An acquisitions editor is a specialized editor focused on finding and acquiring new book projects. They are the author’s first contact within the publishing house.
In publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, and there are few, an acquisitions editor will spend a segment of their time reading authors’ manuscripts. In publishing houses that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, they will deal exclusively with literary agents or existing authors. They rely on agents to bring them quality book proposals. In this regard, the agent’s reputation is always on the line.
Once an acquisitions editor finds favor with a book proposal and author, they will champion the project through many different evaluation points including other editors, executives, marketing, legal, and sales. In this regard, the acquisitions editor’s reputation is ultimately always on the line as well.
An advance on royalties is a payment made by the publisher to the author immediately upon the signing of the book contract and is offset against your future royalties resulting from the sale of your book. Those future royalties are not paid to you until they exceed the amount advanced to you.
For example: an author may sell a book’s license to a publisher in return for 10% royalties on sales of the book and a $10,000 advance against those royalties. In this case, the author would immediately receive $10,000, and future royalty payments will be withheld until book sales reached $100,000, after which point the 10% royalty will be paid on any additional sales.
One of the first things a literary agent or acquisitions editor will look for in a book proposal is the Author Platform – the writer’s reputation, marketability, and public visibility. Platform is the term they use to describe the writer’s credibility with the target audience and the ability to reach those readers and cause the sale of the book.
Publishers spend their promotional dollars immediately before and during the initial publication or the “on-shelf date” of the book. If a book takes off during its one- to three-month launch window, the publisher will continue to promote it to sustain the momentum. If the book does not take off, the publisher will move onto the next book. Therefore, an author’s platform is critical to the publisher for it helps ensure the initial and continued success of the book.
Building a platform is crucial for selling a book, but it is also crucial for building a professional career as an academic, entrepreneur, scientist, public speaker, trainer, workshop leader, or corporate spokesperson.
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The Book Concept Summary is a brief plan or outline of your book, purposefully written in a manner that will capture the interest of the literary agent or acquisitions editor. It is a concise, compelling statement of your overall idea or central purpose of the book and the benefit to your target audience. It must convincingly describe why your work is unique and better than other books on that particular topic and why you are the one person qualified to write it.
Your Book Concept Summary will potentially have many uses. It will serve as copy for your query letter to agent/editors, as promotional copy by the agent to pitch acquisitions editors, and as advertising copy for the publisher’s bi-seasonal catalog and dust cover jacket of your book. It might also abstracted for future book reviews or used as a brief descriptor for online book distributors. Take the time to refine and polish your Book Concept Summary so it’s ultimately a creative, concise, and compelling stand-alone document.
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A book proposal is a document that authors send to literary agents or publishers to sell their book concept. Almost 90% of all published books and commissioned at the book proposal stage and not from a finished manuscript.
If you have a great idea for a nonfiction book, the first step is not to write the entire book. Instead, your first effort should be to assemble a book proposal that succinctly and passionately describes:
- Your book concept and structure,
- Why you’re the one qualified to write it,
- Why it will be embraced by a wide audience of readers, and
- How it can be marketed to those readers.
There are three main sections to a winning book proposal: Book Concept (including outline, introduction, and sample chapter), Author Platform, and Marketing & Promotion. These are the three most valuable areas of information to the literary agent and acquisitions editor and in their order of importance.
Learn more and download: The Literary Coach Book Proposal Template
Chapter Abstracts are concise, sequential profiles of each your chapters. The Chapter Abstract is your opportunity to show the literary agent or acquisitions editor that you truly have a command of your book’s topic and that you are prepared to deliver a full manuscript if commissioned to do so. The publisher is speculating that you can and will write the book upon contract, and chapter abstracts will go a long way to alleviating any doubts. Each Chapter Abstract will vary in length (200 to 400 words). Sometimes, less is more, but too brief a synopsis may inadequately represent the chapter and overall project.
Your Chapter Abstracts should portray your voice to the reader. This is a great way to show your writing style to the literary agent or acquisitions editor and assuming that voice will actually help you in the creation of each abstract.
