to start with a target audience.


  1. Cod liver oil. No one likes cod liver oil, however good it supposedly is for them. Similarly, no one will spend $25 for a prescriptive book simply because the author feels they should know, nay, must know its information. They’ll only buy the book if they both need the information and recognize their need for it. Unsurprisingly, academics make this argument most of all.

Turnaround: If you have information that people should know, couch it in terms of their interests as opposed to your own, however different.

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.



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.


Author & Editor Stephen S. Power on 5 Ways Writers Can Pass the Hemingway Test

Dragon Round cover.jpgThe following is a guest post from AMACOM Senior Editor Stephen S. Power, author of the recently published The Dragon Round!


In his essay, “The Art of the Short Story,” Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit.” A lot of writers of both fiction and nonfiction fail that test, though, because they can’t edit themselves.

Why? They fall in love with their words. They can’t bear to cut something they invested money and time in researching and writing. They’re afraid to question what they’ve written lest it fall to pieces. They’ve reached “the end” and think they’re done.

As a book editor for more than twenty years, I’ve been often baffled by these attitudes. If writers truly loved their words, valued their investment in a project, and considered their work sound, how could they not want to break their manuscripts down and inspect each part to make sure everything fit together smoothly? (As for thinking a work is done, only a rank amateur believes that. A real writer knows a work is never done, just published.)

As a first-time novelist, though, I now completely understand them. When I was writing The Dragon Round, a fantasy novel published this month by Simon & Schuster, I clogged the action with pointless scenes and unnecessary exposition, slowed the pace with overly ornate sentences, and figured plot holes would magically fill themselves if I just ignored them long enough. Only by deliberately establishing some distance between me and my manuscript could I put on my editor hat and fix the novel.

Here are the five editorial techniques that I found work best when trying to pass the Hemingway test:

  1. Print your manuscript.

I write in Google Docs. I love being able to write wherever I happen to be without having to worry about managing different versions of a work saved on different devices. I edit, though, on the page. Scribbling is a totally different type of play than what the computer allows. It’s easier to cross things out and take notes. And I can lay out 2, 4, 8, however many pages I want and see the full scope of a scene, something impossible on the screen.

(Note to Google: Multiple page view would be a nice addition to Docs.)

  1. Put your work away.

Every author goes to sleep a genius and wakes up a moron because even eight hours away from a manuscript can take the bloom of the rose of your writing. So when you reach the end of a piece, close the document and go mow the lawn. Or vacuum, which is like mowing the floor. Don’t think about the piece either. Soon you’ll feel like someone else wrote it, which will make it easier to tear apart.

  1. Change rooms.

According to an experiment I read about, walking through a doorway scrubs your short term memory. By changing rooms, then, you’ll drain yourself of all the alternative paths you didn’t choose, the words you didn’t use, and the material you’ve already discarded. Then you can attack the manuscript fresh, without any preconceived notions or regrets.

This technique also works if you’re stuck or feel burned out.

  1. Read your manuscript backwards.

To prepare for tournaments, the golfing great Ben Hogan walked courses backwards because that let him  determine where the course designer wanted balls to land to set up the next shot, such as an approach to a green. Similarly, reading your work backwards divorces you from the flow of your argument or narrative and forces you to consider each sentence and paragraph on its own. In addition, reading backwards enables you to question whether you’ve set up material correctly, that is, do your effects have proper causes, your conclusions enough evidence?

This technique also works for proofreading, especially spellchecking.

  1. Retype your work.

In the days before computers, the need to retype each draft forced authors to reconsider every word they’d written, and the time it took to retype incentivized them to terminate unnecessary words with extreme prejudice. Now, thanks to computers, whole blocks of text can float from one draft to the next without writers having any call to question whether they work as well as they might or even still belong. So when you rewrite, do so literally. Start with a blank page and recreate.

Finally, one caution: Don’t edit as you write. You don’t want to inhibit yourself. Let your words flow, knowing that with these five techniques you can fix, tighten and hone later when you edit.

