Marketing


Sorry, but this post has nothing to do with singing! The pitch I’m referring to is that one shot at selling your incredible article idea or that novel you’ve been working on for the past two years…and how you better be ready to deliver it because you never know when you’re going to get your chance.

By quick definition, a pitch is simply a brief summary of your writing idea, along with why you think it’s such a great idea (if you’re pitching to a specific publisher or agent, you’d include why it’s a great idea for their publishing house or agency, in particular).

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. The hardest part about a powerful pitch is that it must be completely concise–that is, both complete AND concise. A typical pitch should be written with the intent of being deliverable in 15-30 seconds. Another term for this in the business world is the elevator pitch. This term holds the idea that if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on an elevator with that prospective client you’ve been dying to get an appointment with, what would you say to him or her from the time it takes to get from the second floor to the tenth to get that person interested in hearing more?

Now, pretend you’re at a writers’ conference or workshop, or you’re at a party and discover there is a literary agent there who is actively looking for new talent. Quick–what do you say? You better have it planned out before you bump into her at the punch bowl.

A pitch is also included in your query letter, whether it’s for an article or a book idea. But once you get it down on paper, memorize it and make it a part of you, so you’re never caught off-guard without it. It won’t make a good impression if that agent at the party asks what you do and you’re not able to concisely tell him about the breakout novel you’re working on.

To perfect your pitch, think of it as the blurb that gets written on the back of your book; or for an article, those two or three lines that will hook the magazine editor into having to read more. You’ll need to think like a copywriter and focus on selling, not just telling, about your story.

First, summarize your topic or story as briefly as possible. For novels, mention the main characters and enough about them to create an interest in them. Then choose one unique or exciting element of your topic or story to mention (this may be the angle or POV you’ve chosen). Finally, tell why your article or book will be different than the others already on the market and why you are the perfect person—the only person—to write it.

Ideally, this should all be accomplished in one paragraph of a query letter or within 30 seconds of a monologue.

Read over what you’ve written. Cut out any unnecessary words, making your writing as tight as possible, and eliminate all passive wording. Make sure you’ve used strong, concise, and active verbs.

Now, read it again. Can you sense excitement when you read it, or is it just facts on a page? If the latter, keep revising until your passion for your subject comes through loud and clear. Trust me…if your readers can’t sense your excitement about your project, they won’t be very excited either.

Once you have it exactly as you want it, write it on an index card and take it with you wherever you go. Practice saying it with enthusiasm and with a tone that reflects your subject. Is it a children’s story? Your tone should be bubbly and light. Is it a mystery? Add a little suspense to your delivery. And by all means…don’t give away your ending!

Once you get your delivery polished, practice it on a friend. Do some role playing, and have the other person ask you questions about your work. View this process like you would a job interview, because in many ways, it is. This process will take a little time, so be sure to start practicing well ahead of any writers’ conferences or parties you plan on attending!

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Welcome back for my third and final installment of How to Have a Successful Book Signing. I hope that Part 1 and Part 2 were able to offer some insight and ideas that perhaps you haven’t thought of before. This final post will assume that, because of the previous marketing ideas, you’ve been able to drive customers to your signing, and now it’s all about what to do when they’re standing in front of you.

Here are 5 tips for turning a prospective customer into a buyer:

1. Plan your table location and presence. Make sure your table is immediately noticeable when customers walk through the door and that it is angled in such a way that you can make eye contact with them. Decorate your table based on the theme of your book if at all possible. If that doesn’t work for your book, then at least make sure that your table is eye catching, colorful, and looks professional.

Know that many, if not most, bookstores will not have tablecloths or anything available to place on your table. Come prepared with a tablecloth to fit the sized table you will have, along with any other decorations you want to add. Your table can be as simple or elaborate as you care to make it, but the important thing is that people notice it.

Don’t forget to have several pens on hand for signing (test them first to ensure they write smoothly and don’t smudge), an ample supply of your books, at least two books stands for displaying your books, a plate of cookies or other goodies to help bring people to the table (food ALWAYS gets people’s attention), a stack of your business cards, your book’s postcards, and giveaways (see point #2).

2. Give something away. If you have enough time prior to your event (3-4 weeks) you might want to think about having some products made with the name of your book and your website on them. Small, inexpensive giveaways, such as magnets, pens, or keychains work well. If possible, work within the theme of your book for a more unique product. Your publisher may have some fun and creative ideas or might work with you to get a book-themed product made.

There are a ton of companies that specialize in these promotional products. One I’ve used before is called PromoDirect. They have an entire assortment of giveaway products. The key to choosing a product is that it is either unique and clever, or it is something very practical, which will more than likely get used. You want potential customers to have something to help them remember you and your book after they’ve gone, so it helps if they can use it every day.

3. Be proactive. You won’t make many sales if you spend all your time sitting behind the table. I know this can be tough for introverted writers, but you’ll really need to put your sales cap on if you hold a book signing. Try to meet customers as they come through the store’s door or as they walk near your table. Introduce yourself, shake hands, and tell why you’re there.

