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Book Proposal Rejected? Here’s Your Fix.

As one of the pros in the Ask-a-Pro sessions for the Nonfiction Writer’s Conference, I get to talk to lots of brilliant people with outstanding book ideas.

One of my jobs is to help them figure out how to best get that book published—self publishing, traditional publisher or hybrid.

Lisa Tener book coach

Last week, one of my consultations was with an aspiring author with a rejected book proposal. The caller had strong credentials, a compelling concept, but a very modest platform.

The author had received one book proposal rejection and heard nothing back from five other publishers. The rejection of her book proposal wasn’t immediate. The publisher expressed interest. The author had written a thorough book proposal and the book had merit. In the end, though, the acquisitions board didn’t think it would sell enough copies to put in the resources to publish it. They didn’t think SHE would sell enough copies.

In most cases, it’s up to the author to be the main engine of book sales, not the publisher. And the publisher can only rely on what the author has already done, the foundation for sales, to make their calculations and projections for future book sales.

What do you do after your book proposal is rejected?

I started our call by asking about her target audience. Why is the audience so important that I asked about it first? Your platform—or reach or following—consists of the people in your book’s target market, how you reach them, how many you reach, etc. Any advice I gave her about growing her author platform would need to fit into reaching those audiences, or it would be useless to her.

Build Your Author Platform to Rejection-Proof Your Book Proposal

Audit Your Author Website

After addressing audience, we turned to her website. Okay, actually we talked about platform a bit and then turned to her website but for our purposes today, I’d like to address the website, next, because it is so important.

I imagine that, assuming the five other publishers saw her query letter or book proposal and it didn’t get lost in spam or trash, one of the first things an interested acquisition editor did, possibly even before reading much of the proposal, is to visit her website.

What I found — and didn’t find — on the website

One look at the website spoke volumes. Upon landing on her site, I found four tabs and a beautiful photograph of a beach.

  • No call to action.
  • No clear explanation of what visitors might get from engaging with the website or the professor.
  • A blog with only one post from 2019.
  • No media or press page to show how she reaches her audience.

I get it. She probably didn’t use her website much to create opportunities. She had an impressive full time job and networked with colleagues for many of the opportunities that came her way or that she created.

All that needed to change if she didn’t want her book proposal to continue to get rejected.

How to Rejection-Proof Your Book Proposal

Here are the action steps I gave her:

  • I suggested she start by revising her website. I regularly update the article “What to put on an author website?” You’ll find lots of valuable advice there.
  • As I mentioned, the website in question lacked a call to action, so I also suggested she create a free offer or lead magnet–a tip list, short e-book, audio recording or mini-course that people can access when they provide their email address. This will help her (and you) create and grow a community and, when the time comes, sell books to previous visitors.
  • Next, since her readers are a business audience, I suggested creating a stronger platform through LinkedIn. I recommended she check out last week’s author interview with Josh Steimle and his book, 60 Days to LinkedIn Mastery.
  • Since guest podcasting and guest blogging can both put you in front of targeted audiences, I suggested she start doing more of that to get practice and demonstrate to publishers that any plan based on that strategy would build on something she is already doing–a solid foundation.
  • I also suggested she return to corporate training gigs, which she’d done before the pandemic. If she can get commitments now for the future, and potentially fold book purchases into her contract, it would make it especially attractive to publishers who love to see commitments for bulk sales. The more you can bring in the better. Purchasers will get a discount around 35 – 50 % off.
  • I also told her to rethink her foreword writer: “Get the strongest foreword writer you can find. Look for the author of a business book that’s been very successful, a name that people search on Amazon.” Here’s how to ask a bestselling author to write your foreword.
  • And, my last platform advice was to get some endorsements in hand and put them in the proposal.

What To Do If You Haven’t Heard Back from a Publisher or Literary Agent

I advised this author not to press publishers she hadn’t heard from. Perhaps they never saw her first proposal (which would be ideal!). After all, email is getting less and less dependable.

I said, “After growing your platform, go back to the publishers you did not hear from and say that you had sent a proposal x months ago and had not heard back. Since then you’ve made great strides on your platform and promotion plan (mention what they are). Ask them to read this new version instead.

I ended our call with a short list of additional publishers she could contact and a book listing small presses and independent publishers.

Amazing how much can be accomplished in less than half an hour!

I’m excited for this author and for you too! What publishing challenges and book proposal questions do you have?


Get Lisa’s New Book:

The Joy of Writing Journal: Spark Your Creativity in 8 Minutes a Day

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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