Episode 30: Publishing & Book Proposal Secrets That Most Publishers Don’t Tell You

December 16, 2019

In this episode, Terry Whalin, author of Book Proposals that Sell, discusses the power of book proposals, why every author should write one before they write their book, the importance of marketing knowledge if you want to actually sell your book, how to get your book published for wider distribution, how to write better books that a publisher will want to buy and other publishing insider secrets!

Resources mentioned
FREE publishing Q & A & eBook

Additional resource not mentioned on the call:
For help creating your title check out Bestseller Book-Title Secrets Course (Coming Soon).

3 Key Points

A business plan helps you crystallize your business plan for how you are going to sell your book, which is why every author should create a book proposal, even if they are self-publishing.

Publishers do not do the marketing research before giving books a title, so if you want yours to stand out you MUST do the research yourself.

You must take action and decide to promote your book.


[00:51] Ellen: Hi everybody and welcome to episode 230, today my guest is Terry Whalin. Carrie understands both sides of the editorial desk. It’s an editor and a writer. He works as a magazine editor and his magazine work with appeared in more than fifty publications. He’s a former book-acquisitions editor for several publishers and a former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor currently at Morgan James publishing.

He’s written more than sixty books for traditional publishers and on a wide range of topics from children’s books to biographies to co-authored books. And over fifteen years ago, in eleven days he wrote a diet book called, The First Place by Carol Lewis, which has sold over a hundred thousand copies. And he’s known as a book proposal expert and has written a bestselling book, Book Proposal That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed your Success, and today that’s what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to talk about book proposal and he’s a popular speaker and teacher at numerous writers’ conferences and an active member of the American society of Journalists and Authors. and Terry and his wife, Christine, live near Denver, Colorado. So, welcome to the call, Terry.

Terry: Ellen, wonderful to be with you today.

Ellen:  I love having you. It’s interesting cause I was talking to David Hancock, also of Morgan James, not that long ago. And we were talking about books versus ebooks and what do you think?

Terry:  The whole market continues to evolve and change. At first, people were worried that print books were going to go away, and nobody feels like that anymore, which is good.

[2:30] Ellen: Yeah. Well, I know that you’re the author of Book Proposals that Sell. I have not one copy but two copies of that book. So how many have you written? How many books have you written, in Amazon? I know you were writing long before Amazon started, weren’t you?

[2:49] Terry: Yeah, yeah, I was.  I haven’t been writing so much myself these days. I did have a new book, that Morgan James published, it’s a biography of Billy Graham that and I worked for Billy Graham-I was associated in Decision Magazine. Back then, we were doing 1.8 million copies of the magazine every month. So, it’s pretty incredible.

[3:15] Ellen: Wow. Well, on this one we’re going to talk about book proposals. So, I know one of the reasons that I decided originally to go with ebooks instead of book, was because I didn’t want to write a book proposal, I was terrified of writing a book proposal. So, what do you say to people?

[3:29] Terry: I understand people’s hesitation because they aren’t a lot of work to actually do it properly. I’ve written two proposals that have actually gotten me a six-figure advance. And to do that, you have to have, a lot of information in those proposals. The reason I like proposals and I feel it’s important for every author, even if they’re self-publishing their book, I still think they should write a book proposal because that proposal helps them crystallize their own business plan for how they’re going to sell their book. Because when you do that proposal, you lay down on the paper some information that never appears in your book manuscript, but it’s very important to have those business details together about how you’re going to sell your book.

So, you’ve got to, he has described your target audience. You’ve got to pick out what’s your competition. And don’t tell me your book isn’t going to compete because I’m just going to roll my eyes when I see that kind of thing, because every book competes in the marketplace. So, you just have to put a little thought into it. I always encourage authors to visualize where their book will be in the bookstore, and if they have to go physically walk in a bookstore to figure that out, they can do that. And what books are going to be on either side of those books. Those are your competition.