You should have a 30-second “elevator speech” ready to say to each person you talk with. You want to mention: 1) the title of your book; 2) what the book is about; and 3) why they need to buy it (Would it make a great gift? Will it help them in some way? What problem of theirs will it solve?). After your brief speech, offer them one of your giveaways to take with them. Then, if they don’t buy, give them your card and a postcard in case they change their mind! Just don’t let them leave empty-handed.

4. Always hold a copy of your book. As you approach customers, carry a copy of your book with you. As you begin speaking with them, hand them the book. Point out certain features of your book, like all the resources you’ve added in, or end-of-chapter add-ons–anything you consider to be a benefit of your book. At the very least, open up to the Table of Contents and discuss the book’s organization or what they will find in your book.

The point of this exercise is two-fold: to show, not just tell people about your book, and to allow them to see it for themselves; and to get them to hold it and browse through it. Every good salesperson knows that a potential customer is more inclined to buy something once they touch it and hold it.

5. Plan to read from or discuss your book. Set aside a few minutes of each hour or half hour to either do a short reading from your book or to discuss parts of it. You should have a sign of some kind to announce when the next reading will be. As you talk with customers, encourage them to come back for the reading or discussion. Note: readings work best for fiction, and discussions or Q&A work best for nonfiction!

The purpose of this is to get people involved in your book in an interactive manner, just like when you hand them your book. As they talk about it with you, ask questions, and actually hear it read, they now have made an investment in it, which helps bring them one step closer to wanting it–either for themselves or for someone else.

I hope you’ve picked up a few tips and ideas that may help you as you embark on book signings. I’d love to hear from you regarding what has or hasn’t worked or what you would do differently the next time around.

Welcome back to learn more about getting people to your book signing! Last week in Part 1, I discussed various locations where you can hold book signings (aside from the usual book stores), and how to effectively use flyers, postcards, and social media to help spread the word. Today I’m going to look at two other important avenues to help get the word out about your book signing. After all, if you can’t get people to come, you won’t sell any books! So, first things first:

1. Tell the media: Aside from using social media, don’t forget about traditional media. Newspapers, radio, and local magazines still exist! Spend some time researching what media outlets or community organizations have local calendars of events, and ask to get put on their calendar. In my city, our local newspaper has both a print and online calendar that anyone can get added to for free. These things are out there, so take advantage of them!

Again, think about your target readership and what calendars they may be looking at. If you just wrote a cookbook, maybe there are local or regional specialty stores where cooking enthusiasts shop. See if they have a calendar or bulletin board for cooking events. A store like this may even want to host your book signing!

Depending on the nature of your book, you can also talk to local papers about doing a PR article for you. Send them a press release about yourself, your book, and the date and location of your book signing, and ask if they would put it in their paper. This works best if your book coincides with a holiday, specific time of year (back to school, for example),  or other special circumstance where it can be promoted in conjunction with another event. My book, Grandparenting Through Obstacles, for instance, came out right before Grandparent’s Day, so that was the angle I used when trying to promote through the media.

Also consider using radio to help drive people to your site. I’m not suggesting buying ad time, unless you have the budget for that, but rather trying to promote through radio interviews. This is normally the kind of thing a professional PR person would do for you, but you may just have to do it yourself. Send your local radio stations–those that you know conduct author interviews–a copy of your book to review (this needs to be done well ahead of your book signing), asking if you could interview with them.

If they like your book and your topic, they’ll probably say yes, as most of these stations are in need of new authors and new material. During your interview, make the listeners aware of your book signing and any other promotions or appearances you are doing.

2. Tell everyone you know–and even those you don’t! Of all the things you can do to get people to your book signing, there is none as effective as good ‘ol word of mouth. Start with your friends, family, and other writers you know. And don’t limit who you tell to only those who live near you or the location of your signing. You never know who these people might know who do live near you and would want to support you.

After sharing your news with everyone you know–and asking them to share it as well–start passing out those postcards! As I mentioned in Part 1, keep postcards and flyers with you at all times so you can talk up your book signing and leave people with some information about it. You don’t have to be an outgoing person to do this.

As you naturally strike up conversations with others during your daily routine of going to work, running errands, or helping at your kids’ school, ask people if they know of anyone who might be interested in the topic of your book and if they would mind passing along a postcard to that person. This way you’re not pushing yourself or your book on them, but rather trying to promote it through them. You’ll never know if you don’t ask!

Now that you’ve done all you can to get people to your signing, what do you do once they’re there to help ensure they buy a book? While there certainly are no guarantees that those who show up will buy, there are some specific things you can do to make book sales more of a possibility. Please come back next week when I will talk about 5 “tricks” that will make prospective customers more likely to buy.

