Writing a book: The Proposal

To start from the obvious, book publishers are companies, hoping to make money from the books they publish. If you’d like your book to be on this illustrious list, you need an idea for a book that will sell. This post isn’t about how to come up with the idea, it’s about how to sell it.

In a mature market, like the book market, you need some way to convince the publisher that thousands of people will buy your book. Some common ways to do this are to be the first or most comprehensive book on some new technology. You can be the easiest to understand. You can try to become the standard textbook. The big problem with our first proposal was that we wanted to write a book on how managers should make security decisions.

That book didn’t get sold. We might rail against the injustice, or we might accept that publishers know their business better than we do.
Problems with the idea include that there aren’t a whole lot of people who manage security, and managers don’t read a lot of books. (Or so we were told by several publishers.) We didn’t identify a large enough market.

So a proposal for a new book has to do two main things: first identify a market niche that your idea will sell, and second, convince the publisher that you can write. You do that with an outline and a sample chapter. Those are the core bits of a proposal. There are other things, and most publishers have web sites like Addison Wesley’s Write for us or Writing For O’Reilly. Think of each of these as a reason for some mean editor who doesn’t understand you to disqualify your book, and make sure you don’t give them that reason.

With our first proposal, we gave them that reason. Fortunately, both Jessica Goldstein (Addison Wesley) and Carol Long (Wiley) gave us really clear reasons for not wanting our book. We listened, and put some lipstick on our pig of a proposal.

Funny thing is, that lipstick changed our thinking about the book and how we wrote it. For the better.

One thought on “Writing a book: The Proposal

  1. As a long chain of security disasters show, not only do most decision makers not know much about security, they are unable to identify those who do:
    Recent disasters being DNSSEC, WPA personal, and Mifare.

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