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This week, The Cadence Group received an order for 30,000 units of our first book. It is the kind of order that could make my year…. it could also destroy my company when and if they all come back.
So here is the question. Do I print and ship books to a company that will send the books back in lieu of payment?
It breaks my heart to say it, but here is the answer: No.
My very first big order of my new publishing program and I am going to turn it down.
Lately, we have been getting a lot of calls and emails asking what goes into a book proposal. We are happy to post on any questions, but we thought this overview might be helpful.
When you are ready to pull together your “bits and pieces” and introduce yourself to the agent and publishing community, here are the elements you need to have ready to go:
Strong Positioning Statement – this is your elevator speech. 4 sentences or less on why your book will sell, who will buy it and why you’re qualified to write it. Remember, 4 sentences or less.
Overview—You get a full paragraph or two here. Describe what the book is, the subject matter it covers and why it’s relevant. Make sure you use marketing language and put your best face forward. You’re selling here.
About the Author—Make yourself shine. Highlight your media appearances. Talk about your blog or seminars or workshops. Be specific about your expertise and experience. Convince a publisher or agent that you have something to say, people are interested in what you have to say and you know how to sell your content.
The Market—While statistics may just be numbers, the reality is that numbers matter. You need to show that there is a large population of readers that will by your book. If you have a self-help book, talk about the number of people facing the problem that your book discusses. Business book? How many business out there are struggling with a problem that you have a solution for? Percentages, populations, and lots of facts drive the message here. If you have a message that people are clamoring for, most likely you’ve found an audience for your book.
Marketing Plan—The days of the publisher doing the marketing for your book are over. Any well-crafted book proposal includes the author’s own marketing plan. How are you going to sell your book? Think strategically and realistically within your budget. Do you have a website? If so, how many unique hits do you get a month? Have you been doing any workshops or seminars? Do you plan on writing articles for your local newspaper? Do you have contacts in the media that will help you get on radio or television? Have you posted articles about you and your book online. What’s your plan to get the word out about the book?
The Book—Include a detailed outline. If explanation is needed, 2-3 sentences per chapter that provides an overview is most likely enough to get you noticed.
The Competition—And yes, there is competition out there. If there’s no book exactly like yours, what books will be shelved near yours? What books have the same purchaser? List the competition. Consider including a sentence or two under each competitive title and highlight why your book is unique or different. Be realistic when listing competitive titles and how you’re book appeals to the same audience.
Endorsements—Talk to your friends. Talk to your colleagues. Talk to your acquaintances. Call in any favors. You want to show that people are reading your book and are excited about it. If they haven’t read the book (because it’s not quite finished, which is fine), get a quote about you and your program. How are you changing lives? How have you and your message impacted the people around you?
Sample Chapters—Read the guidelines for the agent or author you’re submitting to. How many sample chapters do they request with a proposal? Remember to proofread, proofread, proofread. No typos here. Include the best sample chapters of your book. This is your opportunity to show that you know your subject, know how to write about it, and can create a polished manuscript.
SASE—If you’re submitting unsolicited proposals, remember to enclose a SASE. Otherwise, you may never hear back from the publisher or agent with valuable advice or feedback.
It is every writer’s dream to see his or her book in the front window of the local bookstore. It is fun to imagine tall, colorful stacks of your books surrounded by throngs of curious readers flipping through the pages while others rush to the cash register with their copy.
Feel free to continue this fantasy as you finish your manuscript, but in order to make that dream come true, the time is coming when you have to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a publisher.
Whether you are going to publish the book yourself or work to have it published by a mainstream publishing house, believe it or not, writing the book was the easy part. Your work is just beginning.
The first step on this journey to being published is to realize that for publishers, the dream location is not the bookstore shelf; that shelf is simply a short stop on the way to the real destination … a reader’s bookshelf.
The only bookshelf that truly counts is that of the consumer.
If you’re truly serious about getting your book published, then you need to shake off the fantasies and take a good, hard look at the challenges ahead. This isn’t meant to discourage you. On the contrary, the better prepared you are, the more successful you will be in reaching your goal.
The path a writer’s work takes through the publishing process, into the retail market, and then onto a consumer’s bedside table is arduous. I know that, as a writer, you are enthusiastic about your work and determined to see it through to book form. While these are certainly helpful qualities in battling the challenges ahead, there is one tool to help you overcome the obstacles and push forward during the final stretch: knowledge.
