In today’s competitive publishing industry, it is more challenging than ever to successfully pitch a nonfiction book. Your book proposal—often required by publishers and agents—serves as a business plan that makes a case for why your book deserves publication and why it will sell. However, authors often lack industry insight to convincingly pitch their idea, and may lack the necessary platform to secure a deal.
An even bigger obstacle: Some book concepts have an unclear readership, and must be revisited if they are to succeed in the market.
My book proposal consulting process has been refined over the last decade to address high-level deal breakers, as well as challenges with market positioning. Sometimes I will even question if a book is your next best step. If your project has a chance with an agent or publisher, I will suggest how to revise or improve the proposal. But not every proposal can benefit from editing and development; sometimes, it’s necessary to rethink the project.
Have you made an effective case for why your book will sell?
The Overview: Have you answered the three key business questions: So what? Who cares? And who are you?
Target Audience: Whose problems are you solving? Who will benefit most from your book? Who do your readers trust today?
Competing Titles: How does your book compare to other offerings (and authors) on the market?
Marketing Plan: How will you spread the word about your book before and after publication—without the publisher’s help?
About the Author: Why are you the best person to write this book? What is your authority or credibility in the market?
Sample Chapters: Have you demonstrated that you can deliver on the promise the proposal makes? Is your writing accessible to the intended readership?
The issues I discuss most often with clients
What I can’t help with
- Editing your manuscript. Our focus will be on the book proposal, not your sample chapters. However, if I see problems with those chapters—something that will raise concerns for an agent or editor—we will discuss those problems and if they can be successfully resolved on your own or by hiring help. In some cases, I will make edits to the sample chapter to indicate how you need to revise the work. Regardless: A full, polished revision will require hiring a developmental or content editor. (I do not provide this service.)
- Reading your full manuscript. I will look at a sample chapter, which should be included with the proposal, up to 3,000 words. If you seek an editorial evaluation of your work, I can recommend other editors.
- Story coaching or developmental editing. Book proposal consulting can quickly raise questions of whether the book should be structured or developed in a different way. Memoirists in particular may realize they don’t have a narrative arc that’s sufficient for securing interest. We can’t wholly resolve such deep problems during a one-hour proposal consult. However, I can recommend another editor or coach to assist you.
- Researching competitive or comparable titles. If I know of any titles or authors you should be aware of, I will bring them to your attention. But I don’t research the competitive market for you.
- Finding you or referring you to an agent or publisher. However, I can point you to tools and resources for identifying the right agent or publisher for your work.
- Writing or ghostwriting any of your materials. If you want someone to draft sections of your proposal, I can recommend other consultants to help. (Warning: This is expensive work.)
- Editing any type of fiction, poetry, or multimedia. It’s rare that a book proposal consult would involve review of such materials, but I mention it just in case! This service is meant for nonfiction books, not multi-genre or multimedia projects.
I’ve worked in traditional publishing for more than 20 years, and for half that time, I evaluated and acquired hundreds of books at a mid-size publishing house that had a backlist of 1,000 titles; we released hundreds of new books per year in every nonfiction category. Most of those books were acquired on the basis of a proposal, not a manuscript. I also served as the editor of How to Write a Book Proposal, Third Edition by literary agent Michael Larsen; I am a quoted expert in the most recent edition.
I attend and speak at more than a dozen publishing and writing conferences per year, and I regularly hear agents and editors discuss what they want to acquire and what they expect from your submissions materials. This knowledge and expertise gets put to work for you during our consulting process, although I am unable to make personal referrals to agents and publishers. And of course I can’t guarantee you’ll get representation or a publishing deal if we work together. But I can help you put your best foot forward, and offer insight into challenges you’ll face.
All consulting and editing work is performed exclusively by myself; I do not subcontract or use assistants. You will always be communicating directly with me.
I am a consultant, not a coach.
Of course, this begs the question: what’s the difference between a consultant and a coach?
- As a consultant, I help you understand the market and business of publishing. I’m here to guide you on external factors that affect your work and its success. I can tell you how agents and publishers might react to your work, and your work’s potential value in the market. I recommend next steps and help you make the best business decisions based on your career goals or strengths as a writer.
- Coaches typically help you with internal or psychological barriers—such as validating your desire to write. There are also book and story coaches who help you figure out what your book wants to be if you’re struggling with its genre or category. If you’re not sure what to write, or what direction to go in creatively, I am probably not the best fit for you. Also, if you’re looking for a cheerleader—or general encouragement—a coach is a better choice. I am more likely to deliver the wake-up call or business reality of your situation. People often thank me after a consult for being “frank” and “honest.”
