Get Them Hooked On Your Book

A hook is a one-line zinger that describes your book in a way that would let anyone’s grandmother in Topeka understand not just what the book is about but why she should buy it.

Without one, it’s very difficult to sell a book to a publisher. That’s because the editor your agent approaches at the publishing house has to sell the manuscript to her colleagues, and the publishing house has to sell it to the reader.

The author who has just cranked out a 75,000-word manuscript may have a hard time distilling the essence of that book into 25 words. (“Hard time” may be an understatement: if you could say it in 25 words, would you have written 75,000?) But without a hook, your book could languish unpublished on your hard drive.

So how do you create a hook? Enlist some help.

Method I

First, find five or six people who are familiar with the genre you’re writing in. Give them copies of your manuscript and ask them to complete the sentence “This book is in the tradition of…” with the names of the best-selling books or authors they think are most like yours.

You can also work on this exercise yourself. Is your book a cross between two bestsellers, or even two best-selling genres? Tee Morris describes his novel Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword as “The Lord of the Rings if Mickey Spillane had written it.”

Method II

Next, find some grandmothers in Topeka and ask them to read your manuscript. (Unless, of course, the grandmothers of Topeka are the experts in the area you’re writing in; the point is to find people who know next to nothing about your subject area.)

The feedback of the totally ignorant is helpful for many reasons. For one thing, if they don’t understand the book at all, it’s a sign that your book isn’t suited to a general audience. Some books (say an advanced physics text) aren’t aimed at the general public or meant for mass-market distribution—but those books don’t usually need a hook in the same way commercial books do. Unless you’re only selling to specialists, make your writing clear enough so anyone can understand it.

Don’t provide your test readers with any background about your book; the point is to get them to tell you what the book is about. Invite them to compare it with movies, TV shows, or other works of popular culture—the more popular, the better. Another good question to ask, particularly for nonfiction, is “What can people who read this book do that they couldn’t do before they read it?”

The Results

Your test readers may not describe your book in anything like the terms you would have used yourself. It’s also possible that no two of them will agree on which other books are most like yours.

If every single reader gets your book “wrong,” then you may want to take another look at the manuscript. (This is also true if every agent or editor who rejects it mentions the same problem.) If one or two people completely misunderstand what you meant but the rest seem to “get it,” don’t worry about the discrepancies.

Distilling

It’s possible that among your test readers you had a brilliant guinea pig who came up with an absolutely perfect hook. If so—congratulations: you’re ready to go. But even if you don’t think any of the descriptions or comparisons you got back is exactly right, you have something to work with. You can look at what you’ve gotten and say “No, it’s not like Lord of the Rings, it’s more like Narnia” (to extend Tee’s metaphor a bit further). Or even, “It’s not like Lord of the Rings; it’s like The Da Vinci Code.”

When you have a hook you think will work, try it out on a few people and see how they react. If the response isn’t “Wow, that’s interesting, tell me more!” (or better yet “I need that book!”), brainstorm about how you can refine it.

When you come up with a line with the impact of a left hook to the jaw and the effect of a grappling hook pulling potential readers in, you’re ready to go fishing for publishers.

Lessons from Novelists, Part I

In many respects, the worlds of fiction and nonfiction are very different. One of the most notable differences, from the author’s perspective, is that nonfiction books are usually sold on the basis of a proposal and written afterward, whereas a novelist needs a completed manuscript before approaching publishers. (This requirement may be waived for those who have published several successful novels.)

There are some other differences, as well, the biggest being that the quality of the writing, rather than the value of the content, determines a novelist’s success. Novelists don’t necessarily have to establish themselves as experts in a particular field, but they do have to be able to create believable characters, worlds, and dialogue.

But there are some very important things that aspiring—and even established—nonfiction authors can learn from an unexpected, even counter-intuitive source: the podcasts of two science fiction/fantasy authors.

In starting with Tee Morris’  “The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy,” I’m actually approaching these two podcasts in reverse order relative to when I started listening. Tee’s is the newer podcast, with only four episodes so far—which means it’s fresher in my mind and easier to sum up in a short article.

