Tag Archives: Stephen S. Power

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.