And so, you need to kind of detail that out and know, know where you’re going to be in the bookstore. It’s always interesting to me, Ellen, some of these people propose a book that is part fiction, part nonfiction. Well, that kind of book isn’t going to work because where’s it going to land in the bookstore? Where do they put it? So, you have to do some stuff that fits in a normal category in order to be able to make it go as well. Look at it, because if you propose something that’s a mixture of several different genres and several different kinds of books, it’s going to be very hard to sell that book into the market.

[5:47] Ellen: Right. And I know some authors, they just want to be creative, and they don’t want to deal with this side of the business. But then, they’re crying when after they’ve done that and they’re not making any money.

[5:58] Terry: Yeah. They wonder why in the world their book didn’t succeed out there and do…

[6:02] Ellen: Right, Right

[6;05] Terry: I remember years ago, people have pitched all kinds of crazy things to me over the years, but I remember one author, had this very elaborate book, and it was they were actually removable Christmas-tree ornaments for children to celebrate Advent. And I looked at this author and I said, “Okay, this is an interesting project. How much are we going to retail this book for, $100?” And she looked at me like I was crazy. And I’m like, “Okay, we’re not going to charge 100 bucks for this book. To get the retail price down, let’s think about this. How many of these books are we going to have to make? We’ve got to print a million of them and are we going to print them in China and put them on a boat to come over here to the United States? Or, are
we going to get down in Latin down South America? How are we going to do this?”

Those were business questions that this woman had never thought about. It’s all cool to be creative, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to put together something that’s practical that people are going to be able to grab onto and actually sell. And I tell authors this all the time, Ellen, I think every publisher that I know of has a storage problem. And so, they want to limit the amount of inventory they have in their warehouse. And so, they don’t want to print a million copies of a thing anymore. I was just at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and I was listening to the others at Crown and GP Putnam and places like that. And they said that, several years ago, to get their profit and loss statements that they put together internally to work, they had to speculate that they were going to print, 5,000, 10,000 copies of their book. Now their numbers are closer to three, four thousand copies of our book just because the market keeps changing, and the amount of books that they have to… and places to sell those books is less. So, they don’t need to print.

[8:03] Ellen: Which is nice, I think.

[8:05] Terry: Yeah, I think so too.

[8:07] Ellen: Yeah, so what do you think is better? Do you think they should do the book first and then the eBook? Or, the eBook, and then the book? Or, do you think it matters or what do you think?

[8:15] Terry: Well, I always encourage people to do the proposal, first because the proposal helps them crystallize what their outline is, particularly in nonfiction. You can get your chapter by chapter plan as far as how you’re putting your book together. But I think they could do it either way. They could do the eBook as a test market if they wanted to get it out there in an ebook. and then do the printed book after that. Or, I don’t think the order really matters so much.

I always encourage authors not to print a bunch of books. I have met so many authors that, they have a garage full of these things, and they can’t do anything with them. They’ve invested $20,000 in these books, and they’re stuck. Don’t do that kind of thing. That kind of thing is happening out there in the marketplace. particularly with certain companies that encourage people to buy tons of books

[9:18] Ellen; Uh-huh. I’ve done that. Yeah.

[9:21] Terry: It’s really disturbing to me to hear that kind of thing. And what people outside of book publishing don’t understand is that there’s massive amounts of these books that they’re doing. The authors’-solutions companies, for example, they’ve got about twenty different names out there, but, they do around 50,000 titles a year. That’s a lot of books.

[9:49] Ellen: Wow.

[9:50] Terry: That’s a ton of books.

[9:54] Terry: And that’s why Penguin Random House bought them for like $2 billion. It’s because there’s such a moneymaker for the publishing house. Sure, the publisher makes a lot of money, not the author, but the publisher. And from my reading about publishing, the bulk of their employees at author solutions are in the Philippines. Those are the people that are making calls. Those are the people that are doing the production on the book. And, it’s a shame the stuff that they’re making. It’s awful. I’ve seen it.

[10:26] Ellen: So, are you talking about where you have to buy a bunch of books, and now, you’re stuck with the books but the publisher got paid?

[10:33] Terry: That’s right, that’s right.

