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 for your book that proves why your book will sell when published. However, authors may lack industry insight to convincingly pitch their idea alongside their experience and platform.
The bigger obstacle I also see: The large majority of book concepts haven't been carefully thought through, and must be re-conceptualized if they are to succeed in the market.
My book proposal consulting process has been refined over the last decade to first address high-level deal breakers. Sometimes I will even question if a book is your next best step. If your project has a chance with an agent or publisher, we might work together on refining the proposal. But not every proposal can benefit from editing and development, and I do not want to charge you for a project that stands little or no chance in the commercial market.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you're writing a 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 doing a book proposal consult.
If you're trying to sell your memoir on the basis of a book proposal and sample chapters—instead of a full manuscript—then the proposal consult probably makes the most sense. With memoir, the biggest challenge is presenting a narrative with enough tension and cohesion that it can pass muster in the current challenging 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 substantive editing of your manuscript. If I think that would be a wise next step, I'll refer you to developmental or content editors.
If you have a proposal draft ready
Here is the process I follow with all nonfiction book proposal clients.
- Step 1: Consultation call ($500). Using the form below, you'll submit your proposal draft and book a one-hour call. During that call, we'll discuss your proposal and overall book concept. Most concepts needs 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 potential next steps. If you like, we can also discuss if self-publishing or assisted publishing is a more appropriate option.
- Step 2: Editing and development (cost varies). For select clients, where I think the concept is commercially viable and there is some chance of you finding an agent or publisher, I will quote you on the editing or further development of your proposal.
What a book proposal consultation call includes
- Before the call: I will carefully read your entire book proposal, specifically looking at how effective it is in making 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 25 double-spaced pages 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. However, I do not offer editorial evaluations of your manuscript and this service should not be seen as a way to get your manuscript evaluated. I have a list of recommended developmental and content editors for authors who would like to focus on developing or discussing the manuscript. I do not offer manuscript editing or coaching services.
- During our call: We'll discuss both the concept and the proposal, and the strengths and weaknesses of your position. If needed, we'll go through each section of the proposal and I'll offer feedback on what's working or not working. This call is recorded so that you don't have to take notes unless you want to.
- After the call: My door remains open to follow-up questions via email. If we continue working together on your proposal, I will quote you on further consulting or editing.
- 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 feedback on the idea alone rather than the full proposal.
If you don't have a book proposal draft ready
You have two options:
- Nonfiction concept critique ($200): Before you begin writing your proposal, you can send me your concept for review and advice, and I'll offer written feedback via email. This can potentially save you time and frustration, so that you don't develop a book proposal for a concept that's not likely to be viable or salable. You pay upfront for this service ($200); I am happy to answer your follow-up questions via email. By the end of our exchange you will have concrete next steps or a direction—and sometimes that direction is to abandon the project or consider self-publishing.
- Basic consultation call ($300): This is a one-hour call to broadly discuss your book idea(s), your goals for publishing, and potential publishing paths that would work best for you. This is not the appropriate option if you want me to look at a book proposal document.