Author Platform: Done It vs Gonna Do It

July 17, 2017

I read book proposals all day long, and one of the most important parts of the proposal is Author Platform. I need to know is how well I think an author’s book will sell, and that’s where Author Platform comes into play.

Author Platforms are a toughie to explain because everyone has different definitions for what they are. I keep it real simple.

Author Platforms are about who you are and how many people know you in the category for which you write. It’s a measurement we use when figuring out how well your book may sell. For example, if you’re known as the quilting queen among a huge group of quilters, that platform won’t help if your book is about cancer. That’s what I call a misfire. I see lots of those. Conversely, that quilting queen could probably sell a bucket load of quilting books.

Author Platforms are hard to establish and take a LOT of time. You can’t snap your fingers and bamm-o, you wake up one day with a shiny new Author Platform. It’s tons of hard work, and you have to ask yourself if you’re up to the task. Many authors insist they were born ready, which immediately sends the Rescue Beagles into a fit of wheezing laughter, because if you’ve never published before, you have no idea what a time-suck it is.

I’ve seen too many authors who simply give up when they see just how hard promoting their book is. We’ve seen authors who expected their publishers to do it all for them, and the truth is, it’s an unrealistic expectation in today’s publishing world. The world has changed.

There is so much competition for readers’ attention, let alone the media, and at the same time publishers’ publicity departments are shrinking, so publishers have to be very mindful of those they choose to work with.

Publishing. Is. Not. For. The. Faint. Of. Heart. Tattoo this on your forehead. It’s a huge investment of time and money, and no publisher with any juice blithely accepts a new title. They do P&L statements, they talk to their sales teams, they take every precaution they can to stack the deck in their favor. And they consider the Author Platform.

I’ve gotten to where I classify Author Platforms into two groups: Done It and Gonna Do It.

Gonna Do It

These are authors whose platforms consist of things they’re gonna do.

  • I plan on getting involved in speaking engagements at ________ (fill in various venues/groups)
  • I plan on promoting my book through social media.
  • I plan on contacting _________ (insert famous name here)

The problem with these is that they’re in the future. Nothing has been established now. No steps are being taken now. Intentions are lovely, but they take time to establish, so it’s foolhardy for an acquiring editor to put faith in things that haven’t happened yet, because you know what? They may not ever happen. Seen it. Pinky swear.

Done It

This group has already taken steps to establish their Author Platform. They’ve already spoken at those events or are intrinsically involved in those groups. They have a strong social media presence in their field of expertise, and they’ve already contacted those Big Mouth names who can lend a cover blurb or review.

Editors want the Done It group.

I have seen so many great stories fall into the Great Abyss because the authors simply weren’t prepared for the amount of time and energy it takes to promote their book. It proved too hard, so they gave up. Problem is, their publishers are still humping the book, and it blows when the authors give up, because then we’re fighting an uphill battle. So are you in for the long haul, or are you going to fold your tent when it gets tough? Many people suffer when the author gives up or won’t listen to the publisher’s promo team.

We depend on the author’s footprint to help us establish inroads with readers and media. If your book proposal says “gonna do it,” do you think this communicates strength and ambition to a publisher, who is going to spend tens of thousands? Or are you unprepared?

Don’t be a Gonna Do It. It could be the difference between a contract and a rejection.


Cleverness Has its Limits

July 13, 2017

Dear Authors,
There is no bookstore or library category called Hybrid Memoir, so it’s truly unnecessary to label your book as such. Besides, it doesn’t tell me anything. A hybrid of what? And who cares? At the query stage, this is unimportant because it’s not a selling point.

Use your gifts of words by showing me what your book is about. It’s pretty easy to see the elements that make a book a cross between self-help and memoir. Editors are pretty savvy.

Trying to invent new labels to draw attention to your story could be counterproductive. Just stick to the facts and let your story sell itself.


Comp Titles: How to Take the Jam Out of My Jelly Doughnut

April 25, 2017

Is there anything worse than getting a doughnut that doesn’t have enough jelly? It’s one of life’s tragedies, and the struggle is real. If I order a jelly doughnut, then please make sure there’s all sorts of gloppy, oozy jelly in there. So much the better if it dribbles down my chin. Pure. Bliss.

