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10 Surefire Ways to Get Your Book Proposal Rejected

By Patricia L. Fry

Every hopeful author who has conducted even minimal research into the publishing process knows the term book proposal. And most authors shudder at the thought of writing one. I did when I was just starting out in this business. As soon as I realized that publishing IS a business, however, I understood the importance of writing a book proposal. A book is a product, after all, and a book proposal is a business plan for that book.

But what if you've written a book proposal and, still, you've been rejected by eighty-five publishers? Maybe you need to take a second look at that proposal. Perhaps you've committed one or more author's deadly sins.

Following are some of the most common mistakes perpetuated by hopeful authors today. Avoid these ten mistakes and you have a tremendously greater chance of landing a publisher for your perfect project.

  1. Do not tell the publisher his business. In other words, don't say, "You really must add this book to your list if you hope to be successful." Or "This book will make you rich." Rather than putting the hard sell on the publisher, demonstrate your manuscript's worth through a well-organized book proposal.
  2. Don't threaten the publisher. It will do you no good to say, "If you don't buy my book, I will kill myself." Or "You're missing the book of the century if you pass on this one." Instead, provide him with pertinent details which clearly demonstrate the value of your book project.
  3. Don't claim that your book contains no mistakes. Have you ever picked up a book that had no mistakes? I don't think it is humanly (or even mechanically) possible to produce a book without a mistake. And from what I'm told by publishers, many authors who claim to have hired a professional editor for their books, have been taken for a ride. So make sure that you hire a reputable editor before submitting your book proposal or manuscript to a publisher or agent. Strive for perfection.
  4. Avoid saying that everyone will buy your book. Statements such as this serve to demonstrate your amateur status. You may hope that everyone will buy your book, but this is an unrealistic expectation. A publisher will be more impressed by an author who has done his homework and is quite clear as to the segment of the population who is likely to purchase a book of this sort.
  5. Don't claim that this is the only book of its kind. This, too, implies that you're an amateur. A well-organized book proposal includes a competitive analysis of books similar to the one you propose. The purpose of this section is to demonstrate a need for your book. If there is nothing to compare it with, how will you convince the publisher of it's worth? If you can't find other books just like it, dig deeper, my friend. Evaluate popular books from the same category and point out the similarities and the differences. Publishers want facts and figures not wishful thinking.
  6. Do not state that this is the only book you'll ever write. Publishers prefer working with authors who are likely to produce more than one good book. If your book is successful and you are a pleasure to work with, the publisher would just as soon accept another book from you than someone unknown to him.
  7. Don't reveal that you've been working on the book for the last 25 years. There is nothing impressive in the fact that you have not been able to complete a 12-month project in over two decades.
  8. Do not try to bribe the publisher. Unless you can offer the publisher an impressively large sum of money or a vacation home in the Bahamas, don't bother to entice his favor through bribery.
  9. Don't contract with an unprofessional, unqualified agent. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. What is a bad agent? One who charges you for her services, who either sends your manuscript to publishers who are inappropriate for the project or doesn't send it out at all and who does not maintain reasonable communication with you. Choose an agent who is appropriate for your project and who is sanctioned by the Association of Author's Representatives (
  10. Never try to write a book without first writing a book proposal. I tell people that the first step to writing a book is to write a book proposal. Without a book proposal, you are at risk of using the wrong slant for your book and/or writing for the wrong audience. Of course, there are two types of authors—those who have something to say and who are going to say it regardless of whether anyone ever reads the book and those who want to be widely read. Let your expectations be your guide. If you are the former, do it your way. If you are the latter, you'll have a greater chance for success if you'll follow industry protocol. And this means, write a book proposal as a first step to writing a nonfiction or fiction book.

Your excellent, honest, thoroughly researched book proposal is your key to success. Publishers today are more interested in the marketability of your project than your writing skill. They need you to identify your target audience and explain how to reach them. They want to know about your competition. A well-organized, complete book proposal will help to sell a publisher on your project.

Writing a book proposal is not a walk in the park. But once you've completed it, you can go take that walk in the park. If you avoid the ten mistakes listed above, you may not have time to take a walk because you'll be too busy showing off copies of your new book.

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