Put Your Book on Your Business Card
These days it’s easy to get double-sided business cards printed inexpensively, and for authors, it’s definitely worth doing, particularly when you’re talking to bookstore owners, librarians, and others who might order your book in bulk. Put your regular contact information on the front and the book’s cover, ISBN, and any other important information (like the URL, if the book has its own domain). If you have multiple books, you’ll need multiple sets of cards. It’s most often the newest book you’ll be promoting at any given time, so you may not want to order too many cards at once.

What to Expect at Conventions
In the world of sci-fi and fantasy, “Cons” are a big deal. Although I read mostly sci-fi and fantasy myself, I’ve never actually attended a Con. I did once found myself in a hotel bar with a bunch of Klingons—the hotel was hosting a Star Trek convention at the same time as the conference I was there for.

While Cons of this sort may be unique to genre fiction, every industry has its conferences and expos, and professional organizations of all descriptions have annual meetings. The 2005 Portable Media Expo and Podcasting Conference found itself side-by-side with a Port-a-Potty convention. Whatever you write, you have readers (or at least potential readers) at conferences and conventions. If you speak on a panel or lead a workshop at one of those conventions, you’ve got a great opportunity to market yourself and your book.

Some of Tee’s points about Cons:

  • Decide how far you’re willing to travel.
  • Follow up repeatedly on your original approach to the program organizers.
  • Don’t expect the show’s organizers to pay all your expenses unless you’re a Big Name.
  • Do expect to get your admission to the event covered.
  • Conference organizers talk to each other, and if you behave badly, your chances of getting invited to present at other events is very small.
  • Make arrangements for separate events with local bookstores ahead of time (and be sure they have your books in stock in case you haven’t brought enough yourself).

How to Arrange Bookstore Signings
First, a warning: if you’re self-published, the chances a large chain bookstore will be interested in stocking your books are very small. Therefore, the chances that Barnes and Noble and Borders will want you to come give a talk or do a signing are very small, and unless you already know the staff personally, don’t waste your time on them. Instead, find local independent bookstores and local public libraries.

Then call the bookstore and ask for the person who arranges events, then provide that person with the title and ISBN of your book and the name of your distributor. (Even for independent bookstores, you do need an ISBN and a distributor.) Offer to do a signing/reading/seminar. (For non-fiction, seminars and lectures are probably more effective than straight readings.)

How to Approach Reviewers
The fourth podcast in the series focuses on getting—and writing—book reviews, online and off, with the always-important reminder to check the submission guidelines before you send a book, and some tips on what to put in the cover letter and when and how to follow up.

Never Talk Back to Reviewers
Ever. Even if they get the facts wrong. If you get a bad review, live with it. This is not just because all publicity is good publicity, but because any response to the reviewer, public or private, is only going to make you look worse. On top of that, it could alienate the reviewer and the editor of the publication s/he writes for, making your chances of getting your other books reviewed there nil. (This is actually a recap of part of Episode I.)

How to Create a Good Podcast
Tee is actually one of the authors of Podcasting for Dummies, but I’m actually referring to the example he provides. “The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy” is a great promotional tool for Tee as well as a source of useful information for writers of all kinds. It helps, of course, that he’s a trained actor with a great voice for radio, but that wouldn’t matter much without the effective structure, valuable information, sense of humor, refusal to “dish”, and desire to hear more from his listeners. He’s even slipped a “commercial break” into the middle of the show in a non-disruptive way. The “commercials” are for other sci-fi podcasts, so they’re appropriate to the subject of the podcast and actually likely to be of some interest to listeners.

I’m not sure I’d recommend imitating the Marine Corps/Gomer Pyle intro, which sounds longer every time I hear it, even though it’s actually well under 30 seconds.

Where to Find “The Survival Guide
To read about “The Survival Guide,” visit http://www.teemorris.com/blog/. To subscribe, paste the following address in your podcatcher: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheSurvivalGuideToWritingFantasy.

In Part II of this article, we’ll look at “The Secrets: The Podcast for Writers,” by Michael A. Stackpole.