If you have a book idea, it’s safe to assume that many others authors have had the same or near same idea. But don’t let similar books in the marketplace compel you to give up on your idea. Competitive titles simply demonstrate that there is both public and publisher interest in the subject matter.
Research four to six competitive titles and write this section early in your book proposal development process. It will force you to be aware of what’s out there and help you formulate a better book concept. Abstracting competitive titles early will also help you define how and why competition falls short and what your book must do to distinguish itself.
Agent/editors will not acquire a book without doing some research of their own. If, in the course of their research, they discover that you have omitted some key titles, your integrity and your knowledge of the subject may become suspect.
Download Full Audio and Text Essay: Writing the Competitive Section of Your Book Proposal
Most all book writers aspire to have a literary agent represent them. If you’re fortunate enough to have an agent represent you, you should carefully evaluate the terms and conditions of the agreement between you and the agent, including Duration, Scope, Commission, Disbursements, Expenses & Accounting, Powers & Assignments, and Bankruptcy & Death.
Typically, agents receive a 15 percent commission on the books they sell to publishers and everything relating to that book, such as excerpted magazine articles, audio tapes, and films. Different agents do different things for their 15% commission. Agents pitch your book proposal to publishers, try to get you the best deal, and negotiate your contract. They also manage your business affairs with a publisher once the book is sold. Some agents actually edit their clients' book proposals, and give other substantive assistance in its development. Most literary agencies also receive a 20 percent commission on foreign sales because they have to give a portion of the commission to the overseas agent.
One of the major benefits of having a literary agent represent you is their familiarity and credibility with publishers, publishers’ contracts, and negotiating your contract with the publisher. If you don’t have a literary agent and are dealing directly with the publisher, you should have your contract reviewed by an attorney that specializes in contracts and copyrights. Even if you have a literary agent, it may be worth your while to have your contract reviewed by an attorney early in the agreement development process.
When evaluating your contract with a publisher, the most significant things to look for are: Advance Levels, Distribution of Subsidiary Rights, Royalty Rate, Distribution of Advance, Copyright Ownership, Late Manuscript Penalties, Retail Discounts, and Option Clauses.
If you don’t have an agent, be aware that the publisher you’re working with may actually be an on-demand printer or vanity press in disguise.
Publisher’s copy editors correct for errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. They also check the format, length, and completeness of a manuscript. Copy editors, whether employees of the publishing house or free-lancers, will know and follow a publisher's set of rules or “house style” concerning spelling, punctuation, grammar, and many other elements of style. The most important part of any house style is consistency, in style (including punctuation, abbreviation, etc.), spelling, headings, and captions.
A copy editor also acts as a fact checker and must be familiar with the reference works and information sources of the trade. Their responsibility also includes confirming the correct spelling and presentation of names of people, places, and organizations. A copy editor may also ensure that any questionable facts or details cited by the author have been rechecked and confirmed. This last element should be verified with the publisher and noted in your contract with the publisher.
Endorsements, sometimes called “blurbs,” are clever, targeted comments about your book provided by respected authors, journalists, entertainers, and industry experts. They’re one of the strongest sales tools you can have as an author, especially if you have insufficient platform. The endorsers should be relevant to your subject and highly credible to the target audience. Several of these endorsers will ultimately make the back cover of your book.
These short quotes should be gathered and provided in the Marketing & Promotion and Supportive Material sections of your book proposal. It’s far better to have a number of the endorsements actually lined up and prepared in advance than to merely promise them. You should list their title, contact information, and a brief quote that you have permission to use. If you are considering a Foreword for the book, specify which of these endorsers will be willing to provide the Foreword.
Where benefits are the positives your target audience hopes to receive from your book, features are the delivery mechanisms for providing those benefits. Features help deliver benefits and whether benefits are concrete or abstract, the Features of the Book are always described in specifics. If the benefit is losing weight, the feature may be menus; if the benefit is saving money, the feature may be descriptions and links to investment vehicles; if the benefit is increased sales, the feature may be sales leads or end-of-chapter tips on procuring new customers.
The Features of the Book section should outline, in bullet form, how and where this specific and practical information will be included in the book. I recommend listing the Features of the Book immediately following the Reader Benefits section. Features will also give the agent/editor “program aspects,” those marketing ideas that can be used to promote the book.
