Author Deb McAlister-Holland has very kindly given permission to reprint her advice on getting an agent or publisher to take on your book. This is very sound advice that has worked for her (and others) many times over. When you think about it and remember publishing is a business, it makes good sense.
When I joined the American Society of Journalists and Authors as a young woman, three amazing men helped me figure out my chosen profession. One was Bernie Hurwood, the award winning biographer of Edgar Allen Poe, one was Arturo (Arky) Gonzalez who was for many years editor of the International Herald News, and one was Alex Hailey, the author of Roots and many other best-sellers. The price I paid for the knowledge they shared was simple: each one charged me with “paying it forward” — passing on freely what they learned, whether it’s a template for a book proposal or anything else, without a fee and without demanding that I be credited as the creator. Your query letter should include:
I. Overview: Describe your book in two or three paragraphs (500 words or less). What is the title and subtitle? Who is the target audience and what makes your book unique and worthwhile for them?
II. Target Audience: Who is your core audience, the most likely purchasers of this book? How big is that market?
III. About the Author: Your credentials and experience. What makes you uniquely qualified to write and promote this book?
IV. Competitive Titles: List and summarize the major competitive titles and explain why yours is different from each. You are trying to accomplish two things with this section: prove there is an audience who would find your book interesting, as demonstrated by earlier, successful books, while making clear how yours is different enough to compel those readers – and others – to buy it.
V. Marketing and Promotion: What is your comprehensive plan to actively promote the book? Where should publicity be focused? What are the magazines and other media outlets that your target audience pays attention to? Blurbs: What “name” people would be willing to contribute a blurb? Media and Speaking Appearances: Does this book or your prior experience give you credentials to speak on any current topics in the media? What are the topics and target outlets? Describe additional promotional opportunities you will pursue: Retaining a speakers bureau to book speaking opportunities. Retaining an independent publicist. Organizational connections? Mailing lists? Workshops? Tours? Does the book have series potential? Opportunities for regular updating? Other “legs”? Think creatively, think big.
VI. Table of Contents: Include the full Table of Contents, with detailed summaries of each chapter. This section could be anywhere from three to 20 pages.
VII. Sample Chapters: Include the first one or two chapters – not the introduction, but sample chapters that offer an accurate sense of the style, substance and structure of the book.
To be honest, my books sell because of the marketing section. I include a complete marketing plan — competitive analysis, PR plan (what I plan to do to promote my own book — social media, website, magazine articles, guest posts on major blogs, radio call-in shows, TV appearances — whatever it is. Different kinds of books offer different opportunities. So if you’re promoting a book about knitting, then your marketing plan might say: 17 million women bought knitting yarn or knitting needles last year (according to the Frank A. Edmonds Company, a leading manufacturer or rosewood knitting needles). And over 3.4 million men and women worldwide purchased a knitting pattern or book in 2010 (the last year for which figures are available from the Knitting Guild). If this book can reach just 1% of the people who purchased printed materials about knitting, then it has the potential to sell 34,000 copies — more than enough to earn a spot on the non-fiction best seller list in the U.K.
I plan to promote the book through the social media groups on the Internet where people gather 24 hours a day to talk about knitting. Groups like (list some), using tools like (www.bufferapp.com, a free application based in the U.K. that posts Tweets, LinkedInStatus Updates, Facebook updates, etc)
In addition, we were thinking that we would offer an incentive to people who retweet or repost blurbs about the book. My aunt has some unique patterns — not included in the book — and by sending a free pattern code to those who help us sell books, we boost sales. (This becomes the basis for cross-selling and upselling other titles in the series as they visit the book’s website to download patterns.)
Hope this was useful — and I wish you great success with the books!