When to Query a Book

On this long and winding road called the publishing journey there’s the question of when to query a book. The answer isn’t too mind blowing but it comes up enough that it’s worth covering.

When to query a book

The answer of when to query a book is different for fiction and non-fiction, and there are different answers within non-fiction as well. Here are the basics.

When to query a book: fiction

If you’re querying a fiction book it both needs to be 100 per cent finished and revised/edited. In other words, your book needs to be complete.

One pub tip I read from an agent read she shouldn’t be the first person to read your book. Good advice!

When to query a book: non-fiction

This is a bit trickier to answer but I’ll try. The best advice is to check out the agent or editor you’re querying and see what their requirements are—because it seems like all non-fiction agents/editors want similar yet different things.

If you’re writing memoir or narrative non-fiction then your manuscript needs to be complete before querying (same as fiction). However, if you’re writing prescriptive non-fiction then you do not need to have a finished manuscript before querying.

I’m pleased about the prescriptive non-fiction rules because it’s what I’m writing but I’ve learned you still need to have the book figured out and, like, thought through because you need an amazing book proposal should you get past the query stage.

And another hitch with prescriptive non-fiction is you need a significant platform in order to get an agent or editor. I know. But you just do.

Since learning this I can see many reasons for holding off on querying even if you’re manuscript or proposal is ready. Because getting an agent or editor isn’t the only moving target in this adventure—there is so much more to consider. So. We’re all excited and just want to query the heck out of our books. But I challenge you to ask yourself if you’re really ready. Is your manuscript ready? Is your platform ready? Are you ready? If you have considered these questions then you know when to query a book.

On this long and winding road called the publishing journey there's the question of when to query a book. The answer isn't too mind blowing but it comes up enough that it's worth covering.

More about non-fiction publishing

I’ve Self-Published a Book…Now What?

You’ve worked hard for a while writing your book and then you worked hard and self-published your book. Wow! Well done! That’s a lot of work. So…now what do you do?

Self-published now what

In an ideal world you, the author, would have worked out your marketing plan before you wrote and self-published your book but from what I see and hear from the authors I know and work with…it doesn’t happen that way. The drive to write and publish becomes a hyper-focal point and no “you should plan your marketing!” bird chirping in the background will make any difference.

And if the entire goal is to get the book done and self-published then this is an awesome accomplishment. However, if selling the book is the goal then there are a few more steps to take. Well, maybe a lot more.

Once you’ve self-published your book the next step is to market it to your ideal readers

In essence this is simple—put your book in front of the people who will love it. Except finding those people is not always easy. You have to dissect your book and figure out what type of reader would be interested in your writing style and subject matter. And then you need to find them…what stores do they shop in? Where do they hang out? What is their favourite social media platform? What are their biggest fears? What do they care most about? What type of marketing will they best respond to?

There are a lot of ways you can find your ideal reader (or book buyer, however you want to see it) so it’s important not just to parrot what you see others doing online but to find something that works for you and feels natural.


If you are stuck for ideas here are a few you can consider to help market your self-published book.

  • If you’re looking to find new readers make the e-version of your book free and find a way to add them to your email list. This way you can nurture them and (hopefully) sell them your next book
  • Need sales fast? Run ads on platforms where your ideal readers are—consider Facebook, Amazon, BookBub, KDP Countdown, etc.
    If you want to dive deeper into ads here’s a helpful post from David Gaughran
  • Set up local readings or offer to speak free at local events in order to promote your book
  • Go on an online book tour (wondering how to set it up? Here’s a guide from Book Marketing Tools

You've worked hard for a while writing your book and then you worked hard and self-published your book. Wow! Well done! That's a lot of work. So...now what do you do? #writing #selfpublish

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What is an Author Platform?

If you Google “What is an author platform?” you’ll see many, many sort-of answers. Because this isn’t a simple question. But I’m still going to try and answer it.

What is an Author Platform

In a nutshell, a platform is the sum total of ways you, the author, can sell your book.

But…what does that mean? What is an author platform? That answer doesn’t tell me anything!

Hah! I know. And people in general assume a platform is how many social media followers you have, and maybe at one point that was it, but since you can buy followers you can still have loads of followers and not sell any books. So that can’t be the only thing that makes up your platform.