© 2005 Sallie Goetsch

Dramatizing Your Nonfiction Book

Many novelists dream of selling the film rights to their books for big money. Certain kinds of nonfiction, like memoirs, true crime, and political exposes, are also popular with Hollywood. In most cases, however, publishers won’t be interested in the film rights for your cookbook, business book, or how-to.

But don’t dismiss the performance possibilities of such a book too soon. It’s possible, for instance, that your how-to book has the makings of a TV series. There are whole cable channels devoted to cooking and many other popular Do-It-Yourself shows. If your book lends itself to such a treatment, tell your publisher up front. For one thing, it can increase your advance. For another, publishing houses probably have more of the resources and connections needed to get such a show off the ground.

Video Options
Just because your book is unsuited to a full-length film or prime-time TV treatment (or the studios just haven’t been interested) doesn’t mean video isn’t an option for you. Anything that you would demonstrate live in a presentation or class based on your book (or the presentations or classes on which you based the book in the first place) can be turned into video, either for sale on its own or as a marketing tool to show potential readers how valuable your book is.

Video for Marketing
You can use almost any video camera to create short video clips to publish on your book’s website or upload to your book blog. The homemade quality can actually act in your favor, because it conveys authenticity: here is a real person using these techniques in his or her real office/kitchen/workshop. If you include other people in your demonstrations, make sure you get their permission—in writing—before you publish the video. (This is even more important when you’re selling the video, but private individuals have the right to say where pictures of them will be shown.) And don’t forget to include a shot of the book, its title, your name, and ordering information in the clips.

Digital video formats can be a tricky thing, what with issues of cross-platform compatibility and the need for browser plug-ins. If you create it in Windows MovieMaker, Mac users won’t be able to watch it, and so on. But with the spread of broadband and the advent of the video iPod, there are more and more options for creating and distributing video online. The VideoEgg Publisher allows you to upload video files or send video directly from your video camera, webcam, or mobile device. It then converts the video into a Macromedia Flash file and provides you with a player link for your website. (Visit www.videoegg.com for a free demonstration.)

Video for Sale
If you want to sell the video version of your book on a CD-ROM or DVD, you’ll want to invest a bit more in things like lighting, sound equipment, professional camera people, and editing. A nearby university or college such as Emeryville’s Ex’pression College for Digital Arts (www.expression.edu) may be able to provide the facilities and people you need on a non-Hollywood budget.

If your book is about computers, full-motion screen recording software like Camtasia (www.camtasiastudio.com) makes it easy to create step-by step demonstrations. This can be much more effective than still screen shots interspersed with text. You can use your book just as it’s written to create a voice-over to accompany the video demo.

Podiobooks
This funny-sounding word was coined to describe audiobooks released as podcasts instead of on CD or cassette. (I suppose if you released your book videos this way, that would create a Vodiobook.) To create a podiobook, you just read sections of your book into a microphone connected to your computer. (I recommend Audacity, a versatile free tool for recording and editing audio files. Get it at http://audacity.sourceforge.net.) Then you upload the file to a host like Podiobooks.com or to your own podcast blog. Recording a chapter a week doesn’t take much time.

If you don’t want to give away your whole book for free, you can still create a podiobook by reading shorter selections from different chapters, just enough to get prospective buyers interested. Or you can read some of the material that got cut during the editing process, or new related material you’ve discovered since the book was published. As with the infamous Google Print (now Google Book Search), it’s up to you how much of your material you release at once. As with the videos, remember to tell listeners how to buy your book.

Creating a free podiobook isn’t likely to damage either print sales or your chances for selling the rights to a professional audio recording, unless you’ve got a terrific home studio and the right kind of performance background, and want to spend hours editing, adding appropriate music, etc. (And if you do all that, by all means sell the CD or full-length download.)

Audiobooks are convenient for commuters and auditory learners, but that doesn’t mean listening entirely replaces reading. For one thing, it’s hard to look things up in the index or track down a particular quote with an audio (or video) recording. And you can’t underline the important parts or look at the tables and illustrations. If your podiobook subscribers like what they hear, they’ll buy the print version for themselves, their friends, and their colleagues.

