How Much Ground Does Your Book Cover? The Less the Better!

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.

How Much Ground Does Your Book Cover? The Less the Better!

One of the first questions people ask me when I introduce myself as working in publishing is "Oh! What kind of books do you publish?"  This is actually a bit harder to answer than one might initially suppose. The easiest answer is to say "Non-fiction" but that is a pretty broad area!  If I want to explain in more detail what we do here at BK, I end up going in an interesting direction.

What ties it all together?

BK publishes everything from personal development to finance to leadership books.  It seems like we are all over the map!  In fact, while we have three booklists that are quite cohesive, the real binding factor is actually a bit deeper.  There is one thing that every Berrett-Koehler book does have in common- and that is the presence of a distinct, driving central message.  You can think of a central message like a thesis- it is a big idea that must be new and compelling.  At BK we specifically need to see a change message- because regadless as to which area of society you are targeting- person, organizational, or societal- you need to have One Big Idea that pulls it all together.

Just one?

Yup.  Just one. Books are long, longer than an academic journal article, and longer than even a longform internet piece. The idea that longer means more topics, however, is a primrose path of lies, deception, and deceipt.  As with many things in life, longer does not mean go wider, it means go deeper.  Books still corner the market at what they do best- allow one vehicle for in depth study of a single topic.  That is what BK does best, and that is what we require of every book proposal we consider for publication.

How do I find It? There is SO much to talk about!

The easiest way to find your central message is to ask yourself: if you had to sum up your book in just ONE sentence, what would that one crucial sentence be? (And no, it cannot be a run-on sentence, nor should it have 20 subordinate clauses!) Once you have answered that question you are not quite done yet.  You still have to put that message through the ringer. Who is this message relevent to? What good will implementing it in the world do?  Has anyone else already said this? Would your 15 year old daughter/nephew/cousin care at all if you presented them with this idea?  Try to undercut your own message every way from Sunday, and when you know it can withstand a thorough interrogation, then you know you have got something.

A final word:

When submitting a book to a publisher, any publisher- lead with the central message.  If you've nailed it, you will hook them right away!