It’s getting tougher and tougher nowadays for a first-time, or even somewhat-known author to secure a book signing at a local bookstore. And, even harder if that bookstore is a major one, like a Barnes and Noble or Borders. In general, the bookstores don’t see a big return on their investment of time and effort to have you sit in their store and bother their customers. Book signings used to be much more glamorous and exciting than they are now–unless you’re a bestselling author, in which case, you can pretty much do whatever you want!

With that said, however, there is still a place for book signings–it just might not be where you expect. And, wherever you end up setting up shop, there are things you can do as an author to make the most of your book-signing experience–things that will translate into more books sold and possibly invitations by the store manager to come back for future signings. I cannot guarantee that doing the following will help you sell a ton of books, but I can safely say that to not do them will certainly hinder your sales.

1. Location, location, location! As I mentioned, the larger chain stores have really turned up their collective noses at book signings held by no-name or little-named authors. It just hasn’t paid off for them. So a better route to go is to seek out your local mom-and-pop, privately held bookstores. They may not be big, but in a tight-knit community, word spreads. If the bookstore is a popular one, you should have a good-sized crowd come out to see you if you have a book they’re interested in.

Then, go beyond the bookstores. Think about your target market and where they gather, then go there. If you’ve written a children’s book, try to get into schools and libraries, or maybe even toy stores that are willing to sell your book. Or, look for parenting organizations in your city and find out where they meet. If you’re a fiction writer, go where literary clubs in your area meet, or hold a signing at your local college. If you can’t find a place where your target market gathers, you can always check into renting a room (often you can get them for free; if not, the cost is usually minimal, like around $50) at a library, community center, a YMCA, etc. If you do enough PR (which I’ll talk about next), the town will know how to find you.

2. Get the word out. Even if you are able to get into a Borders, you need to be prepared to do most of the PR work yourself. I held a book signing at a Borders store a couple of years back, and the extent of the help I received from them were posters hung on their doors! If you weren’t coming to the store anyway, you’d never know I was there!

The extent and mix of PR work to do for a book signing will depend on how much time, money, and effort you want to put into it. My experiences have been that the more I’ve invested, the bigger the pay-off has been. Of course, this may not always be the case. At the very least, I would suggest printing flyers and/or posters (most of this you can do yourself) that include a picture of yourself and your book’s cover, a blurb about the book, a review or endorsement of your book, and the time and location for the book signing.

Put a stack in your car and take one into every restaurant, store, coffee shop, dry cleaners, and so forth that you enter. Ask the owner/manager if you could hang one on their bulletin board or door or window. You’ll get more “yes’es” than “no’s.” You’ll want to do this about 2 weeks ahead of your signing so there’s ample time for people to see the signs, but not so much time that they become immune to the signs because the event is so far off.

Another great PR resource is the postcard. These are simply miniature versions of your flyers, which should include the same information. For those business owners who said no to your flyers, ask if you could leave some postcards on their counter instead. For that matter, even if they said yes to your flyers, you can still try to leave postcards so people can take them when they leave the store. I’ve had great success at getting postcards made through Vistaprint. The prices are good, and I’ve been happy with the quality.

Postcards are also great to hand out to anyone and everyone you run into. You can’t be shy in this business! If you want people to show up to your signing and buy your book, you’ll need to be proactive. Even if the person you talk to doesn’t seem interested, encourage her to take a card to share with someone else. Maybe that person doesn’t have kids and therefore doesn’t care about your children’s book, but perhaps she knows the head of the MOPS group at her church. You just never know until you ask!

3. Take advantage of social media. Announcing events like book signings are an excellent way to use social media. Definitely announce your signing on your website, through your email, put it on Facebook, Twitter, and any other virtual channels you use. Also include it on your blog and other blogsites you frequent, especially if your target readership hangs out on those sites.

Facebook has a nice feature for events where you can invite people from your email or Facebook contacts to your event. Take advantage of that, and ask your social media connections to help spread the word for you. If each person you’re connected to via Twitter or FB tells one other person, and those people do the same, you’ll soon reach a lot of people with your event info.

That’s enough for today. Please stop back next week because I have much more to share on how to get people to your book signing and then, most importantly, how to get them to actually buy your book!

Well, we’ve finally arrived at our final post. I truly hope these past articles on “How to Write a Book Proposal” has been helpful in some way. If so, I’d really like to hear from you to see how they’ve helped and what you may still be struggling with.

For my final post on this topic, I want to discuss how to make your proposal as visually appealing as possible and how to put your whole package together in a professional manner. I will also touch on the benefits of writing your manuscript before diving into your proposal.

To make your proposal visually appealing:

1. Keep it simple! Use simple, easily readable fonts, such as Times New Roman or Arial. I know these aren’t the most exciting, but it really is what editors want to see. Use a 12-point font, double space, keep bolding and italics to a minimum (it’s good to use these techniques to separate text or bring out important phrases or subheads, but don’t overdo it), and set your margins at 1″ or 1.25″ all around. Readability and