Best practice: Before beginning to write any book, you should write a formal proposal that you can either 1) send to a traditional publisher or 2) use yourself as a primary planning document for your own self-published book. Here are the basic elements:
- Write a short description of your target reader. Instead of using generalities, describe a specific person, or couple, or family. Depending on your book, relevant details might include your target reader’s appearance, age, gender, marital status, family size, income, needs, desires, and values. If you can picture an actual person in your mind, more’s the better. (Note: if your book’s buyers will be different from your book’s readers—the case for children’s books, for example—you might have to split this exercise in two.)
- Write a short summary of your content. What are you doing with your book? Are you sharing your story? Are you instructing your reader? Are you persuading your reader to do something? Are you inspiring your reader? Are you entertaining your reader? Once you decide your general approach, you can get more specific. For example, this book is teaching author-publishers how to market their books. Another example: I have a client who is sharing her story of growing up with a schizophrenic mother.
- Decide how you will change your core reader's life. This is a powerful concept. The change you promise may be modest—maybe your murder mystery will reduce the boredom of a sunbather by a hotel pool in Cancun. That's okay, but the more significant the change you can promise, the more likely you are to find readers, and the higher price your book can command. If you can’t promise to change someone’s life, why would anyone bother to buy your book? This is true even for fiction.
- Decide on a working title and subtitle. Generally, the title and subtitle should suggest what your book has to say and to whom. Be descriptive rather than poetic How to Make a Million Dollars Selling Widgets is a stronger title than Widgets Gone Wild. If you must be clever and creative with your title, your subtitle definitely will need to the do the descriptive job. As in: Widgets Gone Wild: How I Became a Billionaire Selling Widgets. It's a "working title," meaning the intent is to help you sell the concept to a prospective publisher and/or help you write the book. The final title and subtitle could be different.
- Write Your Table of Contents. Again, your Table of Contents should be descriptive. The purpose is to clarify (for yourself, if you’re self-publishing, and ultimately for your readers) where you are taking your readers and what you will do for them. Your Table of Contents is an extremely powerful marketing device, one that may determine whether someone buys your book or not. Writing a good one—it’s basically an outline—also will make it easier for you to finish writing your manuscript. And it will definitely help you stay on track.
That’s it. Now you’ve got a proposal that defines your book from the ground up.—The Publishing Pro.