Monday, December 7, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 19

Format your book proposal

Can you believe it? You’re almost done!

Now is the time to put all the pieces of your book proposal together.
  • Arrange each part of your proposal in a logical order that flows. (I find each proposal I’ve written works in a different order. The order of the items doesn’t matter that much. Just make sure all the needed information is there.)
  • Insert Headings for each part. Neatness counts. This is a professional proposal, so make it look nice. (But don’t go overboard! No fancy fonts, colored text, or cute pictures. Keep it professional.)
  • Insert page numbers.
  • Insert a Header or Footer with your last name and the title or partial title of your book.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 18

Chapter Summaries

This section is also sometimes called “Chapter by chapter outline.”

Write a few sentences or a short paragraph on each one of your chapters. Give the editor or agent a good, solid idea of what you will cover and include in each chapter.

Of course this also means you are giving chapter titles, will know how many chapters will be in your book, and what will be in each one of them.

By the time you’re able to write your sample chapters and chapter summaries, you’ll need to have a really good handle on your book. You’ve already done a good portion of your research. You’ve organized your material. You’ve mapped out how you’re going to move through your information. You not only know where you’ll start your book and end it, you also know where you’ll start and end each chapter.

In other words, by the time you get here you’re probably more than half-way through writing your book! Isn’t that cool?

Still, you have wiggle room. While you’re asked to map out your whole book, the map you create isn’t set in stone. You are creating a book proposal. You’re giving them a solid idea of what you plan to do, however if you get a better idea or if they want to adjust something, you can still do that. So don’t get too antsy about making decisions and planning your book. Editors and agents understand that this is just a proposal and (probably minor) things can change when you write it.

FICTION WRITERS: You don’t need to divide your story into chapters at this point. Instead of a chapter by chapter summary, just write a synopsis of your story straight through with no chapter breaks. (And yes, you are supposed to tell the ending. I know. It’s a spoiler. But your prospective agent and/or editor needs to know you can finish the story.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 17

Sample Chapters

This step and the next one are probably going to take you the most time. But when done, you’ll be in great shape to produce this book. Here you are going to write some chapters for your book. You may have already done this, or you may do this first and then write the rest of your proposal. The order in which you do these things doesn’t matter. You just need them all to put together a complete package for your proposal.

Check the writer’s guidelines for each publisher and agent you are submitting to and send each one just what they want.

Some publishers want three sample chapters, others want two, some only want one.

I recommend you go ahead and write the first three chapters. Then you’re in good shape to provide whatever they want.

FICTION WRITERS: Send the number of chapters the writer’s guidelines state, but don’t send the whole manuscript until they request it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 16

Series Potential

Do you have an idea for a sequel?

Or several (which would make a series)?

If yes, tell them here and give them an idea (a sentence or two) about what each following book would be like.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 15

Alternate Titles and Subtitles

If you have ideas for alternative titles for your book, you can list them here.

If you have ideas for other subtitles from what you put on this proposal, you can list them.

You may not get to keep your title. Publishers have marketing committees that brainstorm titles that will catch attention and sell the book. So your title may change before publication and it's possible you won't have anything to say about it. However, you should put the best, catchiest, most wonderful title on your book that you can possibly think of in order to sell it to the editor. So if you come up with more than one and don't know which to use, put your favorite on your proposal and list the others here. Your publisher will appreciate the ideas and thought you've put into it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 14


Tell them where you are with your manuscript right now.
  • Are you about halfway through writing it?
  • Are you submitting this proposal elsewhere simultaneously?

This statement might look something like this:

“I currently have three sample chapters written and am circulating queries and proposals simultaneously to agents and publishers.”

Or for fiction:

“I have my story synopsis complete and am currently writing this novel. I’m about half way through my first draft.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 13

Manuscript Delivery

When can you deliver the manuscript? How many months will you need to complete it?

Give them your best estimate. And be sure to include time for when your life blows up and everything in the universe keeps you from writing.

In other words, make a schedule you can live with. Then tell them when you could have your manuscript done if they asked for it.

A good amount of time is usually six months, so you could say:

Manuscript Delivery: I could deliver the manuscript within six months of a signed contract.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 12

Manuscript Length

Give an idea of how long your finished manuscript will be. Book length can be stated in number of words or pages. Pages are double-spaced, of course.

If you don’t yet have your manuscript written (and you shouldn’t; you should be writing your nonfiction* proposal first), you will have to make an estimate. For heaven’s sake, make sure your projected length is within the lengths the publisher publishes. That information should be on their writer’s guidelines.

If you’ve already written your three sample chapters, that should help you be able to estimate how long the rest of the chapters will be.

If you haven’t gotten that far yet, you might want to wait until you’ve created your chapter summaries, or at least mapped out how many chapters you will have.

If you’ll have 12 chapters and your prospective publisher wants 60,000 words, can you write an average of 5,000 words for each chapter? Do you have enough material? Do you have too much material?

This is a good average length for a nonfiction book:
12 chapters x 5,000 words = 60,000 words

When estimating number of pages, there are about 250 words on a manuscript (double-spaced) page.

* FICTION WRITERS: If you’re writing fiction, then publishers will want you to finish your manuscript before they make a decision. This is for first-time authors. Established authors may not have to, but you’re not there yet. If you are, why are you reading about how to write a proposal?! I’m sure you already know this stuff. ;-)

If you’ve written your novel, give them the length in number of words and/or pages. If you haven’t completed your manuscript, give them your best estimate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 11

About the Author / Credentials

This is where you list your writing credentials.

This is not where you list the credentials you have for writing the book—your education, experience, or expertise on the topic. We did that in Part 9: “Why should you write this book?”

Instead, this part of your book proposal tells your writing experience. Mention:
  • Your periodical publications. State how many you have. List a few of your best publications or the ones directly related to the topic of your book.
  • Your book contributions, if any.
  • Your own published books.
  • Any awards you’ve won.
  • Special mentions of your work.

This is where you “show off” your writing experience (but, of course, don’t look like you’re showing off). Don’t be shy. Just help the editor or agent know how experienced you are as a writer.

If you don’t yet have any writing credentials, you don’t have to say that or call attention to it. Just leave this part out of your book proposal and don’t mention it. (In the mean time, you might want to try getting some publishing credits. Print magazines count for a lot. Online magazines will do. Your own blog probably doesn’t count, unless you have an extraordinary readership.)

Consider this your resume. You’re looking for a job, and you’re hoping this agent or publisher will “hire” you to write your book. In order to make that decision, they need to know what writing experience you have.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 10

Why this book now?

Like the last post, this is another question not all the books and material on writing book proposals will include, but it’s a good one to include to make your proposal stand out.

Of all the seasons or years in the world, why should publshers be interested in publishing this book now?
  • Is there something going on that makes your book particularly timely right now?
  • Have you experienced something recently and are others experiencing the same thing that they need your book now?
  • Are politics or society in a place that makes your book particularly needed now?

Don’t forget that your book won’t be out for 18 to 24 months after you sign a contract with a publisher. Will your topic still be needed, hot, and relevant in two years?

One example is the current interest in the Mayan calendar saying the world will end in 2012. There are already books and movies coming out on the topic, but those books were written a few years ago and were published months ago.

Tell me (um, er, actually your potential agent or editor, in your proposal), why is now a great time to publish this book?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 9

Why should I write this book?

This is one question not all the books and material on writing book proposals will include, but it’s a good one to include to make your proposal stand out.

Of all the people in the world, why should you write this book?
  • Do you have particular educational credentials?

  • Do you have life experience that you’re speaking from?

  • Are you an expert in the area?

  • Have you studied this area in depth?

  • Do you have a combination of skills and experience that make you unique to write on this topic?

Tell me (um, er, actually your potential agent or editor, in your proposal) why should you be the one to write this book?

Friday, November 6, 2009

I'm interviewed on Nancy's Sanders' blog

Please click over to Nancy Sanders' blog today. There, you'll find an interview with me.

Nancy asked me about my writing journey and about self-publishing.

Click here: Interview with Dianne

I hope you enjoy the interview!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stop by tomorrow and read my interview

Tomorrow I'll be interviewed on Nancy Sanders' blog. I'll post a link tomorrow. (It won't be active until then.)

Besides hearing about my writing journey, Nancy and I will talk about self-publishing.

I hope you'll stop by!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 8

Promotion and Marketing Opportunities

Make a list of things you will actually DO to promote and market your book.

Refrain from saying you’d be happy to go on Oprah or Good Morning America unless you have the connections and experience to actually get on those shows.