Take the time to learn about the industry as a whole, how to think like a publisher, and what steps to take to create a successful book. Step by step, maneuver the book industry’s websites, discussion groups, newsletters, and advice forums.
Here are some importants sites and newsletters that will help you learn more about the industry. Check them out online!
Yahoo Self Publishing Group
The best way to start a journey is to learn as much about your destination as possible. Once you know where you’re going, you’ll be able to plan your route to get there. So set your writing aside for the moment and explore the book industry and learn everything you can about that oh-so-important part of the publishing industry: the reader.
When selling a book to the bookstores, libraries, and chains, remember that the people seeing your book sales kit see hundreds of sales kits a day. They will choose a very small percentage of the books they see. Your kit can make the difference between a purchase order and a politely worded e-mail (We regret to inform you …). When you send a package to a buyer for consideration, it is your first and perhaps only chance to impress them. Here is a checklist of what is recommended for inclusion in your package:
- Color printout of the cover on heavy, glossy paper.
- A bound ARC/galley or comb-bound manuscript if the book is finished. Sample chapters printed out if it is not.
- Fully outlined marketing and publicity plan
- One-page title information sheet with :
100-word description of book
Order contact information
Co-op and advertising budget
Title and ISBN of previous books by author or in the series
Title and ISBN of books similar to yours
It’s not hard to learn what a properly designed, professionally published book looks like. Thanks to Amazon and the Internet, you can do much of your research from home. A lot, but not all. Your fingers won’t be able to do all the walking. You also need to get your legs moving … up, down, and around the aisles of your local bookstore.
Internet chat rooms, industry magazines, and online bookstores can provide some good information, but if you are serious about becoming a savvy, market-driven publisher, you need to spend a great deal of time in the marketplace. It is time to get out from behind your desk and get out among the books.
When you get to the bookstore, wander up and down all the aisles … not just those of your favorite categories. With a pen and paper in hand, slowly pace around the store moving your head back and forth noting titles that jump out at you from the shelves. After six or seven aisles, go back and look at the books you wrote down. Were they face out? Were just the spines showing? If the books you noticed were spine-out, what do the spines have in common? Was the lettering large and easy to read? What colors were used?
Now go wander around the display tables—all the tables, not just the ones you would normally peruse. What cover do you notice first? Which books do you think about picking up? Write these titles down. Go to the next table and continue to notice your reaction. Write down the titles of the covers that draw your eye there. Once you have cruised all the tables and aisles, you will have a strong list of the spines and covers that appealed to you.
Your list from the bookstore is a great way to discover what you like in a cover. The next step is to find out what the bestselling books in your category look like. This can be done online. Go to Amazon or BN.com (or both) and pull up the top-selling books in your category. Scan through the covers and see what colors are hot right now. Check out the fonts and see what the books have in common. For example, for a while, many bestselling self-help books were yellow and blue. During that same period, a majority of the bestselling business books had white covers and huge lettering.
The colors, fonts, and looks that herald an up-to-date cover change constantly. Once you have done your research, don’t rest on your laurels. Return to the bookstore and check bestselling lists every month to stay current.
You have found what appeals to you and identified what a new bestselling book in your category looks like. Can you find a book on the bestseller list that has the qualities that appeal to you? Can you find two or three? Grab the covers from the Internet and make a file to later give to your cover designer.
The days of books having to be launched in hardcover are over. Important fiction and non-fiction are now releasing in paperback all the time.
According to Independent, Barnes & Noble and Borders book buyers, people don’t buy books in hardcover the way they used to. These days, 75 percent of the DOLLARS spent on fiction are trade paperbacks. Remember how less expensive paperbacks are, factor in the price difference, and this means that less than only a small percentage of the fiction books sold in America are hardcover. And those sales are usually reserved for big houses with established, big-name authors.
Yes, there are exceptions, but if you want to maximize your chances of stocking and sell through, you will not take the chance that you will be one of the very few exceptions. Everyone thinks that they will be different. They aren’t.
I know that hardcover books are more appealing for authors. They think of hardcovers as more legitimate. They believe the hardcover will bring in more dollars. They believe that libraries want hardcover and think that they cannot get reviews with paperbacks. But those ideas are outdated..
