Step 7: Create a book proposal template and customize for each publisher

The final step is an important one, even if you think self-publishing may be the path for you. The items and research that must go into a good book proposal directly correlate to your ability to market and sell your book. A book proposal gives every author the opportunity to critically analyze what sets his or her book apart. For the sake of simplicity, this final step is written under the assumption that you’re going to submit to a traditional publisher.

The book proposal outline I recommend below can really help you be ready for the different aspects of submitting your manuscript. Every publisher will have exact specifications for their submissions, so it’s important to double check that you follow those requirements as carefully as possible. The items below are the substantive portions you should have on hand and ready to drop into a proposal at any moment.

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Step 6: Research traditional publishers

The point of Step 6 is to learn as much as you can about traditional publishers and imagine yourself as a published author under their name. Establishing the type of publisher you’d like to work with is exceptionally helpful whenever you’re approached by one—because you’ll already have your standards and ideal scenario identified. You can learn quite a bit about a publisher’s internal workings by seeing that types of authors they sign and how their authors promote their books (signings, tours, podcast interviews, social media, etc.).

Rather than starting Step 6 by googling “traditional publishers,” grab three to four books off your shelf that you found irresistible, and see if there are one or two primary authors who resonate with you especially.

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Step 6 delayed and here's why ...

It’s been almost three years since I worked in an office full time. Before taking the “self employed plunge,” I thought that anything could be better than working for a company. I hated being rushed in the mornings. I hated being chained to a desk. I hated being evaluated for hours worked instead of my productivity, insight and efficiency. The more I focused on these feelings, the bigger they got, until they seemed unmanageable, and it became unthinkable to stay in the gilded cage of corporate America.

I took the great leap and like most things in life, about two months later, reality started to set in. It was no longer thrilling to answer emails in my pajamas, or to jog in the middle of the afternoon without asking anyone's permission. There were things like juggling client expectations and "how am I going to pay this bill next month?"

I tried to build in elements of freedom so that this whole experiment could at least seem worthwhile. But it turns out that being motivated by next month's paycheck never did quite measure up. Instead of needing to be completely free to chase my own wiles, it turns out that what I needed was a lot of things that a formal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job offered. I needed things like structure (tasks to fill my day); companionship (friends to work alongside and eat lunch with most every day); expectations (do this by this point, please); rhythm (see you on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday); and contribution (you helped make this possible!).

Why am I telling you all this today?

Well, because last week I didn’t write Step 6 of the 7-step series we’re in the middle of. I don’t have a nice orderly blog to offer you today. It’s outlined on paper, but it is not written. And instead of pushing and cranking on myself to get it out at the ninth hour last night, I thought I’d take a stab at letting you know what's up.

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Step 5: Begin organizing and revising your book

Where step 4 focused on looking outward, analyzing and taking note of authors in a genre similar to yours, step 5 is heavy on organizational processes and editing. It’s easiest to start this step after giving yourself some time away from your manuscript. Fresh eyes always edit best.

Ask yourself some high-level questions about what could make your book stand apart from its predecessors. Does your book employ any of the following elements?

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Step 4: Become curious about other authors

Learning about publishing can sometimes feel like a series of having your fantastical balloons popped, mercilessly, one by one, with a sharp knife. “Being an author” and getting a book published are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to reality and fantasy, which is why my advice for step 4 basically involves grabbing your perceptions and exposing them to the light of reality.

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