Instead, do some brainstorming and figure out practical ways you can promote and market your book.
  • If you are a speaker, share how often you speak, the types of groups you speak to, and the number usually present.
  • If you have a plan to reach potential reader/book-buyers online, share what you have in mind.
  • If you have a mailing list you send to monthly or quarterly, share that.
  • If you have connections to groups that will like your book, name them. For example, you can bet I will contact every pro-life group, and there are a lot of them, when my Deliver Me book is available. I plan to send them an e-mail. I could call them. If you were writing a gardening book, would a national gardener’s association want to know about it? Could you contact them? Then put it in your proposal!
  • Are you willing to contact radio stations, starting locally and working out to ever-widening circles, and try to book yourself on their shows?
  • Do you have a blog? How many readers do you have?
  • Will you organize your own virtual book tour/blog book tour?

In other words, make a plan of how you will let people know about your book. Make it a plan you can actually work. Then tell the editor and agent you’re submitting your proposal to what you have in mind.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 7

Competitive Titles

Every book proposal needs to have a section that lists and describes the books that are similar to the book you’re writing.

There are several ways to gather this list. We used to be told to peruse Books in Print, which your library might have.

Today, it’s easier to find this information online. Here are some ways to do that:

  • I use a lot. Use their search function to search for your topic and category and key words.
  • Don’t stop with Also check and any other online bookstores. They often have titles you didn’t find on Amazon.
  • Finally, Google your topic and key words. You’ll find even more titles that you didn’t find earlier.

When you find books that will compete with yours, I like to print off the information and keep it in my files (which, yes, can make for a lot of printing, but I think it’s worth it).

When you’ve gathered your information, type it into your book proposal. Include:

  • The title.
  • The author.
  • The publisher.
  • Number of pages.
  • Price.

Then make a statement that shows how your book is similar to these books and how yours differs. Here’s an example:

“Ms. Smith’s book My Unexpected Pregnancy is the author’s true story of how she dealt with her surprise pregnancy. My book, Deliver Me, is similar in that it is about unplanned pregnancy, however while Ms. Smith only tells her own story, my book tells the true stories of more than seventy women and men. My book also includes helpful resources, including online web sites and books, at the end of every chapter.”

See what I mean?

If you have a boatload of titles, too many to really put in your proposal without making it way long, you don’t have to list them all. Pick samples to list that are the best titles, the ones that rank highest in sales, and the most recently published.

Sometimes I also group titles together that have similar statements about how they are similar and different to my book.

Find all the titles you can that are similar to your book.

Don’t leave off your list the best selling titles that will be your biggest competition. Your editor or agent will notice you didn’t do a good job of researching your competition.

Don’t say anything like, “There really aren’t any books like mine out there.” This throws up two red flags to your prospective editor or agent:

  1. There really is nothing new under the sun. So there probably are books on this topic out there and you just didn’t find them.
  2. If there’s truly no other book on this topic then there must be a reason for that. Could be there’s no interest in this topic. Could be there’s no market for this book.

And never badmouth a competitor’s book. Don’t say anything like, “Famous Author’s book is really poorly written and his conclusions about the Bible are all wrong. I write much better and I’ll get it all right.” Don’t say theirs is bad and yours is better; just say theirs is like this and mine is similar in this way and different in that way.

The purpose of this whole section of your book proposal is to give your prospective editor or agent a solid idea of what you have in mind for your book by comparing it to others, what the potential for selling your book is like, and of course its competition.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 6


The “category” of your book is where your book will be placed in the bookstore: which section, which shelf, and which books will be around it that may compete with it.

Go grab a book off your bookshelf. Turn it over and look at the back cover near the bar code. There you should see what category the book is in. This tells the bookstore owner where to shelve the book.

For example, the category will say something like:
  • “writing/reference”
  • “Business & Economics/General”
  • “Christian Living”

Find a book that is similar to the one you are writing, that will be next to your book on the shelf, and tell the editor or agent in your book proposal what that category is.

If you’re writing a Christian book, you can find the list of categories used in the BISAC codes. BISAC stands for “Book Industry Standards and Communications” codes. These codes help booksellers determine the primary subject or focus of a book.

Find the BISAC list here:

Or go to and click on “Category Definitions for Christian Product Sublist (a work in progress).”

I suggest you print this list out and slide it into a page protector for future reference.

Find where your book best fits, and enter that information under “Category” in your book proposal.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 5


In this section of your book proposal you need to give the editor or agent a solid idea of how big the market is for your book.

Don’t ever say, “This book is for everyone” or “Everyone will want or like this book.” That’s a sure sign you don’t know what you’re doing. There is no such thing as a book that is for everyone or that everyone will like or want.

So get specific. Who is it that will want your book? Who will actually want it enough to buy it?

  • Tell about the segment of the population that will be interested in your book.
  • Gather statistics that show how big a slice of the general population that is. Support your claims.

In Part 8, when we talk about how you will promote and market your book, you can tell how you will reach this audience who will want your book.

The information on your market will link in to the second and third of the “3 Big Questions” we discussed earlier: Who is going to buy your book? How are you going to reach them?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thomas Nelson is adding Subsidy Publishing to its Imprints

You may have already heard the announcement Thomas Nelson, one of the largest Christian publishers, made the other day. In an announcement on October 13th, Michael Hyatt announced that Thomas Nelson is opening a subsidy publishing division called WestBow Press.

If you'd like to read some comments from agents in the industry, you can read Rachelle Gardner's comments and the October 14th post from Sandra Bishop.

I have a few thoughts, too:

First, there is a difference between "subsidy publishing" and "self publishing," which Mr. Hyatt seems to use interchangeably.
  • Self publishing is when the author pays all of the expenses to publish her book.
  • Subsidy publishing is when the author pays part and the publishing company pays part. From my brief review of the new WestBow Press, this appears to be a self publishing package. I don't see any indication that Thomas Nelson or WestBow is going to foot part of your publishing bill.

Secondly, Mr. Hyatt says self publishing has carried a stigma with it for a long time, and it has. However that stigma is and has been fading fast. With self publishers hiring professional editors and companies that create professional book covers, design, etc., many self published books are hard to tell apart from traditionally published books anymore. While the comments I've read so far show there is still a stigma against self-published books within the publishing industry, it gives me more the feeling that the traditional publishers hold this view far more than anyone else. That makes it feel to me that these traditionally extremely slow-moving publishers are just way behind the times.

Third, Sandra Bishop said it in her post: I, too, think a big reason for Thomas Nelson to offer a self publishing (I won't call it subsidy publishing) opportunity is because it is very popular right now, many authors are going that way and doing well with it, and there's money to be made (off the authors--which is how self publishing companies make their money--as opposed to making money off the sale of their books).

Finally, before you go with WestBow be sure to compare their packages with several other self-publishing companies because their package doesn't offer everything I'd want in a company. One thing I will demand from my (self) publishing company is order fulfillment, which I find missing in the WestBow package. Order fulfillment means the company will handle taking orders for you, collecting the (credit card) payments (for the book and S&H), and shipping the book to the customer. For comparison, look at and .

I have a whole list of services I will demand when I self-publish my Deliver Me book. I told God if You want me to do this, then I want this and this and this. I call it my "I Want" list. I'm not usually so demanding. (Especially to God!) But if I'm going to make this book work financially and in every other way, I have to be. So either God can work these things out to make my self-publishing venture feasible, or I'm not doing it.

I plan to tell you about every item on my "I Want" list as soon as I finish the "How to Write a Book Proposal" series of posts. I can't do it now. I'm supposed to be working on my Deliver Me manuscript! I just had to give my thoughts and comments on this announcement from Thomas Nelson.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my manuscript!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview: Nancy I. Sanders, (Very Successful!) Children's Book Author

Today we have a visitor! Please welcome Nancy I. Sanders. She has encouraged and inspired me in many ways, and I think her story will do the same for you. This interview is only one stop on Nancy's blog tour. At the end of this post, you'll find information on where you can find the rest of her interviews. Enjoy!

Question: Your career has spanned over 20 years with more than 75 books published with traditional publishers both big and small. You also have self-published several books. Can you share about how you’ve done all you’ve done?

Answer: One of my favorite Scriptures is Isaiah 8:11-14a, “The Lord has said to me in the strongest terms: ‘Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plans conceived behind closed doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear Him, you need fear nothing else. He will keep you safe’” (NLT).

As a writer, I take this to mean that we don’t need to worry about what editors decide to do with our manuscripts as they meet together to make their marketing and publishing plans. The decision to accept or reject our manuscripts is totally in God’s hands. He is in control. This has brought me great peace along my writing journey.

This Scripture has helped me learn to “let go” of my hopes and intentions for many of my manuscripts and accept God’s decision. If I have marketed my manuscript and it receives a full round of rejections, I set it aside for awhile. It accomplished its purpose for this season whether it was to train me to improve my skills as a writer, bless the members of my critique group as they read it, or plant a seed in the heart of the editor who read it and ultimately rejected it. I move on to write new manuscripts to accomplish God’s new purposes for such a time as this.