I mean, it will make some of it.

But here’s a few other things that make up a well-rounded platform.

What is an author platform?

  • Social media followers and existing contacts/fans/readers/email subscribers—30%
  • Knowledge and expertise on your topic—25%
  • Personality and follow through—25%
  • Previous work (articles, books, etc.)—20%

It kind of makes sense, right? When you pitch an agent or publisher they need to know you can motivate your existing readers, reach new readers and build strong relationships with your readers.

A common follow-up question to what is an author platform is: does this apply to all authors?

Hah! Kind of?

From my research I’ve learned while almost all non-fiction authors need a platform, not all fiction authors do.

Although it’s overwhelming to think about building a thriving team of superfans when it’s hard enough to getting words on the page the more I think about it the more I understand why it’s necessary. Publishing a book isn’t the hard part (although, like, that’s not simple)—selling your book is.

Think about it this way: let’s say you’re putting together a workshop and you’re partnering with a local venue as the host. Well, is it 100% up to the venue to sell the thing out? No, of course not. Sure they can help by spreading the word to their customers but it’s up to you to bring in your friends and fans. The ability to draw people in shows the strength of your platform. So make it strong.

One other thing to think about when asking what is an author platform is to consider everything you do as a contribution to your platform. In-person connections are often stronger than online ones so don’t take those for granted. Think about the associations you’re a member of, the clubs you participate in and the hobbies you have. If you think those could be channels to sell books then make sure they’re strong connections. Contribute to them and make yourself a valuable member.

Wondering how to grow your platform? Here are a few ideas from Writer’s Digest.

  • Find out what your target audience is reading and publish articles or blogs in those outlets
  • Publish a body of work on your topic in a blog, newsletter, podcast, video blog, etc. to grow organic followers and fans over time and help you build authority in your niche
  • Attending events (or speaking at these events if possible) where you can expand your network
  • Find meaningful ways to connect with your target audience—put on events, run challenges, have promotions, etc.
  • Partner with people in your niche (either peers or influencers) to grow your reach and pick up new fans

If you Google "What is an author platform?" you'll see many, <em>many</em> sort-of answers. Because this isn't a simple question. But I'm still going to try and answer it.

Other posts about platform building and non-fiction writing

How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

In the non-fiction world, book publishing starts with writing an amazing query letter. And after that? Send in your book? Nope. If you get past the query-letter round in non-fiction publishing you then move on to book proposal. There are many ways to put together a proposal but here is what I’ve learned about how to write a non-fiction book proposal in the past few months of, well, learning how to write a non-fiction book proposal.

How to write a non-fiction book proposal

In 2017 I had a goal of pitching a book to an agent at a writer’s conference. Yes, OK I also wanted to acquire an agent but I knew it was a long shot. In my reading about the industry I knew the path to publishing was a windy road and there was so much I still had to learn. But I did want to practice pitching (which is something I recommend doing often!) and I did want to get started. Doing it in person added that much more intensity. And live feedback. Yikes.

I knew enough to book appointments with agents who represented non-fiction and I practiced my pitch a few times over so I could deliver it without reading. My query letter was prepped and printed and I had supplementary ideas and media kits printed off in the event I should need it. However, I was not prepared for one agent asking me for my book proposal while I was pitching. It threw me off a bit, since in the conference instructions it said to limit my documents to a query letter. Whoops. A second agent asked me to send my book proposal “in a few months.” In the moment I thought…a few months? I’ll have it ready next week!

Months Later

Uh…writing a book proposal takes longer than I thought. And even though it’s not the entire book it’s still a big project.

Here’s what I’ve learned in these months since the conference: a book proposal sells your idea to agents and publishers. And the most important thing is to avoid outlining what your book is about but instead highlight why you’re writing it, who you’re serving and how your book will benefit your readers.

Oh, OK. So a non-fiction book proposal is like writing a business marketing plan. I can do that

In my research I’ve discovered there are many different ways of putting together a non-fiction book proposal. While it’s important to craft your proposal to the specs the agent or publisher asks for, there are also common elements you can prepare ahead of time and reshape into each proposal you send out.