Just because Hollywood isn’t going to option your business book doesn’t mean it can’t be a star of stage and screen.

© 2005 Sallie Goetsch

Keys to Pitching: Why Publishers are Like Talk Show Hosts

Random House and Oprah Winfrey have more in common than you might think. Hopeful authors see both as the route to fame and fortune, and besiege them with proposals. And both publishers and the media reject—or even ignore—most of the pitches they get.

This isn’t just because proposals outnumber available TV segments (or publishing slots), either. Many would-be authors or talk show guests are “subject matter experts” but not media experts. In spite of having good book or show ideas, they deny editors and producers the chance to hit home runs for them by pitching wide of the plate.

Here are some tips to help you avoid striking out.

Do Your Homework
Unless you want to be classed with telemarketers who try to sell replacement windows to people who don’t own their homes, you need to find out as much as you can about the agent, editor, reporter, or producer you’re planning to approach. If the agent doesn’t handle science fiction, sending your Star Wars-meets-Harry Potter novel can only end it rejection. If the publisher doesn’t accept unagented submissions, an unsolicited manuscript will land directly in the recycling bin. If your story isn’t the kind of thing Oprah Winfrey’s audience likes, your chances of getting on the show are nil.

Before you approach anyone in the media, make sure you listen to or watch the show or read the reporter’s columns. That way you’ll know which topics are appropriate. The same holds true for publishing houses and literary agents. Don’t just send blanket submissions to everyone whose address you can find. Read other books produced by the house; find out which authors the agent represents. Otherwise the people whose good will you depend on for success will see you as an amateur—or worse, an annoyance.

Follow the Directions
Submission guidelines exist for a reason. Ignore them at your peril. If the publisher wants three sample chapters and you only send one, you’re undermining your chances for success, particularly if it’s a first book and you’re not an international celebrity. If the agent asks for unbound manuscripts and you send yours with a spiral binding, you’re just making the agent’s job harder. (That manuscript has to get photocopied so it can go to multiple publishers.) TV producers who insist on videos want to make sure that you’ll come across well on television.

Find out what format the publisher or producer wants, and send your pitch in that form. This is easier if you’ve done your homework to start with, rather than assembled a fancy print press kit only to discover later that Jay Leno wants an e-mail cover letter and a VHS tape, or that ever since the anthrax scare Oprah only accepts queries through her website.

Because they get so many submissions every day, most of the people you’re pitching to don’t have time to read anything that’s in the wrong format. They need to disqualify inappropriate material as quickly as possible. Send the wrong thing and your package will land in the recycling bin less than six seconds after it hits the editor’s desk.

Become Mediagenic
If you’re already an international celebrity, you’ve got this one down. Otherwise, consider some media coaching. Even experienced platform speakers sometimes need practice with their interview skills. Publishers view marketing as the author’s real job (writing is secondary), so they look more favorably at proposals from those who already have media experience and connections. You don’t have to rush out and get plastic surgery or replace your entire wardrobe, but you do need to learn to speak in sound bites.

Show Them What You Can Do for Them
Talk-show hosts are not in business to boost your career. They’re after top ratings, and they get those by providing exciting, interesting, and helpful stories to their viewers and listeners. Focus your pitch on what you can provide the audience and how you can make the show’s host look good. Does your story respond to a crisis or deal with a perennial problem like weight loss or divorce? Can you show the audience how to achieve business or personal success in the five or six minutes you’ll get on the air? Can you answer burning questions?

These are all things your book will need to do for its readership, so when you prepare your book proposal, you’ll want to hit many of the same points. What demonstrable need does your book fill? Why will people want to buy the book? It’s really the same question as why people will want to watch a TV show with you as a guest.

Know Your Stuff
Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions about your topic. The more expert you appear, the more likely the media is to come back to you for future stories. And think how much better it will look to publishers if you can say that you’re a frequent guest on radio and television shows. You don’t have to know about everything, but you have to know your subject well and to know what to do if someone asks you a question you can’t answer.