About the AuthorStephen S Power author pic

Stephen S. Power is a senior editor here at AMACOM, the publishing arm of the American Management Association, and the author of the fantasy novel The Dragon Round, which is published by Simon & Schuster and available here. His short fiction has appeared most recently in AE, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online, and he has stories forthcoming in Amazing Stories, Deep Magic and Lightspeed. He tweets at @stephenspower, his site is stephenspower.com, and his home is in Maplewood, NJ.


Shawn Murphy on the Beliefs at the Heart of Workplace Optimism

Murphy,ShawnIs your company suffering from chronic, pervasive negativity? Don’t lose hope! “However demotivating your climate, the good news is you can positively shift what your employees experience at work,” assures Shawn Murphy, business consultant and author of THE OPTIMISTIC WORKPLACE: Creating an Environment that Energizes Everyone (AMACOM October 2015). “You can position employees to believe that work is a bright spot in their life.” As he shares, creating a positive work climate takes embracing these essential beliefs:

  • The team is more important than any individual. It’s a fact of neuroscience: our brains are wired to think about the thoughts, feelings, and goals of other people. Working as a team to achieve desired outcomes makes people feel good about work. “For optimism to be strong, a cohesive team is vital,” Murphy declares. He urges business leaders to avoid relying on the usual suspects, the same few superstars, to handle high-profile projects.
  • There’s value to experiencing joy at work. Joy can open brains to better see connections and various options to solve work problems. In a joyful workplace, people are more likely to contribute their best. Known for its joy-making philosophy, Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has made Inc. magazine’s fastest growing U.S. companies list multiple times. “Expressing joy is simple,” Murphy states. “Give a proud smile when a team member does great work. Celebrate reaching key project milestones or momentous occasions in an employee’s life—buying a new house or having a baby, for example.”
  • Doing good is good for business. It’s not just about philanthropy. When leaders adopt business practices that contribute to improving employees’ lives, business prospers. For example, BambooHR, a software development company based in Utah, has an antiworkaholic policy. The small start-up has found that when its team members have time to pursue personal interests, they are more productive and satisfied at work. “Implement a policy banning team members from emailing other about business on weekends,” Murphy suggests.
  • Relationships with employees need to be richer. Relationships are central to cooperation, collaboration, and successful outcomes. Take, for instance, the remarkable 2014 events at Market Basket, a 73-store grocery chain based in Massachusetts. When the board of directors ousted the company’s CEO and steward, Arthur T. Demoulas, in favor of his bottom-line driven cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, employees responded by orchestrating a massive boycott. Strong relationships between employees, suppliers, and customers resulted in a collaborative effort that restored a beloved CEO and saved a company.
  • Work should align with purpose and meaning. Why does work matter to your team members? For workplace optimism to thrive, organizational leaders must strive to find the answer to that question and then continually invest in making sure that work remains meaningful. “A focus on financial motivators blinds leaders from helping employees do work that matters,” Murphy stresses.
  • Leaders need to actualize human potential. Luck Companies, an aggregate business headquartered just outside of Richmond, Virginia, believes, to quote CEO Charlie Luck, that “all human beings have extraordinary potential to make a positive difference in the world.” For Luck, this belief shapes how its leaders treat one another, develop their associates, and spread the message globally. “Actualizing human potential puts the spirit into workplace optimism,” Murphy asserts, inspiring business leaders to put this belief into action.

OptimisticWorkplaceAdapted from THE OPTIMISTIC WORKPLACE: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone by Shawn Murphy (AMACOM October 2015).

SHAWN MURPHY is a thought leader, inspirational speaker, and independent consultant recognized by Inc. magazine and The Huffington Post for his contributions to creating optimistic work climates and the type of leadership needed for them. He is the CEO and co-founder of Switch & Shift, an organization dedicated to developing and advancing human-centered organizational practices.

Shawn has 20 years’ of experience working to cultivate optimism in workplace climates, as both a Fortune 100 company insider and an advisor to forward-thinking government agencies. When not consulting, he can often be found in the classroom teaching, speaking to audiences, or interviewing top thought leaders on his Work That Matters podcast.