So it is that I have developed a system where I work on three separate manuscripts to meet three different goals. In my new book for writers, I call this the Triple Crown of Success. The three goals of the Triple Crown of Success are:

Write for personal fulfillment.
Write to get published.
Write to earn an income.

When I write for personal fulfillment, I work on whichever manuscript God has called me to write. I don’t worry about getting it published or earning money for it. Sure, if it happens to sell and sell big, then I’ll know that was in God’s plan for it. But that’s not for me to worry about. My task is to write it because God has called me to write it. He’ll do what He plans with it.

When I write to get published, however, I use a completely different strategy. For these manuscripts, I’m not necessarily writing something for personal fulfillment that will change the world. I’m not trying to earn money. I’m just trying to build my published credits regularly and often. So I write these manuscripts for the no-pay/low-pay market such as recipes in my church newsletter, puzzles in children’s magazines, or articles for community magazines.

When I write to earn an income, I use an entirely different strategy. This strategy is what my new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career is mostly all about. Once again, I’m not necessarily writing for personal fulfillment. These manuscripts might not get published for a number of years. I am writing to earn a living and get paid while I write. As a children’s writer, this means that I try to write children’s books. And I try to land the contract before I write the book so that I’m earning an income on a consistent basis. When I want to earn an income as a children’s writer, I query widely and query well. I send out queries to publishers who accept queries until I land contracts to write books. Work-for-hire books such as math activities for teachers or library books about holidays. Ghostwriting where I write books that my name isn’t even on them. Royalty-based contracts on topics that I never imagined I’d be writing about but that a publisher needs for their product list. All these books are vastly different, but they’re similar in one respect. I land the contract before I write the book. I get paid and I earn an income while I write. And the amazing thing about this is that often, while I’m writing the book or after it comes out, I realize that the whole experience was a deeply fulfilling one and that I’ve been called to write it after all.

So where does self-publishing come into all this? Remember those books I sent out and received a full round of rejections? I have written these manuscripts for “Personal Fulfillment” because I felt God called me to write them. I also have felt that God wanted these books published for such a time as this. After researching the market and realizing a traditional publisher wouldn’t offer me a contract for them, I decided to publish these myself. I am thrilled that I have. What joy each one of these books has been and still is to know that God is using them to reach people and minister to their hearts.

I like to encourage writer friends, writers in my critique groups, and other writers to explore the option of self-publishing your book if traditional publishers have rejected your manuscript. This can definitely be very fulfilling personally in many different ways.

My self-published titles are available on Amazon. They include:
Depression: What’s a Christian to Do?
Anyone Can Get Published—You Can, Too! A Practical Strategy for the Christian Who Writes

To Follow Yahweh’s Plan: A Novel on the Book of Ruth

Question: Tell us about your new book and how it came about. Also, tell us how your book can help us reach our publishing goals.

Answer: My new book is Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. It had a very exciting beginning!

I’ve been leading critique groups in some form or another for over 15 years. I have been blessed with a very successful career as a children’s writer, so I am always trying to share in my groups about the things that worked for me to encourage my heart as a writer, help me get published often, and actually earn an income during these years. One of the best places I discovered I could do this was on my blog.

One day, E and E Publishing contacted me. The publisher told me she’d been reading my blog. After I got over the shock that a publisher was actually reading my blog, she said she wanted to offer me a book contract based on the material on my blog! It was the kind of stuff we dream about as writers.

The great thing about this book is that the material I include in it is tried and true. These steps and these strategies have worked for me. Not only have they worked for me, however, but as different members of my critique groups as well as readers of my blog have put these strategies into practice, they’re experiencing success, too! In fact, recently on my blog, a complete stranger posted a comment saying that she bought my book, started using the strategies I share, and within one week landed a book contract. Wow! Even I was amazed! She said that now her whole critique group is buying the book.

Question: In the front of your book, there is a quote, “If one can, anyone can. If two can, you can, too!”™ Can you tell us a little bit about the background behind your quote?

Answer: When I speak at writer’s events or to new writers, they often say, “You can land a book contract like this because you’re already an established writer.” The amazing thing is that I landed my very first book contract before I wrote the manuscript! And the second! And the third!

When writers hear that, they usually respond, “Well then, you must be a very talented writer.” I just have to smile. When I started writing I knew absolutely nothing about writing. I even submitted one manuscript idea written in red ink on notepaper. I still have some of my earliest manuscripts and I cringe when I read them. They’re bad.

I know that if I can build a successful career as a children’s writer, absolutely anyone else can, too! But I’m not the only one who has a successful career as a children’s writer. I have lots of friends who are working writers. If two or more of us can do it, I am confident that you can, too. In my book, Yes! You Can, I share insider’s tips about the world of successful working writers so you can start building your own career today, too.

Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career
By Nancy I. Sanders
E and E Publishing, 2009
Available on

Web site:

Nancy I. Sanders is the best-selling and award-winning author of over 75 books including D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press, illustrated by E. B. Lewis). She has been published with such houses as Tyndale, Standard, Concordia, Barbour, Chicago Review Press, and Scholastic Teaching Resources. Her column for children’s writers appears in The Writer’s online magazine, the Christian Communicator, and the Institute of Children’s Literature eNews. Nancy is a frequent contributor of nonfiction articles and feature fiction to Focus on the Family’s magazine Clubhouse Jr. One of her newest books is Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career.

Find Nancy's Blog Book Tour here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Special blog post tomorrow

Please stop by tomorrow for a special interview with children's book author Nancy I. Sanders. Nancy not only writes children's books, she also shares how she's successful at it with other writers--not only for writing, but for getting books published and making an income from it.

I've found her blog very inspiring and helpful. If you're interested in reading about her methods for writing children's books and making an income, read her March 2008 blog posts at

Tomorrow Nancy has an encouraging and informative message just for us. I hope you'll stop by.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 4

List 5 Benefits your book has.

Again, like Features, you may have more than five, but you should have at least five.

Benefits are what your reader/book-buyer will gain by buying and reading your book. Benefits differ from Features, but they are linked together.

In Writing Copy for Dummies (Wiley, 2005, pg. 21), author Jonathan Kranz describes Benefits this way:

Benefits are what the product or service does for the owner or user. They are, therefore, much more important than features because they include a what’s-in-it-for-me motivation. They’re active qualities and are almost always verbs, adverbs, or verbal phrases. They save people time and money, protect them from foul weather, alert them to danger, make them look younger and sexier, and so on. You can say that the pencil gives you the following benefits:

  • Its bold color makes it easy to find on a cluttered desktop.
  • Its ridged shape prevents it from rolling off your desk.
  • Its built-in eraser helps you correct mistakes in a flash.

You may notice that…the pencil’s benefits are intimately related to its features. In fact, I took each feature and uncovered its value—what the pencil does for people that makes it worth buying…

…transforming features into benefits is easy. For any given feature, ask, ‘What does this do for my customer?’ The answer is the benefit. For example, consider the call-waiting feature on your phone. What does it do for you? It alerts you to incoming calls, even when you’re on the line with someone else. The benefit: You never miss a phone call.”

In her book, The Mom Inventors Handbook (McGrawhill, 2005, $16.95, pg. 15), Tamara Monosoff give this information about a product’s benefits:

“List your product’s benefits. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a “benefit” is “something that promotes or enhances well-being; an advantage.” In other words, what does this product solve? How can it help someone in his or her daily life? The TP [toilet paper] Saver™ packaging states the following benefits:

  • Prevents your child or pet from unrolling toilet paper
  • Reduces the risk of paper ingestion
  • Saves paper, money, and the environment

I took the five Features I listed for my book, Dear America, and came up with these five Benefits:

  1. Get ten helpful tips to help you or a friend through the loss of a loved one.
  2. Understand or explain the story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in five easy steps.
  3. When you’re ready to accept Christ, here are words you can follow as an example.
  4. Discover answers to some of your questions about Muslims, their faith, and how it is different from Christianity.
  5. Learn ten tips to help you start reading and understanding the Bible.

Your Benefits will link in to the first of the “3 Big Questions” we discussed earlier: What need does your book fill, what problem does it solve, or what desirable thing does it help your reader obtain?

What Benefits does your book or proposed book have? List them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 3

List 5 Features your book has.

You may have more than five, but you should have at least five.

Features are “tangible” items your book has. For example, your book might have lists of resources, sidebars of helpful information, timelines, charts, or application questions to help readers apply what they’ve learned.

