In part 3 we’ll take a look at:
Comps (why you really REALLY need to know your market)
Alternative book title ideas (and why you need them)
Sequels (why not sell them!)
About the author (remember to sell yourself too!)
Comparisons and the Competition (or comps for short)
This is the section I often draft first. If your book idea isn’t sufficiently original or different from the competition then there’s no point writing it, let alone trying to sell it. But how much competition is too much competition? If there are five books that have launched in the last three to five years that are very similar to your book, then it’s going to be a hard sell. That means five publishers are just not going to be interested and since there are not that many children’s book publishers it’s a big chunk of the market. They’ve already invested in an author and title with that theme, and they will not invest in another. It will cannibalise the sales of the other book. This is the biggest reason publishers reject a proposal. However, if your book fits a big trend that’s going to keep running for a while, then there may still be publishers looking for a book like yours to compete with the other publishers, but it will still need to be different enough. So, it’s important to know the lists of every publisher in the home market so you can make a call on this (check out their websites). Timing is really important. Too late and the market will be saturated.
As it takes around two years between commission and launch, it can be difficult to know what’s coming out next. If you have an agent, they can talk to publishers to sound out opportunities. If you don’t have an agent, you must keep your ear to the ground as much as you can (twitter, writing conferences, publishing magazines and general industry chatter) and make an intelligent guess. If you follow the movements of a market long enough, you begin to get a feel for how it evolves and what certain publishers commission.
A book concept must have an international appeal to sell. At the very least, it must appeal to other English-speaking markets (US or Australia), and preferably Europe and East/Southeast Asia too. Be aware of the different styles and approaches to book length, writing style and illustration in key markets. Check-out what current titles have broad international appeal and why? Study Amazon.com as well as .co.uk and .co.au and national booksellers
For your comps, list titles that have been launched in the last five years or are relevant, such as long-term best sellers.
Detail the title, author, illustrator, publisher and date of launch.
Check out home market sales if you have them via your agent, who will have a subscription to Nielsen BookScan (a database of UK book retailers’ point of sale transactions).
If you are pitching a book that is totally original then it can help a publisher if you list current titles that have a comparative structure, writing or illustration style and explain your thinking.
Sometimes a title of a book is completely obvious and ownable from the outset but if the market for that book is more crowded, finding a standout title can be challenging. Titles also indicate market positioning, and it can be useful to suggest alternatives to help an editor sell the concept to their team. Another title may be a better fit for their list.
Listing alternative titles shows you know the market, understand its challenges and are flexible. Publishers do often change the title. Authors don’t always get much of a say! Of the 10 books I’ve sold so far, around half of the titles have stayed as I first pitched them.
While you’ve got an editor’s attention you might as well pitch more books. Also, publishers love books with series potential. Write a short pitch for a sequel or another idea on a similar theme. You never know, you might get a two or three book deal!
About the Author
Why are you the right person to write this book for the publisher? This is your personal pitch and needs to demonstrate character, commitment, and evidence of experience. Include any personal connection with your book’s theme, published books or publishing experience. If you don’t have this experience yet, list SOA, SCBWI or crit group membership, writing education or competition wins/shortlisting, commercial experience, experience with your target readers e.g., teaching, volunteering (sorry, being a parent isn’t one of them) and any other credentials relevant to the subject matter of the story.
How long should the proposal be?
Ideally, for the whole proposal, aim for no more than two pages of A4 single-spaced. If you are proposing a larger book with more detailed content, this might take up another separate page.
It can take a couple of drafts to get right. First, I consider the why this book now question, research the market first and find comps. Then I brainstorm and research my book concept and see what broad research material is available and check the concept is viable. Then I write a draft pitch and proposal. Only after all this, do I write the manuscript. Once I’ve finished, I’ll come back and amend the proposal. It’s likely I’ve altered the approach, voice or content during the practical writing of the sample or whole book (if fiction) so the proposal will need to be updated and polished along with the manuscript. I’ll then share it with my critique group or beta readers for comments. There are always comments! So, revise, and revise again, and again, and then send it out. Take your time to get it right.
An editor will always appreciate a well-thought-out proposal. If they want to take your book to a commissioning meeting, they will take your ideas and selling points and use them in their PowerPoint presentation to pitch to the publishing team.
Best wishes with your submissions.