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Don't Start Your Book Proposal With This Fact

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.

Don't Start Your Book Proposal With This Fact

Hyperbole and a Half

This week I tested the limits of our new open office set up and expressed my frustration with what some would consider a rather elevated volume of voice.  When I was asked the cause of this outburst, I responded by explaining that I had received a proposal with yet another example that I see in so many book proposals- one that I see over and over. Ever the solutions oriented person, my coworker suggested that I write a blog series on the most overdone topics in each of BK’s agendas. If you have found your way here through the wilds of the internet and don't know what those are, you can learn about them here.

Needless to say, I thought the suggestion was a fabulous one.  In all three of these genres there are clear trends that pop up over and over again in my proposals that are just not viable topics. Over the next two editions of Confessions of an Editorial Assistant I will be tackling the most overdone in each genre.

THAT study

I am going to start with BK Business, as it is our largest list and the list that gets the most frequent occurrences of overdone topics.  What study, you ask?  It is everyone's favorite study, bloggers are excited about it, authors are excited about it, and leadership development coaches have latched on to it. Ready?

The number one fact that should not be more than a footnote to your book proposal is the Gallup study on engagement in the workplace.  The study found that a terrifyingly high percentage of American workers are disengaged at work.  Every time I see this at the top of a book proposal my insides turn to ice. Acidic Ice. Acidic, agitated, frustrated Ice. Why?  Well, the excess number of proposals that I get with that study would be a start, but that isn't the real problem.

But Isn't Engagement Really Important?? 

Absolutely.  It is so important, in fact, that no single book will ever be able to offer a comprehensive solution. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the vast majority of book proposals that cite that study purport to do- claim that they have the silver bullet solution to this egregious problem. Engagement is a complex, multifaceted issue.  If you have an “engagement” problem in your company, you do not have just one problem.  Rather, you have many problems that conspire and result in a lack of engagement. Each of these problems needs to be identified and fixed on its own merits.  The other piece of tough news is that no one person is going to be able to fix every company’s individual engagement problem. Engagement problems have different causes in every organization. The implications for a book are that no one author will be able to write a book about the whole topic of engagement. Any organization tackling their engagement problem will have to discover the several different problems at play, each of which will have its own specific solution. Solving each of these will result in a more engaged workplace. 

So, Just Throw It Out?

Clearly, this survey is going to be useful to many people doing organizational development work. It is an extremely important piece of data, and should be employed to great effect.  You can use this survey-if you train and consult about an aspect of organizational development that will contribute to an increase in engagement. First make the case that your methodology is necessary and effective, convince me that you are an expert in what you want to write about, then cite the study and tell me HOW your method will result in increased engagement.  Of course the most powerful example of all is to tell how a company increased its engagement level by using your techniques.

This is actually great news! What it means is that the weight of the world is not all on your shoulders, you don’t have to solve all the problems.  Just solve one of the problems, and we will be so thrilled to get your proposal.