In his 2001 a course in miracles about writing non-fiction, Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That?, author Marc McCutcheon says that it’s not hard to make a good income: “you can learn the trade and begin making a respectable income much faster than most people think possible”.
The good part is that you don’t need to write your book before you get some money. You write a proposal, and a publisher will give you an advance, which you can live on while you write the book.
Writing a proposal is the smart way to write a book. It’s the way professional writers sell non-fiction. Selling a book on a proposal is much easier than selling a book that you’ve already written. A book proposal is a complete description of your book. It contains the title, an explanation of what the book’s about, an outline of chapters, a market and competition survey, and a sample chapter.
A book proposal functions in the same way as any business proposal does: you’re making an offer to someone you hope to do business with. It will be treated by publishers in the same way that any business treats a proposal. A publisher will read your proposal, assess its feasibility, cost it, and if it looks as if the publisher will make money, the publisher will pay you to write the book. When you’ve sold your proposed book to a publisher, your role doesn’t end with writing your book. You’re in partnership with your publisher to ensure the book’s success. If you do your part, both you and your publisher will make money.
The publisher’s business is selling books. The company acquires books which it hopes will sell, and sell well. Your publisher is putting up the money to publish your book, so you need to approach the project from his point of view as well as your own.
You need to know about “returns”, because the challenge of returns makes publishing different from other businesses. Publishers sell books on consignment. Publishers ship books to bookshops, and if a book isn’t sold within a certain time period, it’s destroyed. The bookseller strips the cover from the book and sends the cover to the publisher for a full credit. This is the “return”. If a title doesn’t sell, the publisher takes a beating. As you can imagine, publishers are no more keen to lose money than you or I.
What does this mean to you as you write your book proposal? It means that your proposal needs to emphasize the ways in which you, as the writer, will take responsibility for the book’s success.
You will try to ensure the success of your book by gauging the marketplace. You will work out who the likely buyers of your book might be, and the reasons they will have for paying good money for your book. You will assess the competition for your book. You will work out ways in which you can promote your book, so that people hear about it. You’re in partnership with your publisher, and if you’re prepared to take responsibility for that role, the publisher will be much more likely to buy your proposal.