Richelle Fredson - How to Write a Book Proposal
MARKETING
November 28, 2022
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Richelle Fredson, book publishing consultant and the “six-figure book deal coach,” knows all the angles of the publishing biz.

An industry vet, she spent 15 years at Hay House Inc., most recently as the Director of Publicity and Book Marketing, as well as Acquisitions. She now works with aspiring and existing authors who are looking to expand their business, create an impact, and shift the current dialogue.

Her expertise, paired with her sharp instincts, has helped hundreds of authors create impactful and marketable book concepts and proposals, resulting in millions of dollars in publishing deals with top publishers. Her recent clients include Farnoosh Torabi, Chrissy King, Jannese Torres-Rodriguez, Jen Winston, Dr. Vanessa Marin and more.

Richelle brings a unique gift to the table: she’s been on both sides of the deal and knows what publishers and authors are looking for and how to get it. Through this lens, she guides authors as they anchor their stories and amplify their expertise to make a greater impact.

She’s also the host of the Bound + Determined podcast where she lifts the veil on book publishing through education and interviews.


Why write a book?

There are many, many reasons, but these are my favorite four.

The first is because of exposure for what you do. Exposure for your passion, PR, marketing, visibility for your business and your mission. Just more eyes on what you're doing, more access for you in getting in front of more audiences. Especially PR, it's a really, really great opportunity for that.

It's also a product for you to sell at events. So those of you who are already out there speaking or doing workshops, heading retreats, or speaking at retreats, this is a way to create a revenue stream for the speaking that you're already doing or desire to do. I've seen a lot of people take the framework for their book and segway that into a TED Talk, or a great 10-minute talk that they're doing at corporate engagements and things like that. It's a really great opportunity to have some of those back of the room sales for your book.

And then new business. Anyone that's a consultant or a coach or running a service-based business, this is an opportunity for you to have a nice low cost entry point for people to learn about your work. The people that may not be able to do the $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 packages, or hire you for personal one-on-one work will be introduced to your methods and who you are as a teacher through book form. It's a nice easy, low cost entry point.

And four is my personal favorite because I'd love to get in the feels, but legacy. There's nothing cooler than leaving something for generations in print and making your mission and your story and your life known to other people. Legacy is actually in my number one spot, but I ordered it in a business sense for everybody.

Why not to write a book?

Do not write a book to make fast money. Most people that are writing books think of it as a breaking even opportunity. Books take a lot of time and financial investment, but the payoff is huge. It's probably just not going to come from actual royalties for a couple years until your book is out, but the investment is worthwhile for all these other things that we've listed on these one through four because they're going to bring a lot of opportunities to your door.

It's just important that we're transparent about books not being a fast process. They're a long game in general, but especially on the money-making side. It takes time to make money from a book. As I said, I like to get in the feels. And especially when I'm talking to a group of powerful, mission driven women, I like to ask what you've sacrificed to get here because I think every woman that's made it to a successful place in her career, or her business has had to leave a part of herself behind. And a book to me is the place where you can bring all of that together.

You get to bring the personal, the professional, the emotion if you want, your advice if you want, but it's a full reflection of all the parts of you. And to me, there's just nothing cooler than that - being able to bring your full self to a product like this, reflecting both the personal and the business experience that you have.

Why is cracking this industry so hard?

There's a lot of reasons, I had to limit myself to these five. But let's start with the fact that there's just a lot of conflicting information. I am sort of Dr. Google when anything happens to anyone in my family. A symptom arises, I'm on the internet, trying to read everything. And then, as you can probably guess, I am more confused than when I started. Publishing is no different. There's a ton of information out there. A lot of it is conflicting. A lot of it is really terrible advice. And a lot of it is provided by people who have been through the experience once, maybe twice, and don't actually have the industry experience and knowledge to be able to guide people properly. It ends up being a lot of opinion, but there's not a lot of really good information out there on how to navigate the publishing industry, which is a huge part of why I started the work that I do.

There's also constant change. Like any industry, the marketplace is always changing. What worked two years ago isn't working now. The way that publishers assess authors and talent isn't working the same as it was a few years ago. There's constant change, and at the same time, publishing is sort of a dinosaur model in a sense, right? There's not a lot of change internally, but they're trying to follow trends where they can.

More often than not, I'd say about 85% of what gets published are things that are tried and true conversations. They're sticking to what they know because that's comfortable, and it's less risk. So it's navigating both the change and understanding the constants of the industry, which can be complicated.

