Don't Come to Me With Your Problems

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.


Don't Come to Me With Your Problems

When Global Warming Isn’t Enough to Sell Your Book

Why does the world need your book?  If you have ever sought to have a book published, ever created a book proposal, or ever talked to an agent you have likely encountered a similar question. What is the need for this publication? Or sometimes simply “Need?” It is a question anyone who wants to sell something or market something must ask- who will need this product enough to plop down $ for it? Without understanding the need, it is impossible to sell a product, indeed, why would we publish a book if there were no need for it?  Seems simple, right?

Its not the answer you think it is

The most common answer we see to this question is the author pointing towards a huge looming problem in the world:

“The planet it dying and we are going with it!”

“Gallup says 70% of the American work force is disengaged!”

“The polarization in our country is killing progress!”

Hard truth: the fact that the planet is dying is not a good enough reason to publish your book.  Really.  I know that sounds harsh, but even life-shattering problems like global warming don’t necessarily justify the publication of a book. 

Missing the trees for the forest

When authors focus too much on a problem of massive scale, they will frequently derail themselves.  Instead of a cogent piece of writing that matches a need with a proposed solution, the proposal reads like a personal crusade. Authors will end up filling pages with reasons that global warming is a problem, why the problem is getting worse, or why disengagement is a problem in the workplace.  These big problems are just not going to be solved by one book.  When you answer the question about need, place the emphasis of the answer on YOUR, not the bigger issue.

Why do we need YOUR book?

Most authors neglect the most critical part of this question. They are not specific enough about how their solution, above others, speaks to the expressed need.  We don’t want (or need…) a long explanation about these macro-level problems.  Unless you watch exclusively Fox to get your news, you likely already accept that the environment is in need of serious help. If you work in corporate America, you would have to have been living under a rock to have missed the Gallup engagement study. What we need to know is what your book is going to add to the solution or conversation.  A huge need does not justify the publication of just anything. A book’s value add to a conversation is what justifies its publication. When crafting your next book proposal, be brutally honest with yourself and ask how you book helps to solve the need, not just what problem exists- no matter how critical.