In Writing Copy for Dummies (Wiley, 2005, pg. 20), author Jonathan Kranz describes Features this way:

Features are qualities or things that an item or service has, such as anti-lock
disc brakes or a water-repelling exterior shell. Features are static characteristics, and they’re almost always nouns or adjectives. The pencil, for example, has the following features:

  • It’s yellow.
  • It’s a hexagon.
  • It has an eraser.
In her book, The Mom Inventors Handbook (McGrawhill, 2005, $16.95, pg. 15), Tamara Monosoff says this about a product’s features. (And your book is a “product.”):

Describe your product’s features. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a “feature” is “a prominent or distinctive aspect, quality, or characteristic.” If you were describing a home’s features, for instance, you might say three bedrooms, a master bath, an updated kitchen, and hard-wood floors. Use this as a guide when determining your own product’s proposed features. The TP [toilet paper] Saver has the following product features:

  • No assembly required
  • Simple to use
  • No need to remove toilet paper for insertion
  • Fits most standard toilet paper holders

I didn’t know any of this stuff when I published my first book, Dear America: A Letter of Comfort and Hope to a Grieving Nation. Now, however, I’m going back and applying what I’m learning to that book. As an example, here are five Features I listed that are in Dear America:

  1. Ten things I’ve learned about grief (Which, by the way, I’ve sold as an article.)
  2. A presentation of the Gospel like a five-act story.
  3. A sample prayer to accept Christ.
  4. Questions and Answers section: such as “How can we know Christianity is true?,” “Who are the Muslims?,” “Where did the religion of Islam come from?,” and “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?”
  5. Ten Tips to help beginners start reading and understanding the Bible.

What Features does your book or proposed book have? List them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

3 Big Questions about Your Nonfiction Book - #3

The number three question of the 3 Big Questions after “Who is going to buy your book?” was this:

3. How are you going to reach them?

You’ve created a book or book idea that fills a need, solves a problem, or helps someone attain a desire, and you’ve identified who your reader/book-buyer is, but how are you going to get inside their world and let them know about your book?

There could probably be a million answers to this question. In the “old days,” publishers relied on print ads and possibly radio ads. But those are costly. Today, the internet has opened remarkable opportunities to reach people with similar interests, needs, problems, or desires. How can you take advantage of that? Where can you go find your potential buyers?

For my book idea, I’m still thinking pro-life pregnancy centers will be interested. And there are a ton of them I can contact to let them know about my book. But where else can I find potential reader/book-buyers? And how am I going to reach them?

How are you going to reach your potential reader/book-buyers?

Where are they? Where do they hang out?
  • Internet discussions groups and forums?
  • E-mail loops?
  • Twitter?
  • Facebook?
  • U-Tube?
  • Blogs?
  • Have you used keywords in your website and blog to attract them through search engines?
  • Can you podcast them or send them a newsletter?
  • Where are your potential reader/book-buyers in the flesh? Do they gather for conventions or conferences? Do they have meetings? Do they want you as a speaker?
  • What are the other million ideas you can come up with?

Who are your reader/book-buyers? Where are they? How are you going to reach them to tell them about your book?

If you can form a plan around these Big Questions in these three posts, you’ve got a marketing plan that has potential to sell your book.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

3 Big Questions about Your Nonfiction Book - #2

The number two question of the 3 Big Questions I kept coming across as I studied how to sell things was this:

2. Who is going to buy your book?

Duh. Shouldn’t we, as authors, know this? But I know plenty of authors who (at least at the beginning) might say their book is for “everyone.” Nobody’s book is for everyone. Seriously, who is going to buy yours?

For my book, I thought pro-life pregnancy centers would buy my book. I thought they’d want it for clients and donors and others who misunderstood what they do or didn’t know what they do. This idea, again, got a chilly reception from professionals in the publishing industry.

Maybe I was creating a book for them, but would they buy it? Would they have the funds to buy it? What would they do with it after they bought it? Would they want copies for their clients or donors? Would that be compelling enough for them to buy my book?

What about your book? Who is going to buy your book?

Who is going to be your primary reader/book-buyer? Who will be attracted to its title and content? Who needs it? Who wants it? Who will need or want it so much that they're willing to fork out money to get it?

If you can’t answer these questions, you’re going to have a hard time selling your book. If you can answer them, you’re going to have ways to market and promote your book!

But after answering this question, there’s a bigger challenge awaiting…

Sunday, September 27, 2009

3 Big Questions about Your Nonfiction Book - #1

After my major epiphany about the problem with my book, I started looking to learn more about how to shape a book that will sell.

At the beginning of this year I bought several books on copywriting and started studying. My thinking was this: “copywriting” is writing copy that helps businesses sell their products so if I can learn how to sell things, it will help me sell my books.

There’s so much I could say about what I’ve learned. And I intend let you in on all that, but it’s going to take some time. So to start, I want to give you three questions that kept coming up over and over. These became my “3 Big Questions” to ask. Here’s question number one:

1. What need does your book fill, what problem does it solve, or what desirable thing does it help your readers obtain?

Now, taking my book as an example, Where Grace Abounds: True Stories from Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers, can you see how I utterly failed to create a book idea that anyone would want to buy?

I may have a great idea for a book. And the comments and e-mails I get from people in pro-life work confirm that. But it is not shaped in a way that anyone walking into Barnes and Noble or any other bookseller would want to buy it. They wouldn’t even know to look for it. And if they saw it on the bookstore shelf, they wouldn’t think they needed to read it.

Can you see how I created a book based on something I wanted people to know? I could even think people need to know what’s going on in pro-life pregnancy centers.

If you remember the beginning of this story, I first wanted to write this book because I saw so much misunderstanding about what pro-life pregnancy centers do. People I encountered thought our pregnancy center helped women get abortions, which we didn’t. People thought we enabled promiscuity in young people. People thought we only helped unwed teenagers, not realizing many clients were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and many were married.

I wanted to showcase what we were really doing: helping anyone who needed help in their unplanned pregnancy, no matter the age, no judgments about their marital status. I wanted to set the record straight, but I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to inform people who needed our services that we had what they need. I wanted to let people who might support our efforts know what we really do. I wanted to inform other people about this great work in case they didn’t know what pro-life pregnancy centers do or in case they didn’t even know this work existed!

All noble intentions. But can you see the problem here? The above paragraph is loaded with “I want… I want… I want…” I may have wanted to do a lot of wonderful things, but the reader/book-buyer doesn’t care.

The reader/book-buyer is at the bookstore because they have “I wants.” Or “I needs.” And my book wasn’t playing into any of their wants or needs.

Even if my book, or the book you’re planning, does indeed help the reader/book-buyer with her or his wants and needs, they don’t know they need to read it!

If your nonfiction book, or mine, it isn’t couched in the setting for the reader/book-buyer’s wants and needs, they’re not going to find it, let alone buy it.

So, how will you answer the #1 of the 3 Big Questions for your book?

If you’re having trouble with that, go to your book store or visit one online and look at how the books on their shelves answer it.

  • How-to books fill needs for information.
  • Self-help books help people solve problems.
  • Diet and money management books help readers obtain desirable things.

If your book doesn’t do one of these, how can you tweak it so that it does?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Major Epiphany: My Marketing Problem and How I Got a Clue

If you read my recent posts about my misadventures of trying to sell my book idea to editors and agents at writer’s conferences, you may have gotten a feel for how the publishing world can be so very discouraging. If you’re a writer, no doubt you've experienced that discouragement. If you haven’t yet, you will.

So, what can we do? Well, we can quit. Or, maybe some of us can’t.

I know what I wanted to do. I wanted to figure out why the book idea that I thought was such a great idea was getting such a chilly reception among publishing professionals. But how could I do that?

I have to admit sometimes I feel like I’m back in Junior High and I’m getting that paranoid feeling like when it seems everyone is whispering…until you walk in the room. Then suddenly everything’s quiet. You wonder what’s going on but no one will tell you. You try to figure it out, but the only conclusion you can come to is that they were whispering something about you. But no one will say what it’s about. Whatever’s going on, you’re the last person to know. All you can do is hope your best friend will let you in on it.

That’s how I felt about this book. I thought it was a great idea. But no one else seemed to. What did they know that I didn't? What did they see in it that I couldn't see? Was it going to be a major failure? Or could it possibly be one of those great stories writers dream about where every publisher in the world turns it down and so the author publishes it herself and it becomes a best-seller and sells ten million copies?

I knew publishing professionals were giving my book idea the cold shoulder, but I didn't know why. Obviously the pros saw something wrong, but I couldn't see what it was. Who could I ask, because no one was telling me?!

One day, on a writer’s e-mail loop, there was a question that allowed us to send in our book ideas for feedback, and so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and sent my book idea out there. I told them about my great idea: a book filled with true stories from pro-life pregnancy centers!

I wish I could tell you who it was who wrote to me privately. I’d love to give her credit, God bless her. I wish I would have kept her note, and if I ever remember who it was I’ll let you know, but she was the friend who came to me privately and told me what was going on.