Reviewers now review trade paperback fiction all the time. Libraries have less money than ever before and many prefer trade paperback for new authors. The ever shrinking number of Librarians who prefer hardcover can be served with Hardcover Print-on -demand.
Hardcover books from new authors or small houses are rarely, if ever, stocked nationally by major chains; therefore, sales are far less likely than in trade paper. (Example: If a national chain book buyer likes a book from a new publisher, he or she might take in 150 of a hardcover versus being willing to test 800 to 1,000 of a paperback.)
A well-known fiction buyer with more than twenty-five years’ experience has seen the passages of our industry and has kept himself up-to-date with the changing elements. When asked about hardcover versus paperback, he had this to say, “With so many small presses pitching fiction today, publishers should be obsessed with placement. They cannot get placement with hardcovers. Hardcover sales are hemorrhaging…. Please, tell your publishers to stop publishing in hardcover.”
That said, there are times when publishing a book in hardcover is a good idea. Many books are not published for the bookstore shelves. You may be publishing a book destined for corporate sales or you may be a speaker who plans to sell your book from the back of a Marriot Inn conference room. In these circumstances, publishing a book in hardcover and making the extra dollars that come from the higher price might be best.
Always keep the customer in mind when you are choosing the type of book you are going to publish. For example, if you have written a crumpet cookbook, your potential readership may have more disposable income and prefer a book that lays open heavily and will be used and reused often enough to warrant the durability of a hardcover book. If you have written a cozy mystery, your readers may not appreciate a $25 price tag and having to hold up a big, heavy book for hours while they read.
If you are concerned for your older readers, who prefer hardcover because of the bigger type, print your paperback with a larger font.
The bottom line is this… identify your reader and make sure you are creating a book that meets their desires and specifications, not yours.
Til later – AC
Why do people buy books? What kind of people buy books? What kind of books do they buy? The answers to these questions are changing rapidly. It used to be that if you had a specific need (job interview, wedding, new baby, etc.) you would go to the store and pick up a book on that topic to educate yourself on the newest thoughts on that subject. Books were the preferred tool for disseminating new information. Not anymore.
Magazines (also a changing animal) hit the scene and trained readers to grab for the “highlights” on a topic. No longer did people feel that they needed a deep, thorough understanding of their topics. They learned that they could “get the gist” in three to five pages at most and, in most cases, do just fine.
Then came the Internet. Think you have lupus? Log on! Want to cultivate a pink-and-white-only garden that will not be eaten by your local deer population? www.girlydeerresistantgardens.com to the rescue!
The people who think they are too busy to read a whole book and cannot find the time to catch up on the stack of magazines piling up on the counter can now have seventy-five words on any given subject electronically handed to their inbox to be downloaded and absorbed in seconds.
But what about novels? Fiction? Yes, there is still a strong market for beautifully written, well-edited, sharply crafted fiction. Keep in mind, however, that the competition from popular, established authors and brand-named celebrities with clever marketing/ghostwriting/PR teams have driven the chances of a new writer’s work appearing on a national chain’s bookstore shelves way, way, way down. Therefore, many talented writers are moving to Web-based and self -printed digests.
Fans of savvy, edgy writing are flocking to Websites to get their daily dose of prose. Every day, established, talented book authors are writing 3000–5000 words for readers who will never see those words in a printed book. ’Zines, Web digests, salons, and blogs are changing how fiction readers get their fix.
This does not mean that books are dead. In spite of the Cassandra-like warnings from experts over the last 100 years that the book was becoming obsolete, books are here to stay. Newspapers, radio, and television did not kill the book nor will the Internet and iPod. Books offer a sense of comfort and reliability that other mediums simply can’t touch.
What is changing is how we think of “books”. E-books are getting an erratic and ever strenghtening launch into our culture. It will not be long before hand-held electronic book machines gain full and total acceptance by an entire generation of readers who will still refer to what they are holding as a “book”. It is a book. A book that is more environmentally friendly than paper and more handy than carrying six to ten pounds in one’s suitcase on a long vacation.
Let’s not get too hung up on what a book is and keep our eye on what we need a book to be.
For people who hear a particularly compelling speaker and want to learn more about there message, there are books. For those riding to work each day who want to escape into a good story, there are books. For those who want to deeply explore a topic and have a reference to which they can always go to, there are books.
There will always be books.