How to take that jam outta my jelly doughtnut? Well…

Tell me that your book has no book comparisons. Continue the blight by insisting you’re breaking “new ground.” Bless your heart. Maybe you are breaking new territory, but I can assure you that someone has done it before you…to some degree…which would be a title comparison.

I don’t ask for title comps for my health. I need them when I’m talking to my sales teams, bookstores, book fairs, basically anyone with a pulse. I. Need. Them. All publishers do, in fact. It’s a part of navigating this nutty biz.

Failure to do your part in providing important info pegs you as a Noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care), or plain lazy. It tells me that you aren’t in touch with your competition – and yes, Mrs. Wigglesnort, there is always competition. Worse, is that I won’t take you seriously. If you insist you have zero competition, then I have to wonder about the veracity of your manuscript. It’s a matter of dominoes, and once they start to fall, it’s hard to win the game.

Competition is tough, tough, tough in the lit world, and you’re looking for reasons to engage us, not repel us. Make sure you submit a winning jelly doughnut. Know your competition. Read your competition.

 


The Great Oversell-Don’t Be a Toothpaste Commercial

July 11, 2016

Is there anything more irritating than toothpaste commercials that cheerfully tell you their product will brighten your teeth, give you fresh breath, and make you a chick/dude magnet, only to find out that the product didn’t brighten your teeth, your breath was only mildly enhanced, and that hot dude you’d been oogling threatened to blast you with pepper spray?

Welcome to my world of book proposals. Agents and authors are obviously eager to sell their manuscripts, so the proposals are normally filled with glowy, cheery stuff about how amazing the author is, how HUGE their platform is, and all the wonderful people they have on board to enhance marketing and promotion.

Many times the proposal lives up to the hype, and sales slide out the door, and everyone jumps for joy…and even The Rescue Beagles dance a jig.

But just as many times, the proposal is more like the toothpaste commercial, and all those glowy things that made my sales teams and me slobber like bassethounds end up not going anywhere…be it the PR team that was hired (but I never heard from them), or the established speech tour that was planned (but never happened). As a result, I’ve learned to take proposals with a grain of salt, because I’m the one left holding the financial bag.

If you’re writing a book proposal, be honest. If your promo plan looks lean, that means you need to work on your preparation. Don’t make stuff up. Remember, you’re looking to be a benefit to your publisher, not a risk. When you’re a benefit to your publisher, there is nothing they won’t reasonably do for you. When you’re a risk, editors want to cry and eat way too much chocolate.

Don’t oversell yourself. Don’t be a toothpaste commercial.

 


I Wanna Know More About You – Author Bio

October 27, 2015

Authors usually want to mainline Drano when confronted with writing a bio as part of their book proposals, because they’re not really sure what editors want to know. The thoughts come racing: Do editors care where I grew up? Where I went to school? What terrifies me in the middle of the night? My favorite movie and candy bar? Color?

Gah!

Here’s the thing; we really do wanna know about you because you’re the heart and soul of your story. However, we wanna know the parts of your bio that relates to your story. For instance, if your story is about your meteoric rise at school, then knowing where you went to school is a given. But if your story is about scaling K-2 with a broken ankle, then your school education doesn’t ring my chimes.

Avoid Filler

It’s common to see author bios packed with filler:

I grew up with three cats and an epileptic dog, and three brothers who loved to sneak lizards into my bed just to watch me screech loudly enough to shatter the windows.

Yah. Avoid that.

Put Yourself In My Shoes

The reason we want author bios is to use that information for promotion and marketing purposes, so it’s helpful when authors put themselves in my Manolo Blahniks and give me information that I can use to turn buyers’ heads.

I remember reading a proposal about a woman who wrote a Self Help about being a woman in Corporate America and the importance of retaining the very aspects of womanhood. Okay, cool message. But her bio revealed that she was a retired CEO of a major corporation. Yah. I wanna know that. Conversely, I didn’t care that she began her early career by being an intern in a dentist’s office or that she finally married her longtime boyfriend. Buyers won’t care, and my sales teams will throw a hissy fit at me.