Adding to that, the fact that agents and publishers aren't really transparent about their needs and requirements. You don't really know what they're looking for, or you don't know what boxes to tick in order to catch their eye. I'm going to give you a lot of those things that agents and publishers are looking for because I'm fortunate to work side by side with many of them. We're going to remove the mystery from that today.

We also can get caught up in comparison syndrome, which is just part of being a human. We will look around and say, well look at all of these leaders in my space that are writing books, maybe I should too. And I get that sentiment completely. I hear it from a lot of my clients, but someone else's experience through the publishing vehicle is going to be very different than yours, and modeling it after our peers is not necessarily a good thing.

Most people don't have a book publishing coach in their back pocket. Today you have one, so I'm going to give you all of the information that you need to get started.

What are agents and publishers actually looking for?

A lot of people here may think that they need to uncover the next greatest new latest idea. That's actually not what publishers are looking for. Publishers aren't extremely risk averse. They do not like trying to launch something that's never been launched before. What they're looking for is actually a unique and fresh take on something tried and true. Something that is a proven conversation that you bring something different. For example, I've launched countless mindfulness books, or mindset books, or nutrition books, but they all have something slightly different, whether it's the author's personal experience that led them to the work, the stories they want to tell, the way they're delivering the information, but something that's groundbreakingly new is not an easy sell.

You do not have to reinvent the wheel, you just need to know what you bring to it that's different.

What that could be for you, is the fact that your personality needs to shine, you're a strong storyteller, or you have great stories from your life that you want to share with people. I mean, this is really the piece that sets it apart for people. I can't tell you how many book proposals I read inside of a publisher where I kind of felt meh about it, right? It's like, okay, it's okay. But I'm not feeling called to meet with this person, to take the meeting. And then I'd meet them in real life and they were just extraordinary and dynamic, and their energy was off the charts. And I thought, where were you in your proposal?

You've got to bring your full personality to everything that you do in the writing process in order to attract the right partners for you in the process.

They're looking for strong stories and strong personality if you've got it. Proven methods like plans, frameworks, your 10 steps to, they love a little framework because it gives them marketing teeth. It makes it a little easier to sell. If you are somebody that doesn't have that type of a method or a plan or a system that you use or that you want to write about, perfectly fine.

Lots of books are manifesto more than method, and that's perfectly okay. But if you do have something in your business that would lend nicely to a more formal framework, this is your time to let that shine. They love that. They also love thriving platforms. And in publishing, the word platform is sort of a dirty word for authors. They're like, that is a curse word in my book, because platform lessons the risk for a publisher:

  • They're looking for a strong social media following and engagement.

  • They're looking for a strong email list.

  • In the absence of those, they're looking for strong industry connections that you may have, or supporters and friends that have notable platforms that can support you.

  • They're looking for all the tentacles off of the project and off of you that will help sell that book long term.

You will bring all of that information into your book proposal because they need to know the army you're coming with. The last is that they are looking for channels within your business that will sell the book long term. Part of that is because over the last year, publishers have started to notice the trend in diminished results from social media platforms, meaning that the conversion of social media followers to book purchasers is getting smaller and smaller. They're starting to look under the hood of everything else that you're doing.

Are you taking the stage 20 times a year? Are you teaching on panels or in workshops? Are you creating courses that help support your book? What are you doing in your business that is going to make the book an easy upsell or downsell, and just be able to offshoot the things you're doing in your business?

So these are the things that are on their checklist of, does this author have this?

  • Is there that unique take?

  • Does the way they talk about a tried and true topic feel a little fresh?

  • Are they bringing their story and personality into it?

  • Is there a method here?

  • How's their community?

  • And how is their business?

So where do I begin? If you're looking at, how do I actually fit into this market, how do I start to tick these boxes, some of these are going to appear really basic, but they are really worth doing.

The first is market research, right?

It's looking at all the books that are out there and saying, how do I fit into this equation? But it's an essential first step to figure out. I may be writing about something that's already out there. Maybe I want to write about the entrepreneurial spirit. Or maybe I want to talk about diversity in the workplace.

There's stuff out there, how do I fit in, and what do I bring that's different than what's already out there?

The second is that agents and publishers want to know that you're already sharing information publicly about what you want to write about.

And that can seem counterintuitive, because a lot of people think, well, I want to keep everything about my book close to the vest, I don't want people to know what I'm working on or what I'm writing about. But it's the contrary. They want to make sure that you're out there having conversations about the topic you want to write about, so that you're getting a pulse from people on what they actually want from you.