Discovering Hidden Opportunities to Move

A grueling hour at the gym after work? Forty minutes on the treadmill every morning? Who has that kind of time for exercise? Hardly anyone. That’s why, after months or mere weeks of struggling to stick to a prescribed regimen, lots of people get discouraged and stop exercising at all. A behavioral sustainability scientist, Dr. Michelle Segar believes that exercise doesn’t have to be a rigid, draining endurance test to do a body—and mind and spirit—good. “Everything counts,” she stresses. “Every bit of movement you do is adding to your health, fitness, and joie de vivre,” she assures people of all activity levels. “You can find numerous gifts of movement every day in your own life. You just have to look around to discover where they are.”

As Dr. Segar shares in her new book, NO SWEAT: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness (AMACOM; June 11, 2015), seizing on opportunities to move throughout the day can be fun. Examples to spark ideas include:

  • The Long Cut: Yes, it’s simply the opposite of the shortcut—strategically planning the longer walking route to a destination to increase time spent moving. You can take the Long Cut anywhere—to work, while shopping. Just by parking your car a little further from your destination, you can build in a round-trip of ten or more minutes of movement.
  • The Phone Moment: Walk your talk! When you’re talking on your cell phone, get up and move around, go up and down stairs, or take a walk around the block. During the work day, you can even have a walking meeting over the phone. A movement break works wonders to free up the mind for creativity.
  • Active Waiting: When your kids are playing organized sports or practicing karate, why sit around waiting? Walk around the perimeter of the playing field or, if your kids are taking an indoor class, the closest street. Consider asking another parent to join you. You don’t have to miss your child’s entire game or class. Do twenty minutes of Active Waiting and then come back and watch.
  • The Couple’s Cruise: It’s lovely to walk, hand in hand, with your partner. Consider dinner and a walk instead of dinner and movie. If you have young kids, explore switching off with a neighbor or hire a sitter. A Couple’s Cruise before or after dinner can be very intimate—healthy for your relationship and your bodies.
  • The Boogie Break: Need a break and energy boost? Whether in the privacy of your office or home, pick a song, put on earphones, and get down, get down, get down! This is an amazing way to get a lot of energy, loosen up, and lift your mood. Just think Ellen DeGeneres and start dancing!
  • Family Fun: Tossing a ball, playing tag, swimming, skating—you can do all sorts of physical activities with family members. Family Fun can be as structured as a bike ride taken together as raucous as a backyard game of tetherball or as simple as a leisurely walk around the block to transition into nighttime. Consider pairing up a child and parent for special activities. It’s a great way to bond.
  • Office Sprints: Working in an office doesn’t have to mean sitting all day. Get up from your chair and stretch periodically. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Or just use the stairs as an in-house gym any time you need quick a break. Instead of sitting at your desk, try standing up and working. Standing desks—and even very, very slow treadmills to use while standing and working—are becoming a popular option in a number of offices.
  • Cleaning Calisthenics: Anyone who has ever pushed a vacuum knows that it provides exercise. Household chores count as valid physical movement, so take advantage of the opportunities doing them can present. For example: build in additional trips to the laundry room, carrying smaller loads to get more movement in. Count yourself lucky if you have stairs in your house!
  • The Leisurely Stroll. Strolling—not power-walking, not counting the blocks or tracking your mileage, just enjoying the city—is relaxing and great exercise. Perfected by the Europeans, it’s a totally underappreciated activity that you can do alone or with others. Instead of meeting a friend to talk at a café, grab your coffee or tea to go and head out for a stroll. You can catch-up and window-shop.
  • The Movement Snack. When you’re not quite ready for a meal but your stomach is growling, you reach for a snack to tide you over. You can do exactly the same thing with exercise. When your body is sending you the message to move but you don’t have the full thirty or forty minutes available, you can still grab a five- or ten-minute refresher. Grab a bite whenever you can! Remember, when it comes to movement for your health and well-being, everything counts!

Adapted from NO SWEAT (AMACOM, June 2015).

MICHELLE L. SEGAR is a behavioral sustainability scientist and Director of the Sport, Health, & Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center at the University of Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and Master’s degrees in Health Behavior and Kinesiology. A sought-after advisor, her expertise has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Elle, Prevention, and other major media.