Don’t stop learning when the first book is finished, either. Publishers like series authors, because they’ll make more money on the spin-offs and sequels than they do on the first book.

The Big Difference
The only important difference between pitching publishers (or agents) and pitching to the media is that the media doesn’t want to hear about your book. When you pitch to the media, you’re pitching a story, and your book or other products and services are just part of your credentials. When you’re pitching to a publisher, your book is the star.

Blog + Book = Opportunity

Blame blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine for adding “blook” to the proliferation of Internet-related neologisms.

So what the heck is a blook and why would you want to write one? A blook is one of two things: a blog (short for “Weblog”) created by serializing a book, or a book created from, or at least based on, a blog.

Jarvis coined the word “blook” in November of 2002 to describe the book of blog posts which Tony Pierce was preparing to self-publish. Pierce was sufficiently taken with the word to use it for the title, and is now the author of three blooks.

The Blooker Prize

It’s this kind of blook which has recently attracted media attention on account of Lulu.com’s 2006 “Blooker Prize.” Lulu produces and sells print-on-demand books and no doubt hopes to attract new business by means of this contest, which will award $1000 first prizes to winners in each of three categories: fiction, non-fiction, and comics or graphic novels. Entrants must submit three printed and bound blooks for the three judges (all well-known bloggers and authors). Non-Lulu blooks are welcome. (Tony Pierce published his two most recent blooks, which will not be competing, through CafePress.)

Blogs as Writing Tools

Time was, if you wanted to write a book you’d sit down with a pen and a piece of paper. (I wrote three never-published novels that way when I was an undergraduate.) Then word-processing came along, making it much easier to move and change the material in your book.

Many people think of blogs as “online diaries” or associate them primarily with political commentary, but blogs are really low-cost, easy-to-use content management systems. This is “content” as in “digital information.” If you’re a writer, your content will probably be in the form of text.

While blogs are not sophisticated word-processors, much less typesetting/layout programs like Quark or PageMaker, they allow authors to create, arrange, and publish all in the same place. The informal nature of blogging helps non-writers to get their ideas out there and create a first draft and let it evolve organically, then collect related materials together by means of the “category” function.

Getting from Blog to Book

Suppose you’re a blogger and you want to take your own shot at the Blooker Prize. Can you just export your blog into Word and send it off to a publisher? Well, no, it’s not quite as easy as that.

Blogs appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent post first. Even if you sort your posts by category, the most recent will appear on the top of the page. If you want readers to start reading where you started writing, you’re going to have to reorganize the material before you send it off to the printer.

There are companies like Blurb.com working on creating software and services which will automatically import the contents of blogs and convert them into books. If you enroll in Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff’s self-paced, open enrollment Blog to Book course, you get to beta-test Blurb, which is not yet available to the public.

Or you can hire a company like The Friday Project, a British publishing house which specializes in turning blogs and websites into books.

Manual Blook Creation

If you want to design and format your own blook, you’ll need to spend some time cutting and pasting. How long this will take depends on the amount of material you have. As of this writing, my FileSlinger™ Backup Blog has some 136 posts, mostly fairly long (600-1200 words), for a total of about 65,000 words. It took me about two hours to copy and paste the contents from the blog pages into the Word template I’d adapted from Dan Poynter’s New Book Model example, and another couple of hours to tweak the formatting to something more appropriate for a 6″ x 9″ book. Because the blog is based on a weekly column, I’ll have at least 9 more entries of that length before I finish at the end of December, so I can expect the final blook to be about 75,000 words, a respectable length for a business book.

What Makes Blooks Distinctive?

If you want your blook to retain the look and feel of your blog, you’ll have to put some effort into page design, or hire a designer who can create an appropriate layout and choose fonts and visual elements. You might prefer a square or landscape format book to mimic the layout on a computer screen, rather than a standard 6″ x 9″ business book. You might even want to produce the whole thing in color, particularly if photos are an important part of your blog, though that could result in an expensive blook if it runs more than 100 pages.

