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.