Article: The Tipping Point in Getting a Contract


As you look at the non-fiction book you are writing, what will set your manuscript apart? What might be the tipping point in your favor? What I am about to describe can provide you with the insight that will help you develop a tipping point for your non-fiction book. Rather than pontificate, let me illustrate from five examples of what I call “added value.”

Think photographs

At a writer’s conference I met Kristen Feola. While not exuding any special aura, Kristen presented a proposal that revealed an incredible level of commitment to her book idea. Instead of just sitting at her computer and cooking up a book on The Daniel Fast, she set up a photo corner in her kitchen and began preparing dishes for those willing to participate in the 21-day fast. Each dish had the color combo that made for a great picture in her mini photo studio. She didn’t stop with 21 dishes—she prepared 100 dishes and photographed them.

The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast book cover

When not in the kitchen Kristen was at her computer writing and rewriting 21 devotional meditations. Then she added three chapters explaining the biblical rationale for the Daniel Fast, as practiced by the large church she attended—and others across the land.

When I e-mailed the proposal, with sample photos and devotionals, Sandra Vander Zicht of Zondervan jumped on it and quickly put what became The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast on a fast track for publication. Within six weeks after the book’s release, sales put it on the top 50 ECPA bestseller list.

What Kristen provided was what I call “added value,” a term all good salesmen are aware of—that extra something that provides the tipping point in a sales presentation. Sales totaling over 60,000 books over two years brought the author a second excellent contract from Zondervan.

Famous Endorsers

Grounded in the FaithExample No. 2 was a proposal for a one-on-one discipleship tool to ground believers in the faith that had obvious added value. While a discipleship tool seems like a ho hum project, Ken Erisman stunned me with his use of color to highlight particular verses, specific insights, and questions revealing what it means to be Grounded in the Faith. But the color was also on the title page, in the astonishing list of endorsements.

I was skeptical a publisher would be willing to tackle that colorful an approach, but the tipping point was the Foreword by Dr. J.I. Packer, an extremely well-known doctrinal writer, as well as endorsements by Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke, the author of the bestselling Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges, the evangelism book Out of the Salt Shaker author Rebecca Pippert, and Joni Eareckson Tada. That would make the most jaded editor sit up and take notice, I felt.

There was no instant success story on Ken’s discipleship tool. But a change of editorial staff at Baker Books encouraged me to send the proposal to him—and Jon Wilcox persuaded the team to take it on and issue a contract. It’s been off the press for a few months and getting rave reviews from a well-known Internet reviewer and World Magazine.

Newest Technology

My third example of a book with added value is a book for pregnant women. During the meeting with Carey Wickersham I realized she was a regional personality  as a former Fox TV anchor person, now a weekend reporter as a wife and mother. She had clearly learned to think big, beyond the usual “possibilities.” She brought a proposal for a book that would cover the nine-month pregnancy week by week with devotional and medical hints. That alone, I knew, would not get a publisher on board, but when I saw her sonogram photos taken by an ultra-sonographer I knew she was delivering added value that would provide the tipping point.  I knew that any developing Mom and future grandma would both be intrigued. What I did not know was that Carey was already thinking out of the box, of even more added value. She envisioned an e-book with links to videos of the living baby showing lots of action in her womb.

Despite the combination of devotionals, medical advice and photos of a baby at each week’s stage of development, publishers did not jump to attention. Carey set her sights on having Focus on the Family as the publisher, utilizing every contact she had to move it toward a decision. Eventually Larry Weeden, the editorial director, delivered a contract offer. Release date is early 2014.

Twist Adds Recognizable Characters

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye book coverExample No. 4 reveals a combination of great writing with a major twist. What Len Bailey wanted to develop was a Bible study that would lead readers into ten stories of the Bible. He decided to invite Sherlock Holmes and Watson to engage in time travel to each of the ten stories to solve a remaining mystery—and then add questions for each story that would invite readers into the stories to solve a remaining mystery. Talk about a contract generating tipping point.

When I described the unique involvement of Sherlock Holmes and Watson in exploring Bible stories to Matt Baugher of Thomas Nelson I could see by his enthusiasm that the sale had been made. Yes, he still had to persuade a skeptical marketing team, but he was able to do it and the book was released in April 2013 as Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye: The World’s Greatest Detective Tackles the Bible’s Ultimate Mysteries. The needle’s eye is a specific mode of time travel even more unique than C.S. Lewis’s use of a wardrobe for his travel into another world.

Collaboration with Specialist

Example No. 5 developed this fall (2013) when Jason Jimenez, a youth and family pastor teamed up with his apologetics mentor, Dr. Norman Geisler, an author with a history of winning books going back 40 years, when I was his editor at Moody Press. Together they set out to produce answers to 100 questions about the Bible, God and life as a Christian. Like Tim LaHaye with Jerry Jenkins, Dr. Geisler provided the in-depth apologetic background and Jason provided the contemporary language and life experiences that humanized the answers. What many readers will also appreciate are the additional research sources provided at the end of every answer—indepth enough to be useful for any college student or Bible student doing apologetic research. While several publishers turned down the proposal, Robert Hosack, the editor at Baker Books who has in the past worked on Dr. Geisler’s earlier books, jumped on the more contemporary presentation of Dr. Geisler’s insights. A signed contract indicates publication the fall of 2014.

I have frequently recommended collaboration with a noted authority for debut non-fiction writers. While more complicated than sitting down and just writing a book, collaboration can provide the tipping point in getting a contract and increasing sales.

When should you think about what you can do to add value to your non-fiction book? All five writers I’ve mentioned started the creative process as soon as they began work on their book. When you do that, you not only have time to refine your brilliant idea for added value, you can set the stage for the tipping point in making a sale, first to an agent and then to an editor and her or his team.

2 thoughts on “Article: The Tipping Point in Getting a Contract

  1. I also think the value that can be added should be thought out from the beginning. Of course, I’ve not published a book . . . yet, but I’m working on it. (I think I can. I think I can.)

    Thanks for sharing these examples. Gives me more to think about.

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