It’s a good idea for blook authors to reread their material carefully in order to correct mistakes and remove redundancies, even if they choose not to make any substantive changes. You may also need to get permission before reprinting comments left by readers, unless you already have a statement on the blog to the effect that anyone posting a comment is granting such permission.

Blooks vs. Books

In discussing the Blooker Prize, journalists have pointed out with some reason that a book which exactly duplicates a blog rather than reworking the blog’s content into a tighter structure could prove tedious reading. But this depends enormously on the nature of the blog, the blogger, and the blogger’s material.

The informality and the chronological arrangement may be part of a blook’s attraction. Replacing chapters with journal entries has proven effective both for fiction and nonfiction works of various kinds, and a blook of short entries can be ideal for reading during coffee breaks—or as a bathroom book, for that matter. If the blogger writes well and has something interesting to say, blooks will be just as enjoyable to read as traditional books, and possibly more so.

When Is a Blog-Based Book Not a Blook?

If you’re using your blog primarily as a way to generate a first draft or collect raw material for your book, the final book which results from your blogging efforts will bear about as much resemblance to the blog as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does to the charcoal sketches Michelangelo made before painting it. You probably don’t want to produce a blook at all if you’re after, not the $1,000 Blooker Prize, but the bigger prize of a sale to a major publishing house and a substantial advance. Even the “A-list” bloggers who’ve been approached by publishers have created books which are more than just a compilation of blog posts.

Why Publish a Blook?

Though the $1000 Blooker Prize is more than many POD authors make from book sales, money isn’t necessarily the best reason for bloggers to create blooks. The real value of a blook is much the same as that of any business book: it’s what one of my clients calls “The thud factor.” A blook is a demonstration that your blog has added up to something substantive. It also gives you a chance to show people your blog when you’re away from computers. If you’re a professional blogger, a blook helps give your prospective clients an idea of what a blog can do for them. (Professional bloggers might want to create several full-color blooks.)

In other words, a blook is a blogger’s portfolio. And who knows? People might even want to buy it for its own sake.

Links and References:

Jeff Jarvis coins “Blook” in his BuzzMachine Blog

Tony Pierce’s History of Blooks (Busblog)

The Lulu.com Blooker Prize

Lulu Print On Demand

CafePress

The Blog to Book Course

Blurb.com (currently operating in stealth mode; e-mail [email protected] for more information)

The Friday Project

Dan Poynter&rquo;s Book Layout Template

Blog Hosting Services

Blog.com

Blogger/Blogspot

LiveJournal

TypePad

Weblogs.us

How to Give Good Referrals

Referrals are the lifeblood of most small businesses. Everyone wants to get referrals, but not everyone knows how to give them. If you give good referrals, you’ll build goodwill, get more business, and increase your income. Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time someone calls you to ask if you know a good [fill in the blank].

People ask for referrals to save time

Referrals can save hours of time spent wading through websites or ads in the Yellow Pages and then make a series of phone calls. People who ask you for referrals don’t want your whole Rolodex. Even if you know a dozen good mechanics, the caller only needs one. Unless the caller is asking for a list (say, of media contacts), only recommend one person. (More on this below.)

People ask for referrals to avoid making decisions

Too many choices lead most people to making no decision at all. Keep this in mind when someone asks for a referral. A decisive endorsement of one person or company reassures the caller—and makes you look authoritative and knowledgeable.

People ask for referrals to avoid getting burned

Almost all of us have had at least one Client (or Vendor) From Hell—but that client probably didn’t come to us from a referral. Referrals increase buying confidence. Someone you’ve worked with is a better person to refer than someone you haven’t. Someone you see every week is better than someone you’ve only met once. Reliability is more important than price.

People ask for referrals to find a good match

One person’s Client From Hell is another person’s perfect client. If your brilliant accountant is a moody introvert and the person who just called because tax time is coming is a bubbly extrovert, they might not make a great team. Consider personalities when making referrals.