[10:35] Ellen: Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me on the very first one that I did, I still have copies of it. And not only do I have copies of it, but they’re in storage, and I’m actually paying for storage, and they’re not the only one. So, then I have another book that I was a co-author in-I was a guest author. I didn’t end up paying for that one. And I got tons of those books, and they’re all in storage. And you’re paying on it every month; it’s awful. It’s awful. So, yeah, I really want to get rid of all that, but I hate to just throw them out. So anyway, that, yeah. So, that’s, it’s a terrible way to do it.

[11:10] Terry: But the technology has changed anymore that; the print on demand books are great because you have to be in printing or something to know the difference between them and the offset printing. So, they’re great.

[11:25] Ellen: Oh. So, let me ask you a question about that because I get asked this a lot. What do you think of Lightning Source and Lulu and Vervante and all these other ones?

[11”35] Terry: Barry Eisler is a friend of mine. I met a few years ago at a conference in Amarillo, and he is an Amazon-only author now. Now, he writes thrillers. His claim to fame is he turned down this huge advance from St. Martin’s Press because he’s only on Amazon making his own books. Of course, he has a fan base, and he could do that. You know? So, good for him!

[11:58]} Ellen: Right. When I was talking to David about this new thing where you want to be seen everywhere, and I said, well, “unless you’re lazy”.  If you’re making good money on Amazon and you just don’t want to deal with the other stuff, then some people just stay on Amazon, and leave it at that. But one of the things that concerns me is that I work with a lot of authors and helping them get their titles, and the right categories and everything, so that when they get on Kindle they can really get seen and get to selling easily and all that.

But I’m seeing a disturbing trend and that trend is that when you go and look up keywords and phrases, there are certain ones that are very popular and one of them for instance, is how to be happy. And if you looked up “how to be happy when I first started doing marketing research for my clients, there were forty-eight books titled “How to be Happy. Luckily, people have gotten more savvy now, so I see a lot fewer books with the same title, but you should not use a key phrase or a keyword for your title if there is even one title that’s the same because if you do, potential buyers might get confused, not knowing which one to buy, and then they are just going to leave and not buy any of them because a confused mind doesn’t buy, so you really have to do the research and create a fresh original title for your book.

[11:25] Terry: Publishers do that kind of thing all the time. They will not check, the Internet or Amazon before they title a book. And so, they named the book the exact same name as somebody else’s book. And I think that’s a mistake if you do that.

Well, the funny thing about Amazon, and probably, I assume David told you this, that of our business at Morgan James, Amazon is one of our big clients, but they’re only 24% of our overall business. And so, that means that 76% of our books (not ebooks) are sold other places.

[14:01] Ellen: Wow. I didn’t realize that and he didn’t say that. So that’s good to know. Yeah.
So, where do you suggest people make sure that their books, if they’re going to do a physical book, where should they be?

[14:13] Terry: Well, I’m more prejudice on this side of things, but I’ve been encouraging authors to go through Morgan James just because we do have broad distribution for the books. Probably about a month and a half ago, I got stuck in the Philadelphia airport and missed my connection. So, I spent the day in the Philadelphia airport, and I walked into the bookstore, and I found my Billy Graham book in the airport bookstore. And it wasn’t anything that I did. It was something that Morgan James did through their distribution.

[14:47] Ellen: So, they only do 150 books a year. What if you guys don’t accept their books, then where should they go? They can kind of do it themselves with straight distribution?

[15:00] Terry: Well, if we don’t accept their book, there’s always like IngramSpark’s program or there are some other places out. They won’t have placement in bookstores if they do that, but their book will be broadly available if they did that.

[15:17] Ellen: So, that’s good. What else do you want to talk about on the book proposal? Is there anything that we missed on that?

[15:24] Terry: Well, I think, every author in their book proposal has to come up with a workable marketing plan is one of the elements of a book proposal that’s really important. Every author thinks a publisher is going to market their book.

[15:42] Ellen: Right.

