Have you been sending out your nonfiction proposal and not getting any hits? For me, the most important part of any proposal is the marketing section, and it’s where I see so many proposals fall short. So to all my nonfiction peeps out there, here are the four elements that make up any effective marketing section.
1. Your marketing strategy needs to be active.
By this I mean that it’s not purely a collection of articles you’ve published and speeches you’ve made in the past, it’s what you have coming up in the future. What you’ve done in the past can be indicative of what you’ll do in the future, but it’s not a given that it will be. Say, for example, you used to be very active in the speaking circuit, but last year you cut down on the number of speaking engagements you do to take care of an elderly relative. In this case, your past successes are not representative of your future successes. So having a platform in the past doesn’t convince me that you currently have one.
The other reason I want to know what you have coming up in the future is, obviously, because your future articles/interviews/speaking engagements/blogs/etc. can directly reference the book you’re working on, thus making more people aware of it.
Sometimes in proposals, authors will treat the “market for this book” and “marketing plan” as the same thing. In other words, if the author is writing a book that provides advice to parents with autistic children, it will cite statistics about the rise of autism as its marketing plan. It’s one thing to show that there’s an audience waiting to hear about your book, and it’s an entirely different thing to prove that you have the ability to reach that audience. Without the second part, the first part is meaningless. So leave the statistics in the “market for this book” section, and use the marketing plan to explain how you’ll reach that audience.
Sometimes an author’s marketing plan is largely made up of the endorsements they will receive from other authors or famous people. Endorsements are the least effective marketing strategy because they’re passive. The power of an endorsement relies on your book being picked up in a bookstore and the reader seeing a famous name on the back of the book. Bookstore displays these days are dominated by already famous authors, so the chances of a debut author’s book being displayed on a table where a reader might pick it up are slim to none. (There’s no guarantee of your book being in a physical bookstore.) So endorsements do not a marketing plan make. The exception to this is if you get a very famous person to write a foreword for your book. Like Oprah or J.K. Rowling famous.
2. Your marketing strategy needs to be confirmed.
By this I mean that your marketing plan can’t be hypothetical, you have to show that your marketing plans will actually happen. Sometimes I’ll see things in a proposal like: “I have appeared on Big Ed’s radio show periodically for the past five years. I could possibly appear again to promote the book.” This doesn’t convince me that the author can appear on the show again. For all I know the author and Big Ed had a falling out and the author’s appearance on his show is dependent on Big Ed forgiving her. The author needs to talk to Big Ed before she sends me her proposal and get him to confirm that she can go on his show to promote the book. Her proposal should say, “I have appeared on Big Ed’s radio show periodically for the past five years. Big Ed has confirmed that I can appear again sometime in the months leading up to the book’s publication to promote the book.”
3. Your marketing strategy needs to be concrete.
This means you need to list specific things that you will do, or that your connections will do. Often in a proposal I will see something like: “I’m part of the alumni association at John Hopkins and they have agreed to help me promote the book.” In this case, the author got John Hopkins to confirm that they will help him, which is great. But this still doesn’t help me, because I have no idea what John Hopkins will do to help him promote the book. They could put up a flyer in the library that will be covered with other flyers within a day, reaching maybe five people. Or they could agree to buy a copy for every alumni for as long the school exists, which would be huge. This is why it’s important that you name the concrete thing that your connections will do. That’s the only way to approximate how many people this avenue of promotion will reach.
4. Your marketing strategy needs to have big numbers.
Which leads me to the fourth element I’m looking for in a marketing section: your marketing plan needs to reach a large number of people. By a large number of people, I mean, ideally, when you add up every means of promotion you have, there should be hundreds of thousands of people who can hear about your book some way or another. For example, you may only have 10,000 Twitter followers, but you have a contact at Success magazine that has confirmed they will interview you in an issue leading up to the book’s publication. Let’s say they have a physical magazine circulation of 200,000, and 475,000 online page views per month. There are your hundreds of thousands of people. (Though I would expect your marketing plan to include more avenues of promotion than just those two things.) And those numbers need to go in your proposal. In fact, any numbers about how many people your marketing strategy will reach need to go in your proposal. For example, the number of listeners that tune in to Big Ed’s radio show, should be in your proposal (if Ed forgives you and confirms you can come back on the show). If a proposal doesn’t include the number of people each avenue of promotion will reach, I can’t determine if the author has the means to get the message of his book out there, and I turn it down.
There is no one size fits all, or formula for the perfect marketing section, but hopefully these elements can help you rethink how to frame it in a way that will make agents dying to get their hands on your book.