5 Tips to a Great Book Proposal – by Angela Scheff

When putting together your proposal, please put as much care into it as if it were going to be published itself. There are some things that immediately stand out to agents and publishers alike that may make them think twice about continuing to read (as there is no lack of proposal submissions). Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you craft your perfect proposal.

1. Address the cover letter appropriately.

Do not be generic (“Dear Sirs” is the worst offender in my opinion). Do your research. Find out who you’re querying, what types of books/authors they’re looking for, and let them know why you chose to query them. Just because they’re an agent is not a good enough reason. Read here for more tips on this topic.

2. Make sure your proposal is error-free.

There is no reason for typos, auto-correct mistakes, or missing words in your proposal. Spell check is a beautiful thing, but so is the simple act of reading it aloud to yourself, and hiring a proofreader (even if “hiring” entails buying your English teacher friend coffee). You’re a writer so even if your specialty is story and not necessarily knowing the difference between their/there and it’s/its, you need to make sure these types of errors don’t make an appearance in your proposal.

3. Create a proposal compatible with your writing style.

While having a perfect proposal is the goal, make sure it’s not at the expense of your personality and writing style. A good writer knows all grammatical rules—and knows when to break them. Your proposal is an agent’s first introduction to your writing, so make sure it’s aligned with your style. More info on this point can be found here.

4. Be realistic yet cast a vision.

This point is especially apparent in the competing titles section. No, your book is probably not the next Hunger Games trilogy, but what could it be like? Spend some time thinking about the market—what’s on the front table at your local bookstore? What’s on the NY Times Bestseller lists? What books do people who follow your blog read? Who’s your favorite author? There are a lot of different ways to think about this, so include how your book fits with the current landscape and illustrate a need for it.

5. Set yourself apart.

The main question you can ask yourself as you’re putting your proposal together is, what makes me different? Why am I the person who needs to write on this topic? Then make sure this is communicated in some way in your proposal. Some authors may choose to design their proposal because it’s part of who they are. Others may choose to include a short video about their book idea as being a good communicator is what sets them apart. Whatever sets you apart, make sure it makes sense and stays true to who you are and what you’re topic/idea/message is.

Overall, proposals don’t need to be stuffy but do keep it professional.

An Audience That Can Be Activated – by Mark Schaefer

The key to assembling an audience that can be activated is to patiently build a meaningful and relevant emotional connection with them. This can occur two ways: passively or actively.

A passive emotional connection occurs when people come to know you through your content alone, typically over a long period of time. As people begin to see and enjoy your work, they progress through four phases of an emotional journey:

Awareness: They discover your content and know you exist. Perhaps 98 percent of the people who find you will move on, but a few will stick around to move to the next phase. That’s why it’s important to constantly build awareness and attract potential new fans.

Engagement: The new connections want to see more. They may click on a link, explore your website, comment on your blog, and even share your content with friends. It’s starting to become a two-way connection. They are learning about you and liking what they see.

Stable connection: New fans opt-in. They subscribe to your newsletter or follow you on Facebook, LinkedIn, or another channel. Your content is adding enough value to their lives that they want to follow your work regularly. For the first time, you may know a fan exists because they’re subscribing to you. A subscription means, “I trust you and I want to see more.”

Loyalty: Your fan not only follows you but encourages others to follow you, too. This is the elite group that’s most likely to be activated. They’ll spread your ideas, donate to your charity, or hire you to speak at an event. Your ideas and your content are becoming a part of the fabric of their lives. They can’t get enough of you.

– from “Known”

Finding Your Blue Ocean

In previous articles we’ve discussed the advantage of finding your own unique space in the market, which makes it easier for you to become “known” and build your following.  Today I would like to share insights from another of my favorite business books on this topic – it is called “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant”.  The idea of the book is that red oceans represent all the industries in existence today, and blue oceans denote all the industries that currently do not exist.  Most companies operate only in red oceans and do not know how to find blue oceans. They simply try to outperform their rivals. As it gets crowded, profits and growth are reduced.

