The Foundation For Published Success
There is an excellent chance that every time you declare publically you are writing a book, the first thing out of a person’s mouth is, “What’s it about?” If you are serious about being a successful author, an impression of an open mouthed fish and a scratch on the head is not the best way to face that question. You need a pocket sized pitch ready to go. When you approach an agent, you have exactly 15 seconds, not to impress them with a string of um’s and ah’s, but your pitch. When your agent approaches an editor they will pitch your book to them, then that editor pitches your book to all the departments of the publishing house. The publishing sales team will approach the booksellers and media with your pitch. These people do it for a living, they have the connections and the practice. If you, on the other hand, self-publish, your pitch has to be so good it will floor the readers, the media, and everyone else you have to deal with. If you’re lucky, your pitch will last long after you’re six feet under and providing nutrition for flowers. A hundred years from now, when a fan is reading your novel off the inside of their sunglasses while floating on a personal hover-board and the person next to them says, “What’s that about?” . . . you better hope that reader can give a sucker punch of a pitch!
It is essential to create three pitches so you have something hypnotic for every occasion. I’m talking seriously hypnotic, like getting an entire crowd to do the chicken dance hypnotic. That is how much consideration you need to put into your proposal and pitch. If you cannot capture people in several seconds with few words, you’re going to have about as much success as a marathon runner with two broken legs. These bite sized pieces of your work make a promise to the readers: to educate, entertain, humor, inspire or scare the living daylights out of them. When you are writing a pitch and book proposal you should avoid weak pronouns, adjective, adverbs, jargon and clichés, and write in the third person, no matter if your novel is written in first person, second person or iambic pentameter. The more professional you seem (it’s all about the illusion here), the great your chance of being read rather than being folded into a paper aeroplane.
The first pitch should describe your book concept in 7 words or less. Basically, what type of book are you proposing? A biographical account of a turnip? A guide to making cheese omelets? Adventures of a Ninja bowling league? Memoirs of a person who kind of smells? The pitch I have for my gap year travel book is, ‘The ultimate guide to overseas gap years’ or ‘Your international gap year made easy’. Simple and concise. The second pitch describes your book concept in 25 words or less. This answers the question, what is your book about? This needs to be simple, tight and catchy. It needs to highlight the benefit for the reader, the most interesting thing they are going to get out of the experience. The best ones are those that play on the emotions and imaginings of an audience, with phrases such as ‘for everyone who has dreamt of …’. For example, my pitch for my gap year guide went like this, ‘An info packed adventure guide to gap years for anyone who has dreamt of breaking free and seeing the world between school and university.’
The third and final pitch is an expansion of your second pitch. It should be between 70-150 words. This pitch is your last chance at enticing your reader to buy; waffle at your peril! This should summarise storylines and themes and keep the reader’s attention until the last full stop. Here you need to make a big promise to your reader, what benefits will the reader get for investing their time in your words? Use their imagination in relation to your book. What will their life be like after they have read it? What will they see, hear, feel? If the information you provide in your book is rare, tell them why. Frankly, there is only so much a potential reader can glean from that purple poodle on your front cover, so lead them gently by the hand to the important parts.
These pitches will make the basis of your book proposal. If you believe that this is a little too hard for your tastes, you should first consider that not making any money because you didn’t try this is going to feel like a taser to the private parts. If you want to sell an e-book or be offered a publishing contract, then this is something you must care about. You have already spent years writing your novel, two weeks of inventive pitching is a little drop in the large ocean of creative chaos that is the life of a professional writer.
A book proposal should consist of a cover letter, author credentials, synopsis, market potential, chapter plan and sample chapters. A COVER LETTER is more useful to those who plan to submit to a publisher or agent. Basically it includes a greeting, your second pitch to excite the publisher, a brief overview of why you are the best person to write this book, and a quick overview of what is included in your book proposal. However, it is possible for a self-published e-book author to use a letter as a way to address their readers on the home page of their website. A little ‘Dear friend’ letter so to speak.
Listing AUTHOR CREDENTIALS, or you could say experience, is just another way to convince the reader or publisher that you have done a good job of the book they are investing in. This is particularly relevant for non-fiction writers who generally have a body of experience that has prompted them to pen their novel. Do you have certain qualification? Or have you just been to a few too many mardi gras? Whether it’s experience, special insight, a similarity to your readers, a life time interest, or writing awards you’ve won, this is just another way to convince them to trust you and your ability. If you are penning under a nom de plume (a pen name) perhaps use that mystery to boost both interest and credibility. Why are you anonymous?
A SYNOPSIS is not just a laundry list of events that occur in your book. I don’t want to see, “And then Benny went to war and shit happened,” from any of you! Here you have to communicate who your characters are, their emotions and decisions they face. Here is where you make your genre clear, use your third pitch to excite the readers imagination. If you write non-fiction also include another short, bullet point section with specifics on what will be covered and more importantly what is the benefit to the reader in each of these sections. It should be no more than 200 words.
MARKET POTENTIAL is so important for e-book authors and print book authors. For an e-book author, a finely tuned idea of your market will make targeting readers and groups online faster, easier and ten times more effective. This will tell you what forums to join, what angle to write your synopsis from and what the most effective keywords will be so readers can find you easily. After researching the competition you will be able to accurately tell your reader exactly why your book is unique and worth reading. For an author approaching a publisher, it shows not only that you have thought about it, but that there is enough of a readership for them to make money. Publishers, as mentioned previously, do not know every fan base or craze, but if you can show enough evidence of the readership size and accessibility you will have a much greater chance of success. It is all about who, what, where and why in this section.
CHAPTER PLANS and SAMPLE CHAPTERS give you an opportunity to show a publisher that you have done the research , organised it logically and creatively and have written an engaging and marketable book. A publisher will then have guidelines on their website specifying exactly how long they wish your sample to be. If they ask for three chapters, send them three reasonable chapters (Amalgamating three chapters together so they look like one is not a good idea…). Don’t send them a paper weight, the bigger an unsolicited manuscript is, the less inclined they are to read it. For an e-book author, a chapter plan helps you to decide what sections of your book are the most engaging and can be used as samples to draw the reader in. It’s up to you how big these sample chapters are, I will discuss this in more detail in later posts. Each chapter should have a compelling title (Remember abstract titles like “Bearded Mongoose” are not always the best descriptors) and have several self contained sentences that sum up the chapter.
If you want e-book or publishing success these are the foundations for that success! Take the time to get it right, and you will be rewarded.
NOTE: This is just the tip of the iceberg, a summary of tips shared with ebook revolution readers by expert Sheila Hollingworth. If you would like a detailed step by step guide to book proposals and examples of fiction and non-fiction proposals, then invest in A Decent Proposal by Sheila Hollingworth and Rhonda Whitton. If you aim to make money, then this book is essential! Click here to invest in A Decent Proposal.
TOMORROW: Keywords, and why they will make or break your e-book success.
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