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Why You Should Always Always ALWAYS Follow the Individual Publisher’s Proposal Guidelines

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.

Why You Should Always Always ALWAYS Follow the Individual Publisher’s Proposal Guidelines

No writer enjoys sending their baby out to be rejected...

I will start out by saying: I feel your pain. I really, really do. Sending out hundreds of resumes, cover letters/applications/proposals etc is truly the 6th circle of hell, and we have all been there in one form or another.

To add insult to injury, with the advent of the digital age, you don’t even have the satisfaction of burning them all when they come back to you. That little pfftftt sound my mac makes when I empty the recycle bin just does not have the same punch as watching the frustration and pain and soul wrenching feelings of rejection go up in beautiful energy converting destructive flames.

... but mass production of book proposals will not save you work. It is a huge mistake.

In order to get noticed, the sad reality is that you will have to send out many many proposals, and you will have to be rejected many many times. The frustrating part? Most publishers do actually ask for variations on similar pieces of information, which provides a strong disincentive for authors to do individually tailored proposals, but the bottom line is- it does matter.

Why does it matter?

You wouldn't send a form love letter. Why would you send a form book proposal?

I love to flip things on their head, so we will start there: Have you ever been in the position of being applied to? Do you enjoy receiving form letters? Think beyond the business world if you don’t have experience there- have you ever been on an online dating site and received a message that was clearly a form letter? Ew, right?

In reality, no one likes to receive form letters, regardless of the knowledge that the person sending it is sending it to lots of people.

Your problem isn't increasing volume. Your problem is standing out.

  • The Author sends out hundreds of query letters and usually hears rejection. The author thinks it makes sense to send out form letters because of the volume of letters they need to send out and low likelihood of success.
  • The Editor/Agent receives thousands of proposals every year. S/he is not impressed by form letters because they do not stand out from the other thousand form letters s/he receives.

See the overlap? Both parties are plagued by the same problem: excessive volume.

And now the big reveal:

Proposal guidelines are the cheat sheet for winning our hearts.

In order to evaluate whether or not your book is going to be a match for our list, we need specific information. Without this information, it is difficult to evaluate your proposal at all. Stated another way: I will not be able to see how your book might fit with our list (EVEN IF IT WOULD) in the absence of the information requested.

So what is the silver lining?

The good news for you is that the proposal guidelines give away all our secrets! By supplying you with specific questions to answer, we are telling you exactly what we want to see.

So WHY do we ask all these annoying questions in our proposal guidelines?

  • We ask “how often do you speak or train, and to what numbers and what venues?” We ask this question because we want to see that you DO. An ideal answer to this question will include a past track record and future schedule of quite a few engagements per year or per month.
  • When we ask why a book on this topic is needed, we want to know that you are trying to be of service to some sector of society. BK is specifically a mission driven publisher, and we need to see how your message fits with our mission of “creating a world that works for all.”
  • In other words, we are giving you a cheat sheet to what is important to us!! Use it! It is only going to give you an advantage.
Even if we still reject you (and following the guidelines is by no means a guarantee that we will publish you) you are still likely to get better feedback if you follow the book proposal guidelines.

Ready? Find the BK Proposal Guidelines here.