She said something like, “Dianne, you have a marketing problem. Nobody walks into Barnes and Noble thinking, ‘Gee, I’d like to read a book about pro-life pregnancy centers today.’”

Oh my. Major epiphany. This author, God bless her, finally let me in on the problem and put it in terms I could understand.

I have to tell you I chewed on that little piece of information for months. I knew instantly she was right, and I could finally see the problem with my great book idea. But it took me a while to see the situation clearly enough to begin to figure out how to, hopefully, fix it.

So with your book, or your great book idea, can you test it by removing my topic (pro-life pregnancy centers) and fill your topic into that blank and see if your great book idea is going to fly? Will people walking into Barnes and Noble be looking for your book?

This insight was a major turning point for me. I've learned a ton since then, and in my next posts I’ll give you three big questions to ask which should help you sort out whether you have a winner of a nonfiction book idea or, if not, how to tweak it so you do.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Searching for a Publisher: Misadventure #2

In my “Misadventure #1” post, I told you about a strange experience I had at a writer’s conference. Here’s the other:

A few years ago I took my one-sheet (a single page with all the information about my proposed book), to another writer’s conference. I looked forward to talking with editors and agents about my great idea for Where Grace Abounds: True Stories from Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers.

I had studied the conference brochure to see which publishing houses and agencies would be there and studied the editorial needs listed on the conference’s web site.

I was delighted with which publishers were being represented at the conference that year—some very big-name publishers, including the A #1 publisher on my list of possible publishers for my book. This publisher was part of a large Christian ministry which was actively doing some pro-life work. This seemed to me to be the best publisher for my book. “My book,” I thought, “fits right in with what they’re doing.” So I made the appointment with that editor plus appointments with three other good possibilities.

The big day came and there I was, sitting with the editor of the big-name ministry and publishing company. I was just sure this editor would love my book idea, would see its tremendous value, and would just be unable to contain himself until he got me to sign a publishing contract with his company.

Alas, when I told him about my great book idea, he seemed less than interested. He politely sort of encouraged me to maybe…um…try someplace else.

I really couldn’t understand why he wasn’t interested. I mean, seriously, all kidding aside, to this day I believe my book fits perfectly with that ministry and publishing house.

However I’ve been to enough conferences and sat across from enough editors that not much surprises me anymore. I’ve learned the hard way that in the span of a few short days at a conference a writer can go from the highest heights to the lowest lows. I’ve had editors and agents express great interest in some of my projects—which carried me to the highest highs—only to turn in the project after the conference and have nothing ever come of it.

I’ve also had some editors tell me very discouraging things about my writing projects—which carried me to the lowest lows—only to later find a publisher for that article or short story which confirmed the piece was at least as good as I thought it was.

The bottom line: Don’t let Discouragement get to you because: At a writer’s conference, the highs often are not as high as we think they are and the lows are never as low as we think they are. It all tends to level out in the afterglow of the conference.

So, although I was perplexed about why this editor was not at all interested in my great idea, I wasn’t devastated.

Several weeks later, I got out the tapes and CDs I had purchased at the conference. There are always so many great workshops to take you can’t possibly get to them all, so I attend some and buy the rest on CD. Because I was interested in working with that particular editor, I had purchased all the workshops he taught.

So there I was, sitting in my office listening to this man’s wisdom emanate from my boom box. He was talking about how some people end up having large ministries that are in the spotlight, but many others have “quiet ministries,” ministries that not too many people even notice. For example, he said, he had talked to a lady at this conference who wanted to write a book about pro-life pregnancy centers.

“Oh my,” I thought. “Here we go again. He’s talking about me.”

Now that, he went on to say, would be a very quiet ministry because, and this is how I remember it: “That book will never end up on the shelves of bookstores.”


There it was. On tape.

I remember thinking, “Why not? Why wouldn’t my book be on bookstore shelves?!”

My next thought was, “Why would I want to partner with a publishing company that doesn’t see my book on the shelves in bookstores?”

Guess that explains his lack of interest in my book. Sort of.

Also, he’d said that to his whole workshop class. Did anyone know who he was talking about? Probably. I had my writer’s guidelines on the conference freebie table and had many people talking to me about writing stories for my book. It was no secret.

Sometimes the reactions we get from others, including editors and agents, baffle us.

I continue to believe in my book. I continue to believe in the power of these true stories from real people to help, encourage, and guide others who are going through unplanned pregnancies right now.

Am I kidding myself about whether this book can be successful? Do these professionals in the book publishing business see a failure of a book that I’m blind to?

At the same time I’m getting these chilly reactions from editors and agents, I’m getting e-mails from pro-life pregnancy center directors and volunteers (people who would actually, um, be buying the book) saying, “What a great idea! When and where can I buy a copy?”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dismal Book Sales Numbers (and hints that you can improve yours)

In my last post, I told you the story of the author at a conference I attended who told me I’d done very well to sell 300 copies (at the time) of my Dear America book. He said most books don’t sell more than 100 copies.

Is that true?

A few years ago there were some numbers floating around writing circles. (I wish I could tell you where they originated, but I haven’t been able to find that information. I think they were in Publishers Weekly or some such publication, but I don’t know for sure.)

Author Randy Ingermanson ( recapped them and analyzed them in his The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine in August 2007. Here’s a portion of what Randy wrote:

In the last few months, it seems like everybody has been quoting the same set of horrifying numbers, a group of sales figures for books in the year 2004.

Why 2004? Because that is the most recent year for which reasonably accurate statistics are available…

Here are some of those brutal numbers.

In 2004, about 1.2 million books were in print.

80% of those books sold fewer than 100 copies.

98% sold fewer than 5000 copies.

Only a few hundred books sold more than 100,000 copies.

About 10 books sold over a million copies.

Randy noted that many of those book were self-published by authors who couldn’t find a traditional publisher and so self-published and ended up with cases of books molding in their garages. Randy also noted that not all of those books were published that year, and therefore might be on the waning end of their sales history.

So, is it terrific that I sold more than 300 copies of Dear America?

By some standards, perhaps I did pretty well.

But I know this: I need to do way better than that next time.

And so do you.

We need to do way better than that if we’re publishing with a traditional publisher (so they’ll want to publish us again!). And if we’re self- (independently) publishing, we need to do way better than that to make it feasible to publish, and then to go beyond “feasibility” to actually, um, make a profit. (This is not a sin.) Why is making a profit important? Just like the traditional publishers: so we can live to publish another book. And, so we can get our book in the hands of as many people as possible for them to read it because that is, after all, why we wrote it. Correct?

So I’ve been thinking, brainstorming, studying, and learning all I can about how to sell books. I’ve learned a ton. And yet I think I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ll share what I’ve learned so far and what I continue to learn as this blog continues.

Sharing what I’ve learned so you can do well with your book. That’s what I intend this blog to be all about.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Searching for a Publisher: Misadventure #1

So after this book decided it wouldn’t stay dead and it resurrected itself, I knew my first, best choice was to try to attract a traditional publisher. I felt this would give the book the best chance of success and the greatest exposure.

So I prepared to go to conferences and present my book idea to editors and agents. At the beginning, I had no idea what an adventure this would be!

I thought I had a great idea cooking in my brain and I thought several publishers would be really interested in it. But as I presented my idea at conferences, I had a couple of interesting misadventures. Two stand out.

Why would I tell you about these? Certainly not to criticize or embarrass anyone.

I share these experiences because, if you’re a writer/author or a wannabe writer or author, you no doubt have discovered (or soon will) that your biggest enemy is the big “D”: Discouragement.

Discouragement can be a real witch. I wonder how many books she’s managed to kill. I don’t want that to happen to you or your book. So hang in there.

I certainly felt discouragement after these two incidents. But if you’re going to stay in the writing game, then you’ve got to be able to overcome Discouragement and any obstacles she tries to throw in your path. I hope my experiences will let you know these things happen, they happen to all of us (not just you), and in the grand scheme of things, they’re not that big of a deal. You’re searching for a publisher, and if you run into a misadventure yourself, brush it off, (make sure your have a good, quality project), and move on.

So, for laughs, for enlightenment, for information, for whatever…here are a couple of my misadventures as I remember them:

At one conference I attended after I’d resurrected my “pro-life pregnancy center book,” on a break between workshops, I found myself standing near one of the faculty members, an author whom I knew had multiple books out.

I can’t remember what started the conversation, but I believe he was asking the writers around him about their books or articles. When he asked me, I told him briefly about Dear America: A Letter of Comfort and Hope to a Grieving Nation. I can’t remember why we were talking sales numbers, but for some reason I ended up telling him I’d sold about 300 copies at that time.

He told me that was really good.

Personally, I thought that was pretty dismal.

He told me that most books don’t sell more than 100 copies. He added some of his books had sold less than 100 copies.

I was stunned.

All of his books (as far as I know) are published by traditional publishers. I thought surely his books would have sold at least several thousand copies. Minimum.