A foreword is an optional part of a book, usually written by someone other than the author, who communicates to a specific readership why it’s so important to read the book. A foreword declares to the reader the author’s validity and value. A Foreword by someone with name recognition and credibility to the topic of the book is a great way to help an author, with insufficient platform, sell his or her book concept to a literary agent or acquisitions editor.
Publishers love foreword contributors because these luminaries or celebrities help ensure the book’s success. A foreword also helps readers identify themselves as the correct audience, especially if the author is unknown, and builds belief in the importance of the work.
The Introduction is your presentation of yourself and your work to your reader. It is a written promise of the benefits your readers will receive. Authors usually write introductions while luminaries and celebrities write Forewords.
The Introduction is a critical component of your book proposal for it gives the literary agent or acquisitions editor an early indication of your writing ability and serves as a précis of what the entire book will be about. This is also the first demonstration of your voice to your target audience.
Many authors begin their Introduction by telling the reader why they wrote the book. I do not believe people care as much about why an author writes a book as they do about how the book might help them. Write your Introduction as more of a sales tool than a confession or admission. People want to know how your book will guide them, enlighten them, or inspire them.
A literary agent represents book writers to publishers. Most all large publishers will only work with book writers represented by agents. Agents will pitch your book proposal to publishers, try to get you the best deal, and negotiate your contract.
Literary agencies can range in size from a single agent who represents a dozen or so authors in any given year, to larger firms with senior partners, sub-agents, specialists in areas like foreign rights or licensed merchandise tie-ins, and clients numbering in the hundreds. Typically, agents receive a 15 percent commission on the books they sell to publishers and everything relating to that book, such as excerpted magazine articles, audio tapes, and films.
A book writer typically solicits a literary agent through a query letter with SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope). Various agents request different elements in a query packet, and most agencies list their submissions guidelines on their Web site or in their listing in major directories.
Download Full Audio and Text Essay: How to Acquire and Work with a Literary Agent
A manuscript is an entire unpublished book, double-spaced on 8 ½” x 11” stock paper and written by the author with the hopes of seeking agency or publisher representation. If you’re a non-fiction writer, most all literary agents and acquisitions editors will tell you not to submit a complete manuscript. So even though you’ve written an entire manuscript, you’ll still have to produce a book proposal. The agent/editor will be as or more interested in your platform and your marketing & promotion ideas as much as the book concept, and they can only glean this from your proposal.
On the other hand, if you are a fiction writer, the agent/editor may ask for your entire manuscript. The agent/editor will be interested in character structure, setting, story line, and plot development, especially if you’ve never had a work of fiction published before. You’ll still need to submit a one to two page query letter with a four to five page book synopsis and brief author bio and platform. This is, in essence, a mini book proposal.
Learn more and download: The Literary Coach Book Proposal Template
Today, first-time as well as established authors are expected to have more marketing skills and resources than ever before. At the same time, publishers are spending less of their own human and financial resources to promote the books, yet they expect same book sales. So it is up to authors to come up with ideas and resources to promote their own books.
The Marketing & Promotion section will weigh heavily when a literary agent or acquisitions editor gives consideration to your book proposal. In this section, the author is helping the agent/editor with ideas on how to position the book, how broad the readership may be, the benefits to the reader, and the endorsements the author will receive. This section will also tell the agent/editor how prepared the author is to promote the book.
The Marketing & Promotion section is also a way for an author with insufficient platform to prove to the agent/editor that they are able to generate book sales through their creative ideas.
As Publisher of Business Book Review, I would constantly receive media kits from publishers’ publicists and authors’ publicists about the author and author’s book being promoted. Later, as The Literary Coach, I encouraged my clients to develop media kits of their own – to use the same promotional device employed by the industry to generate interest and excitement about their author.
The media kit is held within a Duo-Tang Folder that may accompany your book proposal. It should include are a variety of self-promoting material to further support your cause and lend credibility and validity to your book proposal and book project. This material may include:
- Author Biography
- News Release
- Copies of published articles you’ve written
- Lists of speaking engagements for the prior, current, and next year.
