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January, 2008

Word Wright

Neubauer's Nuggets
No problem is too big or too small for our Joan
By  Joan R. Neubauer

Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer answers questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her at Subject: Neubauer Nuggets, and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.

Dear Joan,
I've recently finished writing a nonfiction book and have submitted it to several publishers for consideration. The rejections have started to come in and some of them say that, while they like the book and think it a very popular subject, they have rejected it because I have no track record as a writer. How do I get a track record if I can't get published?
Dear Distraught,
Your problem sounds like a Catch-22: You can't get published unless you've been published. Don't let this discourage you; just stop digging the same hole deeper and dig a new one. In other words, start thinking outside the box. Let me explain what I mean.
Since your feedback tells you that you have written about a very popular subject, don't think of book publishers as the only market for your writing, at least not at first. Instead, look to newspapers and magazines. Both types of publications need copy all the time, and if you have expertise in a timely, popular subject, think about selling articles and columns on this particular subject to them.
This will help develop your platform and increase your prestige as a writer. In addition, it will establish you as an expert in this particular field, and when you submit your work to a publisher, you then have several professional credits to list in your query letter and then later in your proposal. That will tell the editor two things about you: that you have been through the publishing process; and that you're a working, selling writer. Both will help establish you as a professional in the mind of any book editor or publisher.
At this point, you won't exactly have a track record in terms of book sales, but it will give you a track record as a writer. In addition, make sure you tell the editor early on in this process that you have developed a marketing/promotional plan for the book. That will also earn you points.
If and when the editor requests a formal proposal from you, make sure you send a highly developed marketing plan as part of it. Such a plan will tell the editor that you know it's your job to promote. You'd be surprised at how few authors know that these days.
I hope this helps. Good luck and good writing. 
Dear Joan,
I've written a nonfiction book and am learning that editors and publishers don't want to see the whole manuscript right away. They want to see a query letter and then a formal proposal. Then, if they're still interested, they may ask for the whole manuscript. The problem is that I don't know what to include in my formal proposal. Do you have a clue?
Dear Wondering,
The term "formal proposal" sounds so forbidding, so you have to think about it in terms of all its pieces rather than the whole. A proposal for a nonfiction book consists of eight parts, so let's take a look at them one at a time.
Part 1 – Title Page
This page has your name, address, phone number, and email address centered on the page. Below that by several lines and to the right, you should add the number of words in your manuscript as well as the category or genre it belongs to.
Part 2 – Bio
Include a short bio or yourself here. Tell little about your personal life. Instead, spend most of your time talking about your professional life and credits. List the titles of published pieces, where they were published and when. Tell the publisher of your professional plans as a writer and what future books you wish to write. Write this in third person present tense.
Part 3 – Target Audience
Tell the publisher who this book appeals to the most. Make sure you include age, gender, educational level, socio-economic level, interests, political leanings, religious affiliations, geographical connections, and any other demographics you can think of. Don't claim your book will have universal appeal. No book is all things to all people.
Part 4 – Comparisons
Do a little research to find out what other books are on the market that share similarities with your book. List the top three or four titles. You have no way of knowing how many copies these titles have sold, but it sure will help to know if any made the bestseller list. If your book is similar, consider it a good thing if these other books have sold lots of copies. That tells you that the public has an interest in this particular subject. At the same time, emphasize how your book may be different and how you may have presented a new idea or approach.
Part 5 – Promotional Plans
Develop a promotional plan that tells the publisher how far and how often you will travel to promote the book, how much money you plan to spend, and what you plan to use. For example, how many copies of your book will you give away for promotional purposes? Will you develop press kits to give booksellers and event planners? Will you print up bookmarks and postcards as giveaways? Will you book radio and/or TV interviews? If so, how many and how often?
Part 6 – Outline
Write a brief outline of your book in paragraph style. For example, in Chapter 1, give a brief description of the events and characters in that chapter and move on to Chapter 2. Write it in third person, present tense.
Part 7 – Sample Chapters
Usually, editors wish to see the first three chapters, but make sure you check the submission guidelines. Sometimes editors will only want to see one chapter, and others prefer five. Once you know how many chapters to include, polish them and make sure they're free of typos and other errors.
Part 8 – Appendix
If your book will have copies of documents or photos, you might include a sample of those in this section. Do not send originals. You don't want them to get lost in the mail or in someone's office. Plus, if the editor rejects your book, you don't want to go through the hassle of trying to get them back.
Each one of these sections begins on a new page, and each page carries a slug at the top left corner (title/author's last name) and a page number at the upper right corner. Make sure you include a professional but friendly cover letter reminding the editor that you have sent this proposal at their request.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.

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Joan R. Neubauer is an author, publisher, public speaker, and editor. Her latest books are A Serpent’s Tooth and Shadow Dancing. For information on topics that Joan speaks about or to invite her to speak to your organization, you can contact her at

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