Blue Oceans are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and opportunity for profitable growth. Competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are yet to be set. Characteristics of blue oceans include:

  • They define new markets
  • They create a leap in value
  • They are the result of value innovation – when innovation is aligned with utility and price
  • Examples:
    • Cirque du Soleil
    • iTunes
    • iPhone
    • Starbucks

So how can you find your own blue ocean? As a spiritual writer, what leaps in value can you potentially offer? Here are some ideas:

    • Insight
    • Saying what others are thinking (but no one is saying)
    • Dealing with pain
    • Incredible writing
    • Relatability
    • Asking questions that others would ask too
    • Edginess
    • Talent not contained in a book

Where is your “blue ocean”? Feel free to contact us if you would like to work on this further.

Our creativity rebirths the world

Creativity can reveal the beauty and wonder of the spiritual life. Every time you create something, you are re-creating something that God created, and you are re-creating it in such a way that for certain people it will seem like the very first time they discovered rhythm or kindness or that particular shade of yellow. Our creativity rebirths the world in all of its detail again and again. As artists we name the world and help other people recognize the grace, wisdom and wonder that have been present all along.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Will My Book Launch Include a Publicity Campaign? – Jana Burson

So you have a publishing deal, you’ve written your book, and the next phase is working with the marketing department on the launch plans. You find yourself wondering if there will be a publicity campaign, and you want to know how the decision is made.

In an ideal world, every book release would include an in-depth publicity campaign as part of its launch marketing plan. But the reality is that every book has a budgeted number of marketing dollars, leaving the marketing team to determine the best way to allocate them based on opportunity. As a former publicity director, I’ve participated in many a meeting to help determine where the funds should be spent.

The fact is, publicity is always important, but the weight of its importance is really determined by what type of book you have. Some books naturally lend themselves to publicity driven campaigns. This means that publicity (booked media coverage or interviews) is the most effective way people are going to learn about the book. These are books with highly recognizable authors and platforms, timely topics that lend themselves to news of the day, practical tips that can be pitched in a variety of ways, or never before revealed information.

If a book doesn’t fall into one of these categories, chances are that it will get a more limited publicity campaign. This isn’t always a bad thing because it means that the team feels there is a more effective way of getting the word out about your book. Be it a strategic social media campaign, targeted online promotion and advertising or another mode, a limited publicity campaign can compliment the effort in a variety of ways.


Toward the end of the Year of Pretending to Write a Book, an interview on All Things Considered caught my attention. The man being interviewed was described as a consultant and counselor to creative people struggling with the Affliction That Must Not Be Named. He knew about this malady because he is a writer himself.

He talked about his work with musicians and screenwriters and novelists and painters. I was uncertain if he might have great wisdom to share with a butler and general yardman who was pretending to write a book, but I listened anyway. Listening to people talk about writing was as close as I cam to participating in the literary life in those days. Listening to someone talk about writing was the only thing that made me feel like a writer.

I sat down to listen on the cool hardwood floor outside the room where I was supposed to be writing.

– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”


Over the years, the concept of trust and how crucial it is for business success has evolved in my mind and grown in importance. The mental model I’ve chosen to use is that there are two types of trust that matter: (1) trust that someone is competent, and (2) trust that someone will do the right thing. I realize these are somewhat vague and certainly subjective qualities. But their importance cannot be underestimated. If you feel that your employee or business partner is strong in both areas, it makes all the difference in the world. If you feel otherwise, you are best off finding someone else.

More generally speaking, a high degree of trust in a company or in a society is incredibly valuable. Our culture is built on an assumption that most people are trustworthy. When that is the case, everything moves more quickly and costs less. There is less “friction” in the economy. When trust is lacking, a company or individual is forced to spend more money on protecting themselves – through lawyers, technology, physical security, contingency plans, etc.

What are you doing to foster a greater degree of trust?