People ask for referrals because they have special needs

If your client needs a very specific kind of website, then not every web designer out there, no matter how personable and trustworthy, will fit the bill. It’s a good idea to ask the caller for details before making a recommendation. That makes it easier for you to recommend the right person.

How to get better follow up (and make sure you get credit for the referral)

Once you’ve decided whom to recommend, ask “Would you like me to have this person call you?” Then immediately get in touch with the person you’re referring and let them know your client is expecting a call.

And speaking of credit…

If you find yourself referring dozens of people to one particular service provider, consider making a formal referral arrangement, one where you get a flat fee, a percentage of the first sale, or a service credit with the person who’s getting all this business because of you. In some cases, mutual referrals are a better option than fees. Make sure each of you knows what the other person does and for whom (the “elevator speech”) and has a stack of business cards, postcards, or one-sheets to hand out.

If you give good referrals, clients will think of you as a resource and recommend you to their friends. Your business and your income will grow through referral partner arrangements, and you’ll have the satisfaction of helping people get what they need.

For more great tips on referral partnerships join Solo-E and listen to Rose Hill’s great audios.

The High Cost of a Six-Figure Book Advance

The six-figure book advance, like the New York Times bestseller, is the object of many a writer’s fantasy. Whether it’s also a realistic goal is something else again.

Can you really get a six-figure book advance?

When Susan Page wrote The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book in 1997, she included the following list of the qualities that you and your book have to have if you’re going to get a six-figure advance.

  1. Your book is on a topic of wide general interest that could excite a large number of readers.
  2. Your book has a distinctive angle and makes an original contribution to its field.
  3. You have substantial credentials to write on this topic OR you have a co-author who does, OR you can get an extremely famous, well-credentialed person to write a foreword for you.
  4. You have prepared an extraordinary proposal and are working with a competent editor already.
  5. You have a show-stopping title.
  6. You secure the services of a well-known, experienced agent who believes the book can earn such an advance.
  7. You are both willing and able to promote your book on radio and TV and in print.

This is not a mix-and-match list. You have to have all of those things to get the big advance, unless you are an international celebrity or a best-selling author.

Page’s aim was to deflate unrealistic expectations. Her book aims to get you into print, not necessarily to get you rich. Most authors do not get rich from their books. Most publishers don’t get rich either. Book publishing is an industry in which there is very little profit. If authors get rich, it’s usually because having a book lets them sell expensive services and book high-paying speaking gigs.

You can get a six-figure advance, but it will cost you.

And I don’t mean the $197 price tag on Susan Harrow’s new e-book, Get a Six-Figure Book Advance. A $200 investment is nothing if it gets you a $200,000 return. Using the proposal template/software included with her $197 e-book, you’ll be able to produce the kind of proposal that will have publishers in hot pursuit—but getting the advance requires a whole lot more than just buying the book or even having all the right elements in your proposal.

If you want a six-figure book advance, you’re going to have to work for it.

Susan Harrow, jokingly known as a “de-motivational coach,” doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. In her August 4th teleclass, co-hosted by ghostwriter Mahesh Grossman of the Authors Team, she made it clear just how much work goes into getting a six-figure advance, and how long and hard you have to keep working after you get the money.

How advances work

In order to persuade publishers to pay you $100,000 or more before your book is published, you have to convince them that your book will sell at least 100,000 copies. (Your royalty will be about $1/book for a trade paperback, possibly as much as $3/book for a hardcover, so you do the math.) And since books don’t sell themselves, what you’re really saying to the publisher is that you can sell those 100,000 copies.

Yes, a publisher that invests that much money in you will also invest more in the production and marketing of your book than in someone who gets a smaller advance, but when you get right down to it, no one really buys a book because of its publisher. And your book won’t sell just because it’s a good book. People rarely buy non-fiction books for the quality of the writing. They buy for the quality of the information—and in the mind of the public, that depends on the expertise and reputation of the author. It all comes back to you.

How do you get readers to think of you as an expert?