(Silently I wondered, if some of his traditionally published books sold less than 100 copies, how did he manage to continue getting publishing contracts from traditional publishers? But he has. And continues to, as far as I know.)

When it was time for the workshops to start, I made my way into his classroom and found an empty seat. When he began to teach, he made a comment about a lady he had talked to earlier. Then he paused, scanned the room while saying, “I hope she’s not in here.”

I didn’t know if he was going to talk about me or somebody else. When scanning the room, I thought he looked right at me. I didn’t know if I should raise my hand and say, “Here I am.”

When he then told the room about our conversation, I knew he was talking about me. And I was sitting right there!

He told them “that lady” was very disappointed that she had only sold 300 copies of her book and that she really had done quite well.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I glanced at my friend who also knew he was talking about me. She shrugged, indicating she didn’t know what I should do either. So I slinked down in my chair and kept my head low. Sure was glad I hadn’t raised my hand.

That whole incident just felt weird. Why would he tell a whole classroom of wannabe authors most books don’t sell more than 100 copies? I could understand if he’d followed with ways to sell more books, but… I don’t know. It was just weird.

So, any lessons learned? Perhaps just this: If you’re going to talk about something in your workshop, assume the person you’re talking about is listening and make sure you’re polite.

(I’m wondering if that author is reading this right now and recognizing himself. Uh oh.)

That’s not the only time that has happened to me. I’ll tell you the other time in “Misadventure #2.”

But first, would you like to know more about those dismal book sales numbers? Whether you’re publishing independently or traditionally, you need to know book sales numbers. Knowing is the first step to making your sales numbers better. I’ll tell you what I know about sales numbers next time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You MUST Know what Type of Publishing Company You’re Working With

I’m amazed when I talk with an author who is so excited that they have a publishing company that wants to publish their book and, when I ask which publisher, they name a company I know to be a self- or independent-publishing company. These authors act as if they’ve landed a contract with a traditional publisher, and I think they believe they have, but they haven’t. I have to wonder if they know the difference. In some cases I don’t think so.

(I’m not talking here about experienced, self-/independently-publishing authors who know exactly what they’re doing.)

Here’s the scoop:

Don’t assume that just because a publisher tells you they want to publish your book that you’re hooked up with a traditional publisher. You have to know what type of publisher you’re working with!

If a traditional publisher tells you they want to publish your book, that usually is a pretty good thing.

If a self-, independent-, or subsidy-publisher tells you they want to publish your book, that’s not the same thing!

Having a self-, independent-, or subsidy-publisher tell you they want to publish your book, or even asking one of these if they think you should publish your book (asking if it is of publishable quality, or if they think it will sell), is a little like having a car salesman tell you that you should buy a new car. Or asking a car salesman if you should buy a new car. Selling cars is this person’s business. It’s how he makes his money. Of course he’ll tell you that you need a new car!

A self-, independent-, or subsidy-publisher will most likely tell you they want to publish your book or that you should publish your book. It’s their business. It’s what they do. It’s how they make their money. Why would they tell you no?

One big, important difference to keep in mind between traditional publishers and self-publishing companies:

A traditional publisher only makes money if the book sells. They fork out money (usually a lot of it) to publish your book and they need to do more than break even, they need to make a profit to stay in business and publish the next book. This means they won’t take on a book they don’t think will sell. And it means they will help sell the book (at least a little) once it’s published.

In contrast, a self-publishing company makes its money from you. Once you’ve paid them to do the work of publishing your book, and you have your book in your hands, they could care less if it sells. They’ve already been paid. Selling books to earn back what you’ve invested and hopefully make a profit is entirely up to you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

If you’re considering self-publishing, you need to make sure you understand the differences between that and traditional publishing. Here are some pros and cons to self-publishing:

  • It’s hard to break in to traditional publishers but anybody can hire a self-publishing company. These used to be called “vanity publishers” because anyone who simply wanted to see their name on the cover of a book could hire one—and they’d publish whatever you sent them: typos, goofs, bad information, bad grammar and all. Today, most self-publishing companies are better than that and self-published books are overcoming that stigma, but you still need to know what you’re doing before you publish your own book if you want to end up with a quality product that you can sell.
  • Some traditional publishers only accept book proposals from agents but you never need an agent to get your foot in the door of an independent publishing company.

  • With traditional publishers, authors may make little in royalties. Authors who self-publish stand to make a lot more. You price the book. You find out what each unit (copy of the book) is going to cost you to produce. You keep the difference. You’ve paid the bills and you keep all the proceeds. (Note: Some publishers are “subsidy publishers” which means you pay part of the costs and they pay part, then you get part of the proceeds and they keep part of the proceeds. How much each party gets is negotiated up front.)

  • Traditional publishers often do little to promote the book—it’s pretty much all up to the author to sell every last copy. Self-publishing companies might help to varying degrees. If they say they will help you promote your book, you should find out exactly what they will do because some consider listing it on as fulfilling that part of your agreement. Simply listing your book on or in a catalog or on their web site is not going to do much to sell your book. In all of these cases, a prospective buyer/reader still needs to know about your book before they know to go to or a catalog or a web site to order it. Again, know what you’re getting into before you get into it. (I hope this blog is helping. That’s why I’m writing it!)

  • Traditional publishers today often expect the author to spend the advance given on promoting the book. If you’re publishing independently, you didn’t get an advance. But you’re still going to have to dig in your pocket to come up with any promotional money you’re going to spend. It’s best to include this, and a specific promotion plan, in your budget from the get-go.

  • You have to pay all expenses to publish the book, but you have complete control and you keep all the profits (if any).

  • You won’t have the professional book publishing people in a traditional publishing house to help you, but your self-publishing company should provide the same professional services, such as:
    - editing your book, including editing for content as well as for grammar;
    - designing your cover;
    - making your book pretty on the inside—fonts, headers, page numbers, etc.;
    - help with the “back cover copy.” (The information printed on the back cover of the book.)
    - Help with the title? Traditional publishers work on titles, but you’ll have to ask your self-publishing company about that.
    - Marketing help to help you sell the book after it’s published. Different packages are probably available for different prices, so ask. Packages might include setting up interviews on radio, TV, blog tours, book signings and more. Any expenses will be yours.

  • A traditional publisher will be able to get your book into the distributors, which makes it available to bookstores nationwide. A good self-publishing company will also have access to distributors.

  • Some self-publishing companies go to trade shows, others do not. You should find out if you’ll be able to attend those shows you wish to before you sign with a company.

  • Some authors see having professionals design their book cover as a con because the author usually has no input or right of refusal for the book cover. When you self-publish you have complete control. Your self-publishing company will work with you, but you may not have marketing/sales professionals behind you directing, so you’ll need to make sure you have professionals helping make sure you end up with a cover that will be attractive. Buyer/readers really do judge a book by its cover.

  • Dittos the above with your title.

  • Self-publishing gives you complete control over design, pricing, and every detail of your book, but make sure you have professionals helping you create a high quality product that will sell.

  • Sometimes traditional publishers will also foot the bill for advertisements in print publications or on radio. You’re self-publishing, so you’re on your own.

  • Traditional publishers will get your book to book reviewers. Check with your self-publishing company to see if they do the same.

  • Traditional publishers will take 12 to 24 months from contract to get your book published. You can have your self-published book in your hands in a couple months, or even quicker.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pros and Cons of Publishing with a Traditional Publisher

Some authors are soured with traditional publishers for many reasons, including the following:

  • It’s hard to break in to traditional publishers. Getting your proposal noticed when it’s sitting in a huge stack of other proposals (known as the “slush pile”) is pretty challenging.
  • Some traditional publishers only accept book proposals from agents. (Sometimes there are ways around this rule, such as meeting an editor at a writer’s conference.)
  • The authors make little in royalties. At a recent writer’s conference, I heard one multi-published author say that his book sells about 5,000 copies per year (that’s a lot) and it’s the bestselling title for his small press publisher. He has a traditional book deal with a straight 10% of the net royalties. So how big is his annual royalty check? $500. Do the math. That $ .10 per book sold. (That’s pretty pathetic.) Could you live on $500 a year?
  • Traditional publishers often do little to promote the book—it’s pretty much all up to the author to sell every last copy.
  • Traditional publishers today often expect the author to spend the advance given on promoting the book. (After doing so, what is the author supposed to live on?)