- DVD of TV or speaking engagements
- Videos of TV or speaking engagements
Your chapter-by-chapter outline, found near the front of your book proposal, gives the literary agent and acquisitions editor an excellent idea of the scope and direction of your book. Through this one page, they will have your book’s contents at a glance and know the breadth and depth of your concept. And it will provide you a chapter-by-chapter outline that will serve as a blueprint for the eventual writing of your book.
Many first-time and established authors unblock their book conceptualization by using a part-by-part or chapter-by-chapter outline to stimulate creative thinking. If you begin your process with a well-structured outline, your entire book proposal is likely to be more focused and of a higher quality.
Start by simply defining the parts of your book. Many books have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yours may have four or five or no parts at all, so don’t let a parts-structure constrict you. Next, imaginatively formulate chapter titles that can stand alone or support each part.
The positioning statement, which is addressed to readers, booksellers, distributors, reviewers, the media, and other decision-makers, is the entire focus of your book-marketing efforts. It provides the key reason(s) people should care about and buy the your book.
By identifying the audience, their needs, and knowing what their other choices are in the book marketplace, authors can decide how they want readers to see their book and the market space they want to occupy.
Another way to approach book positioning is to take into account the deeper reasons non-fiction authors write books in the first place. The majority of the time, the book is a marketing device for other products or services offered by its author, such as speeches, seminars, or consulting engagements. Ultimately then, the positioning of the book should be identical to the position the author wishes to hold in his or her chosen field.
A well-considered position statement gives authors a clear sense of purpose, ideas about how to structure the book, and can even influence the writing style.
A query letter is one or two page letter written to entice a literary agent or acquisitions editor to request your book proposal (for non-fiction book projects) or full manuscript with mini-proposal (for works of fiction).
The objective of a Query Letter is not to summarize your book concept and author platform into 600 or so words.
The objective is to cause an agent/editor to feel enthusiastic about seeing your complete proposal or manuscript. Therefore, a well-written query letter isn’t a compression of every detail of your book and bio into one or two pages; it’s a concise, attention-grabbing document that convincingly introduces your book concept and you and encourages the agent/editor to ask for more.
Download Full Audio and Text Essay: How to Write a Query Letter
Reader Benefits are the positive outcomes your target audience intends to gain by reading your book. Benefits may be concrete such as losing weight, making money, purchasing a home, building a deck, improving a golf swing, or abstract, such as gaining freedom, being happy, becoming a better leader, or becoming a better parent.
For the purposes of your book proposal, benefits are best presented in bulleted form. This will also give a visual break and relief from paragraphs of copy. In this section of your proposal, define the reader’s greatest problem(s) that your book will address, define the solution(s) your book will offer, then list three to five benefits or outcomes your readers will receive, beginning with the most important benefit.
A sample chapter or two as part of your book proposal will give the literary agent or acquisitions editor an indication of your writing ability, show them that you have a command of the subject and the English language, and will indicate the approach or format you will undertake when you write your book. It will also show the agent/editor that you have the time, energy, and resources to deliver a manuscript if commissioned to do so.
Your sample chapter(s) must be well-organized and incorporate your best writing skills. The grammar and syntax should be error-free. There should be no misspelled words or incorrect references. Nor should there be improper mentions of principals, titles, or proper names of places.
A sample chapter or two can make the difference between selling or not selling a marginal proposal. If the agent/editor requests a sample chapter with your proposal, you should respond accordingly. Also provide Chapter Abstracts for the remaining chapters. If the agent/editor requests two sample chapters, you can most sufficiently offer the Introduction, one sample chapter and the abstracts.
Self-publishing is the absence of a traditional publisher. Instead, the book writer takes editorial control, printing, marketing, and distributing. This places the bulk of the financial risk on the writer.
There are different types of self-publishing:
Vanity publishing (Vanity Press) is a derogatory term, referring the writer's vanity and desire to become a published author. VPs make their money from fees to writers rather than book sales. VPs may call themselves joint ventures, but the author pays all of the cost of publication and undertakes all of the risk.