First, they have to know you exist. If you’re not already a celebrity, you’re going to have to become one, or at least put up a convincing show. If you don’t have legions of fans, you should at least have thousands of subscribers to your e-zine or blog, or a syndicated column in a newspaper. If you haven’t been on Oprah or The Today Show yet, radio interviews and local TV news programs are a good start.

Getting into the public eye

To get visible enough fast enough, you probably need a publicist, which means shelling out several thousand dollars. In order for media attention to do you any good, you have to look good and sound good every time you appear. That means getting professional media coaching before you start lining up interviews to make up for not being a celebrity. You need to arm yourself with a repertoire of sound bites for all occasions and rehearse until you can spout them in your sleep.

That doesn’t just take money, it takes time. It takes work. And no one can do it for you, either, because you, as the author, have to be the one in the limelight.

Editing is essential for a killer proposal.

Media coaches and publicists aren’t the only team members you’ll have to enlist if you want a six-figure advance and a book that justifies it. The services of a professional editor are essential for both your proposal and your finished book. In fact, you might just want to hire a ghostwriter and get it over with, because you’re probably going to be too busy marketing to write.

That’s more money spent in advance of getting your advance.

Post-publication publicity

You’re not through yet, either. Now that you’ve gotten enough media attention for yourself to impress a publisher, you have to do it over again for your book. You’re going to have to shell out a good-sized chunk of that advance on your own publicity efforts. More and more publishing houses assume that your advance is the marketing budget for the book, so they expect you to spend your own money on getting the book sold. (Tip: when mentioning this in your proposal, always make the offer contingent on the publisher matching the amount.) This expectation actually holds true regardless of the size of your advance, but the more money you want to get, the more money you have to spend.

Six-figure advances are not for the faint of heart

Writing a good book is the least of the challenges facing you when you set out to get a six-figure advance. Moreover, if you don’t earn out your advance by actually selling 100,000+ books, your chance of getting such a large advance again are nil. To succeed when the stakes are this high, you need to become an Olympic athlete of a book marketer. That can be hard to do if you have either a day job or a family, never mind both. And it’s almost impossible if you don’t have a substantial chunk of starting capital.

Do you really need a six-figure book advance?

For many authors, five figures is plenty, especially for a first book. Even if it loses money, that book will create the leverage the author needs to succeed in other aspects of her business. (That’s one reason self-publishing can be such a good option for business book authors.) Getting a smaller advance still takes work and costs money, but it’s a much more manageable goal for a first time author without fifty grand to invest in getting into the bookstores.

When Not to Market Your Book

When would you choose not to market your book? When there’s no market for it.

On Wednesday’s “Conversations with Experts” call, Kim Dushinski of HowToMarketMyBook.com provided lots of good tips, but the one that really stood out was about when not to market your book.

“If there’s a book inside you demanding to get out, write it,” she said. (I’m paraphrasing; apologies for any misquoting.) “But if you don’t think there’s a market for it, then don’t market it.”

If you think your book would be of interest only to a small group of friends and family, just have a few copies made up by one of the Print on Demand publishers and give them away as birthday or holiday presents. This will cost you a few hundred dollars, no more than you’d spend on other gifts. They get a great personalized gift and you get to see your book in print.

Marketing a book, like any other marketing, is an ongoing effort. Even though there are “easy ways” to do that marketing, it takes time and at least some money. If you don’t expect your book to repay you with either direct or indirect income to compensate for that effort, then don’t market it.

Free Book Publishing and Marketing Teleclasses

Authors and authors-to-be take note: the Conversations with Experts series, hosted by Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff, has several weeks of free teleclasses with book publishing and marketing experts lined up. Topics include:

  • Marketing Your Book the Easy Way
  • Ever Wanted to Write a Book? There Has Never Been A Better Time to Realize that Dream than Now!
  • Book Design and Development: The Secrets of Award-Winning Books
  • Using Direct Marketing Techniques to Sell Thousands of Copies of Your Book

Register at http://www.customizednewsletters.com/CE/cesched.htm

Patsi and Denise also teach the Blog to Book course. Blog software can do many things, including help you get a book out of your head and onto a computer. The course has no set start or end date, so it’s never too late to enroll.