  • The publisher pays all expenses to publish the book.
  • Professional book publishing people (people who know what works well and what doesn’t):
    - edit your book. Includes editing for content as well as for grammar;
    - design your cover;
    - make your book pretty on the inside—fonts, headers, page numbers, etc.;
    - help with the “back cover copy.” (The information printed on the back cover of the book.);
    - help with the title—by the marketing people who know what sells.
  • Sometimes you’ll get marketing help to help you sell the book after it’s published. This might include setting up interviews on radio, maybe even TV, blog tours, possibly book signings at book stores…that sort of thing. Unless you’re really famous and are going to sell a lot of books, chances are those bookstore signings will be local to you and if you travel anywhere, you’ll pay your own expenses.
  • A traditional publisher will be able to get your book into the distributors, which makes it available to bookstores nationwide. This can be tricky to accomplish on your own.
  • Sometimes traditional publishers will also foot the bill for advertisements in print publications or on radio. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard some books advertised this way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one day it was your book?
  • Traditional publishers will get your book to book reviewers, and that’s a good thing.
  • Your traditional publishing company should attend at least some of the trade show where they interact with bookstore owners and try to talk them into carrying your book. This, too, is a good thing.

More Cons:

  • Some authors see having professionals design their book cover as a con because the author usually has no input or right of refusal for the book cover. This can be frustrating if you really don’t like what the publisher comes up with.
  • Some authors like the title they have for their book and don’t like it when the publisher changes the title. Again, authors usually don’t have any say in this.
  • Once you turn in your manuscript and complete all the requested edits, you have little say over what happens with your book. Some authors don’t like that. Self-publishing gives you complete control over everything—but you pay for it all and if you have professionals helping you, you’re paying them.
  • Traditional publishers will take 12 to 24 months from contract to get your book published (unless it’s rare and they fast-track it).

There may be more pros and cons—these are just what I thought of today. If I think of more, I might come back and edit this post or post on this topic again.

I hope this begins to get your brain spinning with things you need to consider before choosing whether to attempt to find a traditional publisher or to self-publish.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 2

Write the “Overview.” And, write a description of your book in 1 to 3 sentences.

In your overview, tell what your book is about, what you’re going to include, and what the flavor of it is like. If you’re going to include statistics or resources or cartoons or illustrations or footnotes or appendices, do tell. In other words, give a good solid overview of what you’re going to do with your book.

(If you’re writing fiction, this would probably be a brief synopsis of your storyline.)

Make the Overview no more than one page, single spaced.

At the same time, state what your book is about in one to three sentences. We’re not going to use this until the very end, but you might as well do it now. If you have trouble with this, just imagine you’re sitting on a bus, someone asks you what your book is about, and they’re getting off at the next stop less than a block away. Boil it down. Get it said. Fast. This is your 30-second elevator pitch.

If you’re still having trouble, it could be your book isn’t focused enough yet. Maybe you need to work with it more. Maybe you need to think it through more or organize it more.

If your book is focused, if you really know what it’s about, you should be able to state it in one sentence.

So if you really can’t write the Overview or the description in 1 to 3 sentences, what should you do? Don’t despair! Instead, move on to another part of the proposal. I would suggest you write an outline of the book and/or write a synopsis of each chapter (which will be a part towards the end of this procedure called “Chapter Summaries”). Doing this should help you better nail down your book.

Or, write a rough draft of your Overview now, writing what you know about your book at this point. Then move on and come back to it later to revise and polish it.

By the way, as you write all of these parts of your book proposal, put them all in one document in your computer. Put a heading at each part. You’re building a proposal one brick at a time. Don’t worry at this point about what order the parts are in. Just do it for now. We can rearrange it later if we need to.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 1

If you’re new to the world of publishing, you need to know not only what a book proposal is but what it is for. Most books are sold to publishers via a book proposal. Also, you usually submit a book proposal to an agent when you’re seeking representation, and then your agent submits it to a publisher. Therefore, the proposal needs to have all the information an acquisitions editor and/or an agent needs to make a good decision about whether to publish your book.

In case you didn’t notice, take note that books are almost always sold by a proposal. Books most often are not sold by submitting the entire manuscript.

With fiction, a first-time author will probably have to submit the entire manuscript before a contract is offered, but the thing that opens that door is the book proposal.

In other words, don’t write the book first! Especially if it’s a non-fiction book.

(One exception: Children’s books, where the manuscript is only a couple thousand words max, is often submitted as a completed manuscript.)

Many authors new to publishing set out and write their book and, once they have the manuscript completed, ask, “Okay, how do I get it published?” Stop!

Professional authors normally write the book proposal first…for more than one reason:
  • Allowing a publisher to have input into your book may increase your chances of landing a publishing contract.
  • If a publisher is interested, but would like your book to be a little different (different focus or organization or whatever), then you can make those adjustments (if you choose) and you haven’t wasted valuable time and work in writing the whole manuscript.
  • If you never find a publisher interested in offering you a contract, you haven’t wasted a lot of time writing the manuscript.

So just what needs to go into a book proposal? We’re going to talk about the different parts of a proposal one part at a time. I believe if you walk through each part I describe and write that part for your book (in any order), then by the time you’re finished you will have a fine book proposal ready to be submitted.

How do I know that? Well, one book proposal I wrote landed me an agent. When I sent her a second book proposal I asked her how I did with it and her response was, “The proposal is excellent.” So, I feel I figured this out pretty well.

Now, let me say that there are probably a lot of different ways to write a book proposal—and there is probably not one right way. But the information I am going to give you here will get you where you want to go. Feel free, of course, to tweak this information to fit your book.

There are some differences for fiction proposals and we’ll cover those after we cover all the elements in a non-fiction proposal (with fiction-related notes along the way).

Here we go. See you next time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What is a “Traditional Publisher”? What is “Self-Publishing”?

In the publishing business, it used to be that there were basically two kinds of publishers: “regular” publishers and “vanity” publishers. Today, there are many different kinds of publishers that still basically fall under those two categories, but the problem is that the lines between them are increasingly blurred. So to keep things simple, we’ll still divide things into two groups and we’ll define them this way:

Traditional Publisher: Pays you an advance and royalties. A traditional publisher takes your manuscript and publishes it for you. The company pays all the expenses of publishing your book, including creating a cover, editing, designing the interior, etc., and in return pays you a percentage of the sales (royalties).

The advance you receive is an advance on those royalties. In other words, the traditional publishing company calculates how many books they think your book will sell in the first year after it hits the shelves and pays you that in advance. When your book actually hits the bookstore shelves, it must “earn back” that amount. You won’t receive a royalty check until your book earns back that advance. Then you’ll receive royalties on the additional sales.
It is my understanding that few books actually earn out their advance, so don’t be spending those future royalty checks before you receive them.

Self-publishing: Is sometimes called independent publishing, subsidy publishing, or POD (print-on-demand) publishing. Some people still sometimes call it vanity publishing.

In self-publishing or independent-publishing, YOU pay all the expenses of publishing your book (which can be a hefty amount, so please, please, please know what you’re doing before you go there).

In subsidy publishing, YOU pay part of the expenses of publishing your book and the company pays part. How much each party pays varies with each company.

For my purposes in this blog, I’m grouping all the publishers into only two groups:

Traditional Publishers: pay you advance and/or royalties and all the expenses of publishing your book and do not ask for one penny towards publishing your book.

Self- or Independent-Publishers: if you pay ANY of the expenses to publish your book—that means if you have any out-of-pocket expenses—then this is not a traditional publisher and has moved into the category of a self-publishing company.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When it’s Time to Start Searching for a Publisher

When I had collected several excellent, heart-tugging stories that were just what I had envisioned for my book, it was time to begin thinking about putting together a book proposal.

In the publishing industry, the way most books are sold are through “book proposals.” Writing a book proposal is quite involved, takes a lot of work (as it should, because there’s a lot riding on a book proposal), and frankly, by the time you’ve written the book proposal you’re more than halfway done with writing the book.

Because I want this blog to be instructional, helping writers reach their writing goals, I’m planning to take several "Side Trips" along the way of telling the story of this book. The first "Side Trip" we’ll take will be several posts on “how to write a book proposal.” I will post this information in parts, taking it one step at a time. My plan is to intersperse these how-to-write-a-book-proposal parts in between the pieces of the story of the book.

That way, if you’re reading because you’re enjoying the story of how this book came to be, you can skip the how-to teaching so you won’t be bored with this technical stuff.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this blog to learn how to write a book proposal, you can follow that label and get the information you want.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Wait a minute. I thought this was a self-publishing adventure. If you are self-publishing this book, then why are you writing a book proposal to present to an editor, publisher, or agent?

Good question.

Answer: I didn’t always plan to self-publish this book. My first, best choice was to find a traditional publisher for it. I had in the back of my mind that I might end up self-publishing it, but I promised myself that I would try everything possible to find a traditional publisher first. Only after I had exhausted every possibility for finding a traditional publisher would I begin to look into self-publishing this book.

