Part two of our four-part series on publishing a book and raising your profile.
“You must crawl before you walk and walk before you run.” E.L. James
No successful writer starts running by writing their book and then reaching out to a publisher or an agent. In the first article, I addressed the query letter. In this article, I will discuss the walk metaphor or the preparation of the book proposal that you will send to an agent. Now the agent can evaluate your book in minutes and doesn't have to read the entire book before deciding to represent you.
A crucial step in getting your book idea noticed is preparing a comprehensive book proposal for review by literary agents. Very few physicians, Dr. Atul Gwande (Checklist Manifesto), Dr. Abraham Vergese (Cutting for Stone and The Covenant of Water), and Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) are the exceptions, as they have the skills and the reputation that allows them to ask for an advance and then write a book without submitting a proposal. We, mortal physician writers, must create a compelling book proposal that showcases our expertise and maximizes our chances of securing an agent to represent us.
Understanding the importance of a book proposal
A book proposal is your gateway to the publishing world. It's a business plan for your book, providing agents and publishers with a clear understanding of your project's content, target audience, marketability, and author credentials. In healthcare, where credibility and accuracy are necessary, a well-structured book proposal is even of greater importance. However, no lives are on the line if we spend hundreds of hours writing a book and no agent is to be found to represent us. A well-crafted proposal reflects your professionalism and commitment to delivering accurate and valuable information to your fellow medical professionals.
Define your book's core idea and purpose
Before diving into your proposal's details, start by defining your book's core idea and purpose. What knowledge gap does your book fill? Suppose you are a telemedicine expert and want to write a book on the concept of being an influential doctor without the need to touch a patient. Begin by describing the unique perspective you bring to the table. Whether you're writing about the latest advancements in medical technology, sharing practical nursing strategies, or addressing the challenges of healthcare administration, clarifying your book's central theme will guide the rest of your proposal.
Know your target audience
It would be best if you described your target audience. Are you writing for fellow physicians seeking to expand their knowledge base, nurses looking for hands-on solutions, or office managers needing efficient administrative strategies? Tailor your proposal to resonate with your specific audience. Highlight the relevance of your content to their needs, challenges, and professional growth.
Craft a compelling overview
Your proposal's overview is your chance to hook the agent's interest. Craft a concise and engaging summary that encapsulates the essence of your book. Provide a brief glimpse into the main themes, the problems you're addressing, and the solutions you offer. For instance, if you're a physician writing about innovative surgical techniques, outline how your book will revolutionize current practices and enhance patient outcomes.
Showcase your expertise
Submitting a CV is not the best approach to highlight your expertise. As medical professionals, your credibility and experience are your most vital assets. In this section, you want to show how your knowledge and experience give you the perfect platform that qualifies you to write the book. In this section, you want to emphasize your qualifications, highlighting your years of practice, specialization, academic achievements, and any peer-reviewed publications you have contributed. Convey why you are uniquely positioned to write this book and why your perspective matters.
Market analysis and competition
Agents and publishers want to know that your book has a market. You must perform a competitive analysis that reviews similar books and explains why your book is different and will attract your readers. Conduct thorough research on existing literature in your niche to identify potential competitors. A Google search or looking for books on your topic on Amazon.com will show you what has been previously written on the topic. If your book will appeal to a lay audience, an excellent place to look is in the health section of bookstores. If there is a similar book on the topic, you can look at a sample of the book and review the table of contents. Your analysis should include the book's title, the authors, the publisher, year of publication, page count, price, the ISBN,*, and specific edition number. Then, explain how your book differs from others. Whether it offers new insights, presents information in a more accessible manner, or addresses current gaps between the previous books and your book. In this section of your proposal, summarize the competing books' strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you are writing a book on back pain and the competing books were not written by an orthopedist, pain management expert, or physical therapist, this should be mentioned as a differentiator from your potential book. Additionally, discuss the likely demand for your book within the medical community, providing statistics, trends, and potential readership estimates.
Detailed table of contents
Present a detailed table of contents that clearly outlines your book's structure. Each chapter should have a brief title and a summary of each chapter. This helps agents visualize your book's organization and demonstrates your ability to structure complex medical concepts in a reader-friendly manner.
I suggest including two chapters in your proposal. Including sample chapters showcase your writing style and provide a glimpse into your book's subject matter. Select chapters that comprehensively view your book's scope and depth. If you're a nurse discussing patient care techniques, choose a branch highlighting practical strategies. If you're an office manager addressing healthcare administration, provide insights into streamlining processes.
Marketing and promotion ideas
Agents are interested in authors who are willing to actively participate in promoting their books. Outline your marketing ideas, such as speaking engagements at medical conferences, webinars, blogs, social media campaigns, and collaborations with relevant organizations. In this section, you want to mention how many followers "like" online, including website and blog traffic and email\newsletter subscribers. Highlight your existing networks within the medical field that could support promoting your book. You want to mention your media experience, especially if you have been on national TV or interviewed by one of the famous bloggers such as Joe Rogan or if you have reached the zenith and did a TED talk.
If you blog, include how many comments you average per post or how many new viewers you achieve each month. Share the metrics on your social media platforms and see what percentage of the viewers see your posts and click on the links to your website.
Finally, estimate the word count and number of photos, charts, and graphs used in your book. Also, estimate the time to write the text after signing the contract with the publisher.
Preparing a book proposal is the "walk" after you "crawled" with the query letter. A proposal is necessary to transform your medical expertise into a compelling and influential publication. By meticulously crafting each section to demonstrate your knowledge, credibility, and dedication, you increase your chances of securing representation from a literary agent who recognizes the value of your contribution. Remember, your book has the potential to shape the medical discourse and impact your peers' practices positively. Approach the proposal process with the same precision and care you bring to your medical profession, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a published author in the ever-evolving world of medicine. I hope this article provides guidelines for going from a crawl to a walk by creating an effective book proposal. In the next blog, I will discuss the management of rejection, signing the contract with the publisher, and publishing etiquette.
By the way, I have recently published a book on "Prostate Cancer – Expert Advice for Helping Your Loved One," https://www.amazon.com/Prostate-Cancer-Expert-Helping-Hopkins/dp/1421445999. If you would like to see a copy of my proposal, you can request an electronic version at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally.
Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish.