Thursday, January 20, 2005

Yes, They Are Different

Last week a couple of my published author friends referred someone to me. Some times it takes several email exchanges to figure out why I was corresponding with this person. This individual had a proposal for a publisher. If it’s a fiction project, then I want to be corresponding with the person through my Howard Publishing email address. If it’s a nonfiction project, then I will probably correspond with them through my personal email address. My work for Howard is part-time and the rest of my schedule is filled with primarily nonfiction projects. Sometimes I help people get their nonfiction proposals into shape to show a publisher. On other occasions, I will co-author a project with someone and other types of combinations. It takes some exploration to determine what a person needs and if I can help or not.

I was exchanging emails with this unpublished writer. This person had received a sample book proposal from my published author friends. The writer followed their example and submitted it to a major publishing house. It was rejected. This person wondered if he needed my help or not with the proposal creation. To sort out what needed to be done, I asked to see both proposals. Within a short amount of time, I had both proposals (the one from the published author friend and the unpublished proposal).

First I looked at the proposal from my published author friends. I was a bit surprised at the simplicity and lack of completeness of that particular proposal. I’ve seen many nonfiction book proposals over the years and can quickly evaluate them. The reality for some published authors who reach a particular level of sales and success is they don’t have to produce a complete nonfiction book proposal in order to get a publishing contract. Their process is much more simplified because of their track record than the unpublished author.

Next I looked at the unpublished author’s proposal to see if it needed to be reworked before he sent it out to other publishers. Looking at this proposal, I quickly determined what happened. He used a nonfiction proposal format for a fiction proposal project. He was certainly wasting his time, energy and postage as he was marketing the wrong project in the wrong format. When I wrote and asked him about it, he quickly responded, “Is the proposal different for a fiction proposal from a nonfiction proposal?”

Yes—radically different. You can’t follow a nonfiction book proposal for a fiction book. As a fiction author (first time--I assume) you need to have written the entire manuscript (if you haven't then you need to do this step). Publishers have horror stories where they have contracted a fiction book from a great chapter or two and a terrific plot, then the inexperienced storyteller writes themselves in a place where they can’t finish and don’t know the ending. The situation turns terrible for the author and the publisher. From these types of experiences, publishers have learned to ask for the entire manuscript from first-time fiction writers.

Besides your manuscript, you need a dynamic synopsis and outstanding marketing plan (that explains how you are going to personally sell your book (and don’t say, “I’m willing to appear on Oprah”—but you should create something much more personal to what you can do for your book). Finally you need to tell the editor a bit about yourself with a short personal bio. You send out these shorter pieces (a couple of well-done sample chapters, synopsis, marketing plan and bio) and ask if the editor wants to see the entire manuscript. An excellent book on this process is Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.

If you are writing nonfiction, don’t write your manuscript but instead write a nonfiction book proposal. I explain step-by-step about this process in my ebook, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. There are a number of excellent books to teach you this procedure. I have an annotated list of them in the appendices of my book.

As I work with both types of writing—fiction and nonfiction—it’s clear—yes, they are different. If you want your project (either fiction or nonfiction) to be seriously considered at a publishing house, please take the time to learn the differences. Otherwise you simply glut the system with your submissions, waste your time and energy and continue to be frustrated wondering why you are not finding a publisher.

As you can see I have some pretty strong opinions about this matter. I hope today I’ve helped clear away the confusion about the differences for the writer.

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