You and us: a partnership

Our business is selling books. We acquire books which it hopes will sell, and sell well. We put up the money to publish your book, so you need to approach the project from our point of view as well as your own.

We haven’t got the space to go into great detail about the publishing business here, but you need to know about “returns”, because the challenge of returns makes publishing different from other businesses. Publishers sell books on consignment. Publishers ship books to bookshops, and if a book isn’t sold within a certain time period, it’s destroyed. The bookseller strips the cover from the book and sends the cover to the publisher for a full credit. This is the “return”. If a title doesn’t sell, the publisher takes a beating. As you can imagine, publishers are no more keen to lose money than you or I.

What does this mean to you as you write your book proposal? It means that your proposal needs to emphasize the ways in which you, as the writer, will take responsibility for the book’s success.

You will try to ensure the success of your book by gauging the marketplace. You will work out who the likely buyers of your book might be, and the reasons they will have for paying good money for your book. You’ll assess the competition for your book. You’ll work out ways in which you can promote your book, so that people hear about it. You’re in partnership with your publisher, and if you’re prepared to take responsibility for that role, the publisher will be much more likely to buy your proposal.