[15:44] Terry: You know, my great revelation came when I was at Mega Book Marketing University 2007. At that point in my life, I had written over fifty-five books, and I was sitting there listening to all the presentations. They brought me as an agent there, and I thought, “I’m doing very little to actually promote my own book.” And I decided to make a change. Back then, I had a website, terrywhalin.com, but I had no blog. I had no free teleseminars. I had no Twitter, no Facebook, none of that.

And so, I decided to change. And so, I do all my own website stuff. And so, if it doesn’t get changed, there’s nobody to blame but me. But at this point, I have a rather large digital footprint out there. And I guess my encouragement to the people listening to this podcast is that they can do it themselves., It’s going to take work. It’s going to take consistent effort.

I’m growing my Twitter followers about a hundred new followers a day that I’m getting, that’s all exposure that I have out there online all the time from consistently working at it. It doesn’t have to cost me a lot, but it does take, consistent time and energy to be out there doing that stuff. That’s the kind of information you want to build into your proposal because then the publishers like those numbers because then they go, “Oh my goodness. Yeah, this guy can sell some books. So, I want to publish him because they have the numbers attached to their proposal.”

[17:28] Ellen: What would you say, if somebody was getting started, what would be the most important things you would tell them to do? To start? Like the top three things?

[17:36] Terry:  I would say to work on social media, but don’t get sucked in on that. I probably only spend, fifteen, twenty minutes a day on that. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media and not reading all that stuff that’s out there. I’m tweeting probably every hour about different things, but I have good content on my tweets. It’s not just, “Buy my book, buy my book.” I’m not doing that. I’m pointing to information that’s in my book or my book trailer, for example or something like that.

So, I think the top things that people could do is growing their social media, their Facebook friends, Good Reads is an important thing that people should be on; people ignore it because Amazon owns that; they don’t want to be involved with that. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of people that are really serious readers over there that love books, and they have forums and they have giveaways. And so, you can work slowly at growing all those kinds of things, and that helps your exposure and your visibility in the marketplace.

[18:48] Ellen:  I know, but like you were saying, people don’t want to deal with it. People are so overwhelmed with Kindle, and social media and all that. And you just said, you’re actually live on Twitter every hour?

[19:03] Terry: I am, but I use Hootsuite, which is a free tool, and I set it up ahead of time. And so, it goes, yeah, these tweets go out every hour.

[19:16] Ellen: You scared me though. I thought you were saying you were on there live every hour.

[19:20] Terry: No, no. I’m not.  So, if people are overwhelmed, what I encourage people to do is to take one or two of these things and to say, “Okay, this month I’m going to work on LinkedIn. And I’m going to learn about LinkedIn, I’m going to grow my network, grow my connections there on that and just see how it goes.” And the next month, try Facebook, and the next month try Twitter. But don’t let all this overwhelm you. Just work at it consistently and see what happens and it’s the same thing on the writing front. People wonder, how in the heck did I write for fifty magazines or published sixty books? And I tell people, I go to these conferences all the time and I’m a simple guy, Ellen. So, if an editor says to me, “Terry, that’s a really good idea. Write that up and send that to me.” So (that’s) what I do; I make a note, and I go home, and I write it up. And I said to him, “You would be shocked at the number of people that I saw at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference…” There were over 400 people there, and I saw a lot of those writers, and I looked them right in the eye and I said, “That sounds like a great idea. Write that up and send it to me. Well, if you do that, you’ll be probably in the top 5%.

[20:50] Ellen: When you say, “Write that up and send it to me.” You mean write the whole book?

[20:54] Terry: Well they may have a book, they may have a proposal, send me part of it, send me something. And I followed up with every one of those people and asked them to send me something and I guess the number of people that I’ve actually gotten is probably five or six.

[21:13] Ellen: Right. Yeah. that’s what got me on the map fast was that I was taking action. Every time somebody told me to do something, I would just do it. And that whole thing about the difference between people who are successful and people who aren’t is that the people who are successful took the action. Everybody else sits around talking about it, thinking about it, learning about it, but they don’t do anything.