It's important to show up as the writer that you want to be publicly. More recently, the emphasis on pre-PR, as what I'm calling it, is more important. Before, the timeline is creating your book proposal, getting the agent, shopping it to publishers, getting your deal. More and more, I'm seeing agents say, this is an exceptional proposal, it is so good, I'm all in on this author, but I want them to go do some recent article contributions. I want them to go get on the local TV station. I want them to go become a contributor in some capacity in a more public way, for podcasts, articles, interviews, all of those things. That pre-PR, so that there's some recent buzz as agents shop it to publishers, is a bigger part of the conversation than it was a year ago. This is a recent change coming down the pipeline, so if you can get ahead of that and be really out there and forward with some of the conversations that you know you want to write about, it's going to be a lot better for you to do that homework.

And then obviously bringing it home, you need a strong book idea, and you need a competitive book proposal.

Your book proposal is your gateway document. Agents and publishers will not read your full manuscript, and they're not going to make a decision off just a one page letter. The book proposal is sort of a standard industry document. There's a way to spice it up, certainly, and bring that personality into the equation, but you need it regardless. And that's whether you want to go traditional publishing or hybrid publishing, you need a book proposal in both cases. For those of you that may be considering self-publishing, I still recommend doing the book proposal because there is so much clarity that comes from that process of putting all of your ideas into the framework of a book proposal. The book proposal we will dive into in more detail coming down the pipeline here.

So back to that number one spot of identifying where we fit in the market.

These are a few tactics that I give my students.

It may seem obvious, but get on Amazon or get on your favorite book retailer and start putting in some of the search terms that you would use to find your future book. Think of maybe five or six words that someone would come in and search to find a book in that space. And what you want to do is start to select the books that are well reviewed. You're going to dive into the reviews, both the good ones and the one and two star reviews. And I do not say this to be snarky, but there's a lot of intel that comes from the reviewers that felt disappointed. You're going to rule out reviews like, I didn't like the font, or something that's just like, okay, all right, you're in a bad mood. I got it. But there's a lot of Intel to come from themes that come up when multiple reviewers have left similar feedback. What that can look like is, and I'm taking these from memories of some of my clients who've done this process, they've uncovered multiple people saying, this book was incredibly motivational, l was so inspired, and then I got to the end and I didn't know how to do the thing. I didn't know how to do the work.

And so my client would say, well that's great, because I actually have ideas and tips and advice that I want to implement. I know how to give them the to do's. Sometimes you'll see reviews that say, the tone was disconnected for me, I felt like this person was on a pedestal talking down to me, flaunting their lavish lifestyle or what have you, and it felt very disconnected for me. And the client would say, oh well that's so good. I'm super relatable and very down to earth, I just want to say it like it is. She's like that's one in the bucket for me because I know I can bring something different there. And what happens when you start dissecting some of these reviews and checking out the market and what's there is that two things will happen. One is first you'll have the Oh S H I T moment of, there's a lot of books out there in this genre that I want to write in. And that's okay. Remember the fact that publishers are risk averse. They want a tried and true topic. They just want something a little different. And then the second phase of what you'll experience is just getting completely fired up. Because when you get into those reviews, and you see what people were left wanting, and you know you can fill that hole, boom.

I promise the creativity gates will just flood open. It seems like such a basic process, but it's so worth doing because you're just gonna get so much intel of what people really want in this area. That's going to lead you to your special sauce because you're gonna go, oh I bring that solution. I bring that tone. Oh I have anecdotal stories. I have stories from clients or friends or colleagues that I can put inside of this book to make it even more illustrated, I can do all that. You're going to start to identify what you do that's different. I had a client who is one of the longest case studies of Adderall addiction, and she's writing about her process of coming off of Adderall. And there are certain chapters written by physicians and things but really, it's from her and her personal experience. And she's got a thriving platform and she said, every book on the market in this space is from a physician, and I'm bringing the person on the other end, I'm bringing that experience. And what I know about my community and the people that are constantly messaging me all day long is that there's a distrust of the books from physicians, because the physicians put them on the medication. And so I provide the advice of someone really going through it with them. She identified that through going through this process. There's always some discovery that's going to happen here, which is going to help lead you to the right book idea.