Common elements in a non-fiction book proposal

Overview

Your overview describes your idea and what you’re trying to accomplish. You want this to be succinct yet descriptive—in the marketing world it’s your elevator pitch; in the business world it’s your executive summary. Depending on the agent or publisher, this should be between 500 words and five pages. Yes. That is quite a range. Pay attention to instructions.

Target markets/audience

It’s tempting to think your book will appeal to everyone or to the masses in general, but in the marketing world, the more niche, the better. You want to know who you’re helping and what problems you’re solving. The more specific and detailed you can be, the better. The goal of this section is to outline who will purchase your book so don’t hold back from diving into the world of your target reader.

Promotion/marketing plan

I’ve heard other authors describe this as the most important part of your proposal. Although it would be nice to sit back and let someone else be in charge of your marketing the truth is you need to champion your book like your book deal depends on it. Cause, well, it does. This is the place where you call in every favour and think of any and every way to get publicity. Overview your marketing plan with confidence and with as many actual numbers as you can. Outline your platform, present your numbers, and list every media type you can think of and how you plan to get coverage.

Competing works

Drawing attention other books just like yours may seem counter-intuitive but competition shows there’s a market for your work. In your competitive analysis list three to 10 successful titles published within the past few years and demonstrate how your book is different from these titles, without trashing them. You want to create a case for a solid readership waiting for your work, which will complement other books already published in the genre.

About the author

You can repurpose your bio from your query letter and add a bit of flourish. Here you want to demonstrate why and how you are the right author to write your book. Highlight any relevant experience, expertise and credentials. Answer the implied question, how are you qualified to write this book? Why should you write it rather than anyone else? Where are you already active?

Table of contents and chapter outline

Although you don’t have to have your book written yet, you do need to know how the book is going to look when it’s done. This is like a map of your book and should include chapter names, section titles, subtitles and any other relevant information. Outline each chapter by writing a brief summary. The big idea here is to help the agent or publisher know what to expect from your final product.

Writing sample

In this section you want to include between one and three of your strongest chapters, which will give the agent or publisher a good sense of your writing style and the overall book structure.

In the non-fiction world, if you get past the query-letter round then move on to book proposal. There are many ways to put together a proposal but here is what I've learned about how to write a non-fiction book proposal in the past few months of, well, learning how to write a non-fiction book proposal.

Remember, your non-fiction book proposal is what your agent will use to sell your book to publishers. You’re building a case for your book to be published. You’re selling an idea, what you’ll do to promote and support it and enough of a writing sample to showcase your talent and skill.

No problem.

Other helpful posts on how to write a non-fiction book proposal

Self-Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing, Which is Best? [Review]

How Do I Decide?

How Do I Decide? By Rachelle Gardner

It has been interesting to watch the rise of self-publishing, especially over the last couple years.

I remember reading post after post about how self-publishing was going to destroy the book industry…and I bought into it.

But it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid self-publishing and the self-publishing versus traditional publishing debate. Self-publishing is becoming mainstream, profitable, and even—dare I say—socially acceptable.

This abrupt switch has me curious, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to review Rachelle Gardner’s new e-book How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (A Field Guide for Authors). What I found most interesting is Gardner, a reputable literary agent, self-published this book. In my mind, this qualifies her to write on this subject in a fair and balanced way.

Although the title aptly summarizes the six chapters, I wanted to add it’s not just for those wondering which method of publishing to pursue. How Do I Decide? works to change the question from “Which one should I choose?” to “How can I utilize these tools best to support my goals?”

I loved Gardner’s straightforward approach to this complex question. She spends time analysing the pros and cons for both traditional publishing and self-publishing. As well she works to dispel common self-publishing myths and makes it crystal clear that self-publishing should not be an excuse to publish poor writing.

As someone who has been disappointed with self-published books in the past, I’m especially thankful for this last point.

This short read is packed with material and is perfect for people who aren’t quite sure where to start with publishing, people who want to understand all the different publishing options, and people looking for credible resources to get started.

Did I mention chapter six is all about resources? In my opinion this is where the real value of this book comes in. It lists further information on self-publishing, how to get an agent, where to look for editors, reputable book cover designers, and more.

My only criticism of the book is a section with a little quiz—cute, but since it’s an e-book I’m not quite certain how to fill it out.

Overall I found this an easy and a worthwhile read. I came away from this book with a different viewpoint towards publishing and look forward to where it leads me.