If you have a book manuscript and you think you are ready to pursue publication, there is a timeline you should consider before letting your horse out of the gate before the race even begins. I’ve seen too many great book concepts go nowhere, because when they send a query letter out, they don’t have a proposal ready to go.
Yes, a book proposal.
When you send an email query letter to an agent or publisher, you can expect a response between two hours and two weeks. If they are really interested, within 48 hours. A positive response to a query letter is liking getting to first base. Sweet first kiss. There’s quite a ways to go before you cross home plate. When you get a positive reply to your query, the agent or publisher will want to see a full proposal. Strike while the iron is hot. They don’t really care about the quality of your manuscript, yet. Publishing is a business first.
If you want to buy a home, and you don’t want to pay for it yourself in cash up front, then you go to the bank for a mortgage and you need to convince the loan officer that they would be making a good investment in you. Writing a book proposal is a business proposition and you need to persuade others that your book will make them money. So do your homework and write a marketing strategy and competitive title analysis in your formal book proposal. Have it ready before you send the query letter.
Your book proposal will include: a bio, a synopsis, an expanded table of contents, a marketing strategy, competitive title analysis, and a writing sample (have at least two chapters polished and ready for non-fiction; memoir, fiction, and children’s books require full text manuscript with submission of proposal).
To your query, expect a quick turnaround time: as little as 2 hours for a response to a query letter and within 48 hours after reading the proposal, a request to see the full manuscript. Then it’s a wait. Two weeks to two months. Some publishers send out proposals to external manuscript reviewers and this takes some time. Before they invest in your project, they need to know the product. Before you send out your first query letter, you need to have your proposal ready to go.
Pitching book projects follows a calendrical cycle with publishing houses and their practices. August, for example, is known to be a “reading” month. In short, everyone is out of the office and on vacation or reading; not taking anything new at the moment. Some publishing companies hold editorial board meetings. Usually they are in early September; again in early April. Acquisition editors bring their possible projects to the group and they narrow the number of projects significantly. If you hope to get an editor’s interest and support — and the editor gains the interest and support of others on the editorial board — then planning enough time before these seasonal meetings where decisions are made can be useful to an author in the timing of their pitch in a query letter. Other publishers have their own seasonal schedules for reading and acquiring new book projects.
In 2012 I’ve seen publishers’ expectations rise for authors. Here’s are some of the questions they want to know once they are interested in your book project. Will you hire a publicist? Will your manuscript be professionally edited? Are you willing and able to subsidize the production costs of publication? How will you expand and grow your audience platform online? Who do you know that will provide blurbs and endorsements? What are your social media metric scores? What speaking engagements and author events do have planned? How do you plan to launch the book?
Are you ready to send out that query letter? Is your proposal ready to go?