At the time I’m writing this, that’s about where I am—though not entirely. When I started this blog I had made the monumental decision to self-publish this book. Now I’ve been set back even on that decision. How? By there being a possibility—albeit remote—that I may find a traditional publisher after all. Even that seems to be a long story. (We’ll get to it. Eventually…) But while I’m waiting for these recent developments to play out, I’ll continue telling this story.

I know what you’re thinking: Why look for a traditional publisher first? Why not just self-publish?

Answer: There are a lot of pros and cons to going with a traditional publisher. There are a lot of pros and cons to self-publishing. There are just different pros and different cons for each. We’ll discuss those next.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting Started

After I made the monumental (at least to me) decision to resurrect this book, I evaluated what I needed to get started. First need: stories.

I wrote up writer’s guidelines describing what I was doing and letting writers know that I wanted stories.

I was a member of a writer’s e-mail loop and the loop often posted writing opportunities. However they only posted opportunities that paid writers for their work. I feel strongly that a writer should be paid. I wanted to pay my writers. So in the guidelines I promised to pay $20.00 per story plus one copy of the book per contributor. I didn’t know how many stories I would get or where I’d get the money to pay for them, but I felt strongly about paying my writers. Twenty dollars may not sound like much, but I didn’t know how I’d pay that much let alone more. (And that’s more than I sometimes get paid.) So I promised to pay that fee per story and trusted God to provide the funds. It was an act of faith.

I posted my guidelines on my web site along with a Permissions Form for people to sign whose stories were being told stating we had their permission to tell their story.

I made stacks of copies of my guidelines and took them to writer’s conferences I attended and mailed them to several other writers conferences. Somehow a few folks who wrote marketing columns for writer’s magazines heard about my project and published the information in their columns. Word was getting out.

And the stories started coming in.

Meanwhile, friends introduced me to people they knew who worked in pregnancy centers. They had stories. And they were willing to share them. I interviewed several people and recorded and transcribed their stories. They were great stories—just what I was hoping for.

I received many encouraging notes, comments, and e-mails encouraging me to continue with this book. “It is needed,” many of them said. People seemed to love the idea. Too bad editors at publishing houses and literary agents I talked to didn’t seem to be of the same mind.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


One day in early 2004 as I drove through Denver on my way to Salt Lake City, I pressed “seek” on my radio, searching for something interesting to listen to. My radio stopped on a station airing the Focus on the Family program. That would do. I listened.

I had heard of their Project Ultrasound initiative, and that’s what they were talking about that day. As a matter of fact, that day they were officially launching that project. They wanted to put ultrasounds in pregnancy centers across the nation. That would involve more than just raising money to buy the machines; pregnancy centers would also need trained medical staff to operate them. It was a big project. There was a lot of work to do. But when women see that shadow of their child, and hear his or her beating heart, many of them opt to carry the child to term.

It renewed all my desires to write this book, Where Grace Abounds.

I talked to the LORD about it. Did He want me to pursue this book after all? How could I know?

In the end I decided the only way to discern His will was for me to move forward with the book.

“I’m going to do this book, LORD ,” I told Him. “If you want it to become a reality, You’re going to have to open the doors for it. But I will make this promise: this time, I won’t quit.”

Where Grace Abounds was resurrected that day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Christmas Surprise

It was almost Christmas, December 23, 2003, when I got one of those a surprise e-mails in my inbox. In one of those delightful twists, it was from my friend who had directed the pregnancy center in the town where I used to live and where I had served on the Board of Directors.

We had lost touch. Now she had found me and was getting back in touch.

She’d been living in Colorado Springs. She filled me in on her life. And oh by the way, you know how she found my e-mail address? She explained that she was perusing the shelves of the Family Christian Bookstore in Colorado Springs when she came across my Dear America book!

She was thrilled to see my book on the store shelves. She’d found my e-mail address in the back of the book, and that’s how she got in touch with me.

I still wanted her story. I still wanted to write this book. I had set the book aside, but it was never far from my mind or heart.

And hearing from her stirred my desire to see this book in print all over again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marketing my book, Dear America

I had heard over and over at writers conferences that an author must sell her own book. The promotion is all up to her. Don’t expect the publisher to do anything. If they do, that’s all gravy. The author must work hard to sell her own book.

I had listened. I had believed. I never doubted.

So when I had my book in my hands, I started in doing everything I could think of to sell it. I let everyone I knew know I had a book out. And I sold a few copies.

I set up book signings. The Christian bookstore in the town where I had served on the pregnancy center’s Board had closed, so I set up a book signing in a popular gift store on main street.

I had since moved to an even smaller town which also had no bookstore. I talked to the owner of a gift shop there and set up another signing.

One day while in Colorado Springs, I stopped in and talked to the manager of a Family Christian Bookstore and he also said yes to a book signing! Me? At a national chain signing books?! Whoo-hoo! I’d hit the big time.

I set up several more book signings.

I had heard and read from other authors that you can’t just set up a table and sit behind it and expect people to come over and buy a book. That might work for Frank Peretti. Or Bill Clinton. But not for a no-name like Dianne E. Butts. So I did my best to crawl out of my shell and approach people. I smiled. I talked with them about my book and about writing and publishing and whatever interested them.

Many friends showed up to support me. Some even bought a copy. Mostly though, they created a crowd. That’s a good thing, because then other people in the store would come over to see why the crowd had gathered.

I had a big poster made of my book cover at Office Max and put a dish of chocolates on my book table. I mean, I did everything to sell my book. Right?

Seven must indeed be a lucky number because it seemed no matter where I held a book signing, I sold seven copies. Exactly.

I’ve heard that’s doing pretty well, actually. I’ve heard many authors say they’ve held book signings and didn’t sell a single copy.

I wasn’t getting rich but I guessed I was doing okay. I was earning back some of the money I had invested in getting the book published. It was trickling in…six dollars and ninety-five cents at a time.

Some of the stores even asked me to sign additional copies to leave at the store. Imagine! My little book on the shelves of Family Christian Bookstore in Colorado Springs!


I handed out fliers. I sent out a newsletter. I bought an ad. A friend was traveling to Ground Zero with her daughter on spring break and she took a dozen copies with to give away.

Later that year I told people about my newly published book in my Christmas letter. I mean, I did everything I knew how to do to sell my book.

This book marketing thing was harder than I thought it would be. I spent a lot of time. Put in a lot of effort. Even spent some on stamps and ads and fliers and that big poster of my book cover.

And I ended up selling a couple hundred copies of Dear America. A couple years later, when I’d sold three hundred (of the five hundred) copies I’d had printed, I hit the break-even point.

No profit. Just break even. (On expenses, that is. Not on getting paid anything for my time either for writing or for marketing the book.)

I’d learn later that this is not an usual tale for a self-published book. As a matter of fact, by some standards, I’d done pretty well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dear America

The book idea I had called, Where Grace Abounds: True Stories from Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers, or my “pregnancy center book” was on the shelf. But writing went on. I continued to sell magazine articles and submit to compilation books.

Then September 11th, 2001, happened.

In the weeks following I kept thinking of all the things I would like to tell folks in the aftermath…like why I still believe in a good God even when bad things happen. And what I’ve learned about getting through the grief of losing a loved one. And about the differences between Muslims and Christians and what they believe about God and Jesus. And about how we can know God through the story told in the Bible. And there was more.

I’d write a letter, I thought, if I had anyone to send it to.

I mentioned this idea off-handedly in an e-mail to a friend who directs a writer’s conference. She e-mailed back and said, “If you’ll write it, I’ll publish it.”

What?! I was floored.

“Uh… Okay,” I told her, and I was off and running. I wanted my letter to America to be short and easy to read. And it was—65 pages. The writing went quickly.

Marlene Bagnull, director of the Colorado and Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conferences and owner of the small publisher Ampelos Press, edited it and typeset it and found Jo Hardesty to create my cover. I had an ISBN and bar code and I was set!

Did I get an advance? No.

Would I get royalties? No.

I paid for the editing and typesetting and cover and the ISBN and the bar code and the printing…

Hmm. Well, I guess that’s okay. I would also keep all the proceeds from the book sales, right? Yes.

I guess this was a “self-publishing” project. Not sure I really understood that up front. But, well…okay.

(Looking back I cannot believe I didn’t have anything in writing. No contract. Nothing that said this is what each person involved will do and this is how much it will cost. I’m normally a real stickler for getting it writing. My goodness! What happened here?! The only answer I can give is that I didn’t know enough to even know what questions to ask or what to ask for (like a contract). I had heard someone say she would publish my book, I had a publisher, and away we went! She did a good job, I think. I didn't get taken or anything like that. But I don’t really think I understood at the time how on my own I really was. Anyway…)

Six months to the day after September 11th, on March 11, 2002, I picked up my books, Dear America: A Letter of Comfort and Hope to a Grieving Nation, from the printer.

I had my first book in my hands.

How thrilling! How frightening.

One question nagged me: Uh oh. Now what?