Why fiction? – Part Two

Originally posted on November 3, 2016 by Sarah Arthur

A few weeks ago I woke up on a work day (I get only two per week) contemplating spending the morning writing some kind of public lament and personal confession regarding this presidential election. But something in me hesitated. This was not, I felt quite certain, my given task. Which was odd, because it seemed really, really important. Like, social justice important. Like, standing-before-God-accountable-someday important. But what was really tugging on me instead was a novel I’ve been chipping away at for (count them) fourteen years. Why the sudden urgency?

So I turned to Facebook and posted the following:

“Today I’m supposed to be writing fiction. Please remind me why this is important, why someone has to be writing stories that will outlast us, for the sake of my children, no matter what happens in November. Feel free to post your pep talks here. (Comments containing words like ‘election,’ ‘candidate,’ names of famous people of questionable moral character, etc., will be deleted without apology. I love you all.)”

The response? A deluge of encouragement from childhood friends, fans of my nonfiction, grad school buddies, publishing colleagues, people from church, family–none of whom have ever read my novels. Because I’ve yet to finish one.

I wrote two chapters that day–and six last month alone. This is what happens when communal discernment galvanizes the work you were born to do. 

With permission, here are the marvelous comments I received.

Why fiction?

Yes we need your fiction Sarah! These stories are the holders of beauty and truth and wisdom and goodness. Write for hope! – Catherine Carlson McNiel

I have two words for you – bucket filling! – Gretchen Williams

We need to know we’re part of a bigger story, Sarah. That this year, even this lifetime, is but one thin thread in a great tapestry. Write so we remember that God can take even the worst tragedies and find a way to bring about more joy, more peace and more love.
Kristin Kratky

My favorite musician, Andrew Peterson, also writes books. When talking about them he likes to [paraphrase] G.K. Chesterton: “We don’t tell fairy tales to tell our children that dragons exist. They know that. We tell fairy tales to let our children know that dragons can be beaten.”
Jonathan VanDop

Girl, you were meant to do this. I recall talks about writing fiction that go back many years. We need your voice, content, strength and skill!
Marta Arthur (mother-in-law)

When I was a kid, fiction opened my eyes to the world beyond my little town and let me imagine who I might become. – Dayna Olson-Getty

Fiction allows people to escape the madness. – Amanda Shoemaker

I subscribe to a writing newsletter by Holly Lisle and she sent out her most recent one in the face of possibly losing everything to Hurricane Matthew. It was an email filled with gratitude and reflection and there’s an applicable quote that I gleaned from it that I think fits your request:  “Fiction, both writing it and reading it, matters. Fiction is our dream of the way the world could be and should be, drawn against all the ways it should never be, and presented as a promise that what we can envision, we can create.” Keep writing, Sarah. Help be part of the creation of the world you envision.Candy Bryant

Written well, fiction tells us the truth about who we are and who we can be. Please write stories that tell the truth and are tinged with grace (which is as deeply true as anything else). – Liz DeGaynor

Important—and faithful–because it’s what you were designed to do. – Margot Starbuck

From one fiction writer to another: it matters! Because there are those who only read fiction, and they need our stories of truth and grace. – Terri Kraus

Jonah Sachs, in “Winning the Story Wars,” says “human beings share stories to remind each other of who they are and how they should act.” Write us a good one, Sarah!
Michael Poteet

A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” (Madeleine L’Engle) Sarah, you write like a star. And I do mean that both ways…because you are amazing and talented and rock-star-like, but also because your words and stories shine brightly in a dark world. Write on! – Stephanie Voiland Rische

Write for all the children like the son of C. S. Lewis’s correspondent (and like me) who might love Aslan more than Jesus. – Sarah Rubio

Because we want you to have a reason to come back to Oklahoma to see us! We love your writings! – Jill Ade Biggs

When I am weary from reading too many news articles, I turn to my favorite authors of fiction. Someday you will be someone’s favorite “author of fiction.”
Peg Faulman (thanks, mom!)

