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  • Writer's pictureJohn Kador

How to Read a Book Proposal

A book proposal is not the book. It is the sizzle, without even the steak.

This distinction, so clear to experienced publishers, is often confusing to beginning authors and corporate clients.

I’m a ghostwriter specializing in getting CEOs and other executives published by traditional publishers. My corporate clients hire me to write a book proposal, secure a publisher, and then write the book on behalf of an executive.

Recently I prepared a book proposal for a client. He rejected it because he felt it didn’t do justice to his content. Of course, it didn’t. That’s what the book is for. We went back and forth until he got that we were in marketing mode.

Here’s how I explained the situation:

A book proposal is a marketing document that has only an incidental relationship to the non-fiction book that will be eventually published.

The objective of a book proposal is to get a publisher to publish the book, taking on all the considerable costs and risks that commitment entails.

Books are written for readers, many thousands of readers, authors hope.

Book proposals are written for one gatekeeper (the publisher) or maybe a handful of editors who weigh in on the decision.

In short, book proposals are to books as dating profiles are to the dater; in the majority of cases they are aspirational; in more than a few cases, they trespass on outright fantasy.

Moreover, once the decision to publish is made, the book proposal is usually put in a filing cabinet and in most cases never consulted again.

Any resemblance between the book proposal and the book that eventually ensues is mostly coincidental. The proposed title inevitably changes; the subject matter emphasis shifts; the number of pages promised goes up or down; the marketing commitments so diligently promised are invariably reconsidered.

Events and facts on the ground always supersede whatever assurances made by the proposal.

So my advice to authors is to chill, let the book proposal do what it is supposed to do, get the signed contract, spend the advance, and then deliver whatever book (within reason) you want. The book proposal, if it is consulted at all, maybe gets a vote but never a veto.

Keep your eye on the prize. The book proposal is just a stepping stone to the book.

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