[21:34] Terry: That’s true. They’re over there, books about it. They go into seminars, they’re doing all these events, but they’re not taking action. You’re right. It’s the huge problem out there. And so, people wonder how in the world I’ve gotten all this stuff done, I’d take action.

[21:50] Ellen: Uh-huh. So, would you say that’s your top tip? Take action.

[21:54] Terry: I would say that’s one of my top tips. Absolutely. Don’t just talk about it. Sit down in the chair, and put your fingers on the keyboard, and get it done.

[22:05] Ellen: Amen.

[22:06] Terry: And one of my friends who was very prolific, I asked him how in the world he got so much done, and he looked at me, and he spread his hand apart and put it up like saying, “Stop” and I said, “What is that?” He says, “I do five pages a day.” And so, your listeners might not be somebody that could write five pages a day, but maybe they’re a half-page-a-day person, if you write half a page a day consistently, day after day, at the end of the month, you’re going to have so much; at the end of two months, you’re going to have so much. You can get it done if you knock it down into bite-sized chunks, so that you can actually do it.

[22:47] Ellen: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that everybody just has to find the pace that’s best for them. For me, I know that would never work because I wouldn’t get it done, but I’ll sit down, and I’ll just knock out a book in a weekend?

[23:01] Terry: Yeah. Well, you could do it that way. And then, the other thing in the book realm that I encourage people to do is to understand how many words are in a normal book. So, for example, a 200-page paperback book is very standard for nonfiction and that’s about 50,000 words. So, don’t turn in 300,000 words like I’ve had some authors do. You only want to write 200-page book. And the other thing that is a common bit of advice that I give people is to be writing for a magazine, because you learn a lot writing for magazines that you’ll never learn in the book area because the piece of work that you’re working with is so long. Where in a magazine article is 500, 800, 1,000, 1200 words. You learn a lot writing for magazines because you learn how to write for a target audience; you learn how to have a beginning, middle, and end to your story. It sounds real basic, but a lot of people don’t know how to do that stuff. And so, you learn those basic skills with the shorter form before you tackle it with the book.

[24:22] Ellen: It’s definitely a completely different animal in one way, but it keeps you limber.

[24:29] Terry: I actually have a column in the Southern Writer Magazine. They’re bimonthly; so, they come out every other month. And my column ties to this topic here is called “Book Proposal Boot Camp.” And so, every month or every other month, rather, I write about 350 words about book proposals, and I’ve got something new to say on that topic every time. And it’s fun. I like it.

[24:56] Ellen:  Well, we were going to send them, right, to somewhere where they can get the book proposals? And now, I can’t find it. Oh, here it is…. when they go here, they can ask a question, right? Or, they can put in no question, but they got to put in their name and email, and then what are they going to get from you?

[25:23] Terry: From that URL, they will get, I think it’s sixty, seventy minutes- I’m answering questions that writers have about proposal creation. And they also get a free ebook from me, Book Proposal Basics, which will help them understand the essential elements that they need to have in a book proposal. But I think the teleseminar is great because I answer people’s real questions that they have about proposal creation.

[25:56] Ellen: And believe me, if anybody knows about a Terry does, so what you can do is go to http://tinyurl.com/bookproposalbasics So, go grab that and get in the frame of mind to write your book proposal. I think it’s really going to help when you listen to you and you’re saying it’s just taking action and you’ve written so many books. I can’t say I’ve written anywhere near that many books. So, my philosophy is always learn from people who’ve done it. So, thank you, Terry, so much. I’ve really enjoyed this, and I hope my listeners have too and take care.

[26:49] Terry: Thank you, so much for letting me do this.

[26:51] Ellen: You’re welcome. Bye bye.



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About the Author

Ellen Violette

Ellen is an 3X award-winning book, including being named one of the Top 20 Book Coaches of 2022 by Coach Foundation. She's also a multiple #1 bestselling author, a 3-time eLit award winner, podcast host, and a Grammy-nominated songwriter. She has been helping entrepreneurs increase their credibility and expert status, become #1 bestselling authors, and make a bigger impact in the world since 2004. Her mission is to make the world a better place one author and one book at a time!



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