If you’re writing memoir
For most memoir, agents and editors make a decision based on the manuscript itself and the appeal of the story in the current market. Therefore, it usually makes the most sense to focus on your query and synopsis instead of preparing a book proposal.
With memoir, the biggest challenge is presenting a narrative with enough tension and cohesion that it can pass muster in the current market. Here are some of the most common reasons memoirs don’t sell.
I can advise you on potential problems I see in your narrative structure, but I don’t offer editing of your manuscript. If I think that would be a wise next step, I’ll refer you to developmental or content editors.
Important: before you book
I greatly respect the investment you’re making when you book a consultation. Part of what you’re paying for is my long history in the industry, in-depth knowledge of the publishing landscape, and my ability to cut through the noise and help you make the right decisions for your career. Many of my clients are still in touch years after our first meeting, with updates, follow ups, and questions because they’ve come to trust my guidance. Your appointment is not something I see as a one-time transaction, but as an ongoing relationship. I am here to help.
How to save your money
This site includes an incredible amount of free information. If your questions are fairly straightforward, you may not really need a one-on-one consultation.
- Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal
- Common Reasons Nonfiction Books Don’t Sell
- Why Your Memoir Won’t Sell
- How to Define and Describe Your Readership
- 5 Research Steps Before Writing Your Book Proposal
Testimonials from clients
I took your proposal writing course, which was awesome. You told me that an author who had never before published could be a red flag for agents, and you recommended I publish for my target audience. So, three years ago my first article was published in Bark Magazine, and I went on to publish many more. I got a wonderful agent and last month we landed a book deal and were in Publishers Weekly!
Just wanted to share the good news that my book, Running with Raven, came out today from Kensington Press. Thanks for your guidance in getting me here.
Laura Lee Huttenbach
My book, The Whole Pregnancy, just got a publishing deal with Skyhorse Publishing out of New York. I really found your advice helpful, so I just wanted to thank you!
I am so grateful you reviewed my proposal—your advice to reposition the book was invaluable. After I sent my first pitch to Familius, within 3 days the acquisition editor contacted me. A month later, I signed a contract for Feed the Baby Hummus, And Other Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World.
I took your book proposal course last summer and want to let you know that I’m sitting here right now reading a contract from an agent—all thanks to you!
I just wanted to express my gratitude for your website and your online course. Best money I ever spent. I crafted a proposal as you suggested. I signed with an agent and now have a publisher, New Harbinger. The book’s working title is Surviving Cancer.
I wanted you to know I’ve got a book deal for Sharkey! It has been acquired by Excelsior Editions, an imprint of SUNY Press. Thank you for helping with the proposal—the deal was made solely on the basis of the proposal.
What a consultation includes
Here is the process I follow with all nonfiction book proposal clients. I charge a flat fee of $750.
- You’ll submit your book proposal draft and book a one-hour call. Prior to the call, I will carefully read your proposal, as well as review your platform or online presence. I focus on how effectively you make a business case that would be compelling to agents or editors at a traditional publishing house. If you’ve included sample chapters in the proposal, I will read up to 3,000 words of the sample to ensure you’re delivering on the promise made in the proposal itself. Mainly, I’m looking for red flags in the writing or content that might lead to rejection (for example, a professor writing a book for a mainstream audience may have a voice that’s too academic for commercial publishers).
- I may edit the proposal file. In some (but not all) cases, I will make edits directly to the proposal document so you clearly understand how to improve your proposal. If I can model the effect you’re going after—using material already in the proposal—I will do it. My edits are most commonly made to the opening or overview, which is a critical introduction to the project. However, I cannot always edit the overview, or the proposal, because there are higher level issues that have to be addressed first. It makes little sense to edit a book proposal if the positioning must change.
- One-hour consulting call (recorded): We’ll discuss your proposal and overall book concept. Most concepts need refinement or the proposal needs further development. In some cases, authors who have little experience with or exposure to book proposals haven’t included all the necessary sections, or they haven’t been thorough in addressing competing titles, identifying the target market, or putting together a marketing plan. We’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal, and I’ll clearly outline what work needs to be done before you submit.
- After our call. I will send you follow-up materials (such as an edited proposal file, if applicable) or articles/resources that will help you revise. My door remains open to follow-up questions via email.
- You’ll also receive free access to my self-study course on book proposals. If you’re not already a student in the course, I will enroll you in my online course on book proposals that includes worksheets, templates, and examples to help guide your proposal revision and development.
If the cost of this service is prohibitive, a concept review ($200) is an economical way to get emailed feedback on the idea or your pitch. Alternatively, you could book a one-hour consulting call ($300)—without review of the book proposal—to talk about your project and situation more generally.
Note that I am often booked 4-8 weeks in advance. My calendar shows up-to-date availability; there is nothing sooner and cancellations are rare.