I can’t wait to read your fiction! I remember enjoying those writings about Walloon Lake!
Judy White Brusslan (other mother-in-law)

Fiction takes us in to our imaginations of what could be–something we all need!
Teresa Miller

I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many, and we’ll run out of things to say.”
Daniel Ledingham, quoting from the book Frederick by Leo Lionni

To inspire us to explore our dreams. Fictional stories allow for the author, and the reader, to explore their hopes as well as their fears. While non-fiction portrays what is, fiction allows the thinking of what can be. – Julia Scott

As my Hebrew Bible prof said at VDS: Just because it’s not true doesn’t mean it’s not truthful.
Andrea Roth Murdock

Because you are supposed to give me your fiction to look over. – Katherine James

Also, Sarah, go write fiction and block Facebook. – Erin Wasinger

You have a gift. A gift has to be opened to see what’s inside. Then it can be shared. Carry on! – Patty McCoy

Write because that’s what you are so beautifully gifted to do. Create the stories that lift up humanity into realms of grace and love and ground us in what is most important. Write because it is fun. Write because someone needs to find their story embedded in yours. Go. Write. For all of us.Nikki O’Brien

How about you? Why write fiction? Post your comments here and keep sharing the love!

Searching for Home

by Frederick Buechner

I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves. I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it. I believe that George Buttrick was right and that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.


Which is more important: The content, or the person?

By Mark Schaefer

I lectured before a university class the other day and a student asked a great question: “When creating a personal brand, which is more important, the content, or the person creating the content?” Curiously, the answer to this may depend on where you are on your personal branding journey. Let’s dive into this today.

The human-content balance

In my book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I highlight the process of consistent content creation as the key to building a personal brand. However, in my book the The Content Code (the student had read both!) I remarked that some people and organizations transcend the content. They become beloved and “known” for who they are. Both statements are true.

At the beginning of your personal branding journey, content (generally written, audio, or video) is the fuel to help you become discovered and known. But I feel strongly there must be some compelling human element to that content. To stand out today you must be original, and to be original you have no choice but to bring your own story into the picture. So as you begin your personal branding journey (or any branding journey for that matter) the focus has to be on the content, because you’re unknown.

The hands that made them

I was talking to a young woman who is a leader in the “maker movement” that is sweeping the U.S. She was talking about a certain line of crafts that she loved. I asked her why she loved the product so much. She told me how she got to meet the craftsperson one time, a bigger-than-life personality who inspires others. “I guess it’s not just about the crafts,” she said. “I love the hands that made them.” This certainly applies to content creation too.

As time goes on, I do believe it is possible for a person’s content to become a habit. There are blogs I have read for years and I will probably always read for years because I love the person behind it. That person has become part of the fabric of my life … no matter what content they produce. In The Content Code, I describe common traits of people who have become “heroic brands” who transcend content, SEO and social media. Their content gets seen and shared because of who they are:

– Honest: This was the number one trait. People are loyal to a person because they know they will never be let down.
– Congruity: The person is the same, whether you meet them in person, see them in a video, or watch them on a stage.
– Consistency: A person is prepared to do the work and stick it out.
– Originality: A heroic brand is not afraid to show who they are and what they stand for.
– Networker: People who made it to the top aren’t afraid to get help along the way.
– Servant leader: Standing out on the web begins by elevating others.

The difference is YOU

Since my book KNOWN came out, I’ve heard many, many success stories from people who are following the path in the book. In fact, it has surprised me how rapidly they are seeing progress. On average, it took the successful people featured in my book an average of 30 months for their brand to really “tip.” My theory is that there was a lot of stumbling around because there was no “roadmap.” With my book, the learning curve seems to be condensed. One of the other things I’m learning is that often, the point of differentiation isn’t the type of video you create, or how often you produce a podcast, it’s … you. Don’t overlook the fact that you may very well have a niche of one. There is nobody else like you. Nobody has your heritage, your experiences, your life. That’s interesting.

Sometimes people over-think the niche they need to fill to become the heroic brand. Maybe it’s right in front of you.

Get in touch!