And agents and publishers love the idea of book parents. They don't call it that, I do, because it's an easy thing to imagine. But they love this and that. My book is this meets that. My book is Untamed by Glennon Doyle meets Fair Play by Eve Rodsky, because I give compelling thought-provoking narrative with practical advice and tips. That's how I get this or that.

So when you start to go through this work and see what other books are out there, you get to figure out who your book parents are. If these two books came together, this would be my book. And you're going to say that in your proposal. They love that. Something to work on while you're navigating these first steps.

I also recommend doing a social or client inventory. This is another step of looking under the hood. The reason why polling and looking at the information that we already have from our clients and followers or anyone in our community that we've helped service, is that there's often a gap between what you want to write and what people actually want from you. Part of that is because first time authors especially try and pack 10 books into one. They go, this is it, this is my book, and I've got to put everything in there, every story, everything I've ever learned in life is going in this one book. When they find out that what people want from them is like 10% of that. So this helps close the gap.

The more you are teaching publicly, and speaking publicly, and getting on social media or in your email list or in your communities, you will start to see what people really want from you so that you can keep it tight in that first book and not overwhelm them with too much information. The number one thing you want at the very end of this process is word of mouth. People that finish reading the book that tell other people is the number one way to sell a book long term, so you don't want to give them too much that they can't do it, or they can't absorb it, or they can't get into it. This will help streamline that process for you.

Part of that is also identifying their pain points. Pain points are going to come up a lot when you're developing a book and a book proposal. You really want to think about, what are people coming to me for, what are they asking me the most, what's keeping them up at night? If I'm writing to these people, and I want to share part of myself, or if I want to teach them something, what is it that they're struggling with, because that's when people come to books. They want to feel something. They want to get lost in something. They want to feel seen. They want to learn something. They want a solution to their problem. So the more we can identify those things on the front end of the process, the more you can tailor your content, you can write right to them. It's really important to know what those pain points are.

My clients, part of their work with me is identifying at least three to four core pain points. So the more you can think of those and make them as specific as possible, the better you'll be in creating your book proposal.

How do I really get clear? I have all this homework. I did my market research. How do I know what my book really is? So I teach this in the form of three core concept questions. The first is broken into two, so I guess I'm sort of cheating. It's actually four. But what's the problem? The problem, if I'm thinking of this as like an inverted pyramid, the biggest end of the pyramid is your problem. And that comes in two lanes. One is the biggest cultural systemic landscape problem. What is the worldwide global problem that I'm talking about, or that this topic ties into? And then, what's my reader struggling with? And I'm going to show you how this works out in real time, but this is really the core of getting to what your book is. What's the biggest problem? What's the reader problem? And how can I speak to both of those things? How are they tied together? So maybe it's, if I'm using that former client as an example, it's like, the opioid crisis, or the fact that we have an over prescription, or whatever it is. And then the reader pain point is like, feeling lost, not knowing there's another way outside of the meds that they're on, or whatever it is. What's big, and then what's personal. The second piece is what's the solution? Not everyone's book is going to feel like it has a solution, but it does. And the way that you can look at that is like either a proposed method that you have that you're taking them through, or how you're getting them to the promise

Every book, even the most beautiful narrative books, have a promise. There's a theme in there somewhere.

How are you opening their eyes to that theme? And is there a method, a framework, that you're taking them through? And this is another time I want to remind you that books without frameworks are wonderful. Framework is not for everybody.

But you do need to think about, am I getting them to see something in themselves? Am I getting them to reflect? Am I asking them to look into childhood trauma? Am I asking them to find motivation in new ways? Whatever it is, there is a promise that you're delivering in there. And we have to know what it is at the beginning, because we have to know how to get to it.

And then three is why me? You notice that we haven't talked about you until now. There's a reason for that. When you are creating your book proposal, you're following this exact same method: problem solution, why me? The why me comes third because they need to buy into the idea before they care who you are. And I'm putting it very frankly, they need to have buy in to the idea of what you want to write. They need to feel inspired. They need to feel, hmm, I have some questions about this, which is good, before they find out who the vehicle is for this book. The why me comes third. What's important to know there is that it's two things, it's who you are personally and professionally, and how does your personal life and your upbringing or the way you've navigated your career or your relationships and how you operate professionally, how do those tie it together?

A big part of books is reader trust, and us wanting to feel connected to the person talking to us through a book and teaching us something. So the why me is that blend of personal and professional, which is again why I asked everyone that question at the beginning of what part of you have you left behind. This is where you get to bring it all together.
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