A subsidy publisher distributes books under its own imprint, and is selective in which books to publish. Subsidy publishers, like vanity publishers, take payment from the author to print and bind a book, but contribute a small portion of the cost to editing, distribution, warehousing, and some marketing. As with traditional publishers, the books are owned by the publisher with authors receiving royalties for any copies sold.
True self-publishing means authors undertake the entire cost of publication themselves, and handle all marketing, distribution, inventory, etc. All rights remain with the author and the writer gets all the proceeds of sales.
Self-published books that find large audiences are extremely rare, and are usually the result of intense self-promotion. However, many books now considered classics were originally self-published, including:
- “The Joy of Cooking,” by Irma Rombauer
- “What Color is Your Parachute?,” by Richard Nelson Bolles
- “In Search of Excellence,” by Tom Peters
- “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Download full audio and text report: The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
As recently as the mid-1980s, publishers sought only "first North American serial rights" (FNASR) from the writer. Under a FNASR contract, the publisher licenses a one-time right to publish the article first in the North American market. The author retains all other rights to his or her work, including the right to re-license its use ("second serial rights"), to publish it in foreign markets, to license a movie or product spin-off, etc. Recently, however, publishers have begun asking for “all rights,” and, in many cases, for the same amount of money.
When book writers sign over "all rights" to their literary work, they are essentially transferring the entire bundle of rights that makes up their copyright plus any common law rights they may have in the work.
By conveying away "all rights," writers give up the right to re-license their work to a foreign publisher, reprint magazine, electronic database, anthology, or business publication, or to re-use the work in a future book. For many writers, subsidiary rights like these represent a considerable annual source of revenue.
Your book’s Table of Contents is what I term the architecture of the book. It gives the literary agent or acquisitions editor an excellent idea of the scope and direction of your work. Through this one page, they will know your intent and the breadth and depth of your book concept. You are providing the agent/editor a view of your book’s contents at a glance. It also shows an organization of thought and an understanding that the heart of your book proposal has a purpose and a structure.
Many first-time and established authors unblock their thoughts by using the simple Table of Contents structure to stimulate creative thinking. Start by simply defining the parts of your book, then imaginatively formulate chapter titles that would support each part. Ultimately, the Table of Contents will encourage and guide your writing process.
Publishers don’t accept and commission book proposals unless they feel confident they can reach its intended audience, and it’s the responsibility of the author to tell them who that audience is.
Describe your target market in both physical and abstract terms. Explain their income, age, education level, marital status, occupation, family size, geography, but also describe their abstract qualities such as mind frame, beliefs, attitudes, likes, and dislikes. Do your research and show statistics and numbers regarding size of market.
The conventional wisdom that the larger the target audience the greater the interest of a literary agent or acquisitions editor is false. A small, dedicated audience may be perfect for a regional or subject-specific publisher. Even a large publisher might be interested in your small audience, especially if that large publisher has a smaller imprint that can publish and market your book to a distinct readership.
Your book’s title and subtitle must work hand in glove to completely yet succinctly describe the subject of your book. While the title may be catchy and compelling enough to draw the reader in, the subtitle must accurately position the book and establish a clear picture of the purpose and scope of the work. There are many books without subtitles, and if this is your intent, the title itself must be the workhorse and be both compelling and descriptive.
The title should not contain more than five words. A title with more than five words requires the consumer to start thinking instead of feeling. Where the title can be a brief and clever turn of phrase or introduction to your thesis, the subtitle grounds the consumer with more detail and explanation. Your subtitle should be no more than ten words and should act as a perfect companion phrase to your title.
Suggest three to five different working titles and subtitles, the favorite of which will appear on the cover page of the book proposal. This step might best be done last as you will discover a great deal during the proposal development process. Some may suggest not providing additional titles and subtitles but rather to show conviction to one title alone. I prefer to believe a short list of alternative or working titles will help the literary agent and publisher gain a better understanding of your positioning of the book and your flexible frame of mind. This shows that you are willing to work with the publisher.
Also keep in mind that the title of your book will ultimately be selected by the publisher. Publishers will assert that, if it is their job to sell the book, it is their job to name it and position it for the market.