But There’s Nothing Interesting About My Life

This is the Numero Uno excuse I see in query letters/proposals, and it’s worrisome. If your life has been that underwhelming, then I can’t help but wonder whether your story is equally underwhelming. I mean, something happened to you: you had a child with autism; you were a commercial airline pilot; you discovered the father who abandoned you was the Governor of Rhode Island…I could go on for days…

But the point I’m trying to drive home is that something happened to you that you felt was print-worthy, so your author bio needs to focus on that. It doesn’t matter if you have previous writing credits. Nearly all of our books are from debut authors! But what each of our authors had was some key elements to their lives that led them to their life-altering personal journey. I wanna know what that is.

So how ’bout it? Are you struggling with your author bio?


More About Book Proposals

January 19, 2015

Sigh. One more time. If you’re gonna say you have a “book proposal,” it doesn’t mean a general overview of a page and three chapters.  That’s a query.

A book proposal hasta have all this stuff in it. And yesssss, we needs it because it’s our preciousssss…and our saleses teams hateses us when we don’t have them.

  • COVER SHEET (title and subtitle of book; genre, word count, author’s name, address, phone, fax, email)
  • CONCEPT STATEMENT (optional—briefly state the target audience, why they need this book, why your book is unique or timely, why you are an authority on the topic, and what your book offers that other books don’t).
  •  OVERVIEW (how you came to write the book—weave in attention-getting facts; this must be the most compelling part of your proposal!)
  •    PURPOSE OF THE BOOK (what will your book do? what need will it fill? how will it benefit readers?)
  •    THE MARKET/AUDIENCE (who will buy your book? why do they want or need it? give statistics)
  •    COMPETITIVE BOOKS (what else exists? where is it shelved? how is your book new and better? how does your book differ from all other books on this topic?)
  •    MARKETING OF THE BOOK (bookstores, book clubs, Internet, clubs, associations; if applicable—these are sales outside of a bookstore environment such as retail store chains, specialty stores, catalogs)
  •    PROMOTION & PUBLICITY (list newspapers, magazines, TV & radio stations that the publisher should contact)
  •    AUTHOR’S PROMOTIONAL CONTRIBUTION (list everything you’ll do to make the book successful; be sure to include all of your ideas for author appearances and events)
  •    COMPLETION OF THE BOOK (state that “x” months from date of contract you will deliver the manuscript—usually a 9-12 month period is allowed)
  •    SEQUELS (optional—list 1-3 other projects that interest you and that have a large audience)
  •    ABOUT THE AUTHOR (your background and experience; why you are the best person to write the book)
  •    THREE SAMPLE CHAPTERS ( I prefer your first three chapters because I want to see how you lead into your story)

Writing a Book Proposal – Yes? No? Who’s Right?

April 30, 2013

im sorry

An author told me that she noticed a few agents’ blogs were claiming that book proposals are passé, and authors need not write them. Instead, authors should treat their nonfiction like fiction, and just send the manuscript. I’m sure this works fine for agents, but what happens when an editor asks for one?

Maybe I’m a dinosaur and editors aren’t asking for them as much anymore. As Jurassic as I may be, I still always ask for a book proposal, and I know I’m not alone. Oddly enough, there have been a few agents who wrote back saying they didn’t have one. Period. No offer to cough one up. Take it or leave it. I’m always dismayed because I don’t see this as being advantageous to the author. Book proposals are standard for nonfiction, so is it a good idea not to be prepared? After all, publishers are the ones who are making the financial investment, and they still need that info in order to help make a decision.

It’s Not Just For Editors…

Book proposals play a whole other role in that they force authors to think of their books as a marketable product and to think like a businessperson. And believe me, prospective editors are thinking along those lines. Very often, I have questions that the agent will pass along to the author. If that happens to you, are you ready with a knowledgeable answer?

What’s frustrating is that authors rightly take their lead from their agents, so if they haven’t been told to write a proposal, then where does leave me? More importantly, where does it leave the author?

Book proposals take a long time to write, but I’ve yet to hear an author say that writing it was a complete waste of time. Instead, authors were amazed at how much they learned about their own book because they had to look at it from a different perspective. And even though novelists don’t need a book proposal, I still think it’s a good idea to write one because it forces you to think about your book from the side of an editor.

There are a ton of books about writing the perfect book proposal, I think these books are a waste of money because there’s no magic bullet to writing the perfect book proposal. Save your money. You want a reference? I wrote a post on book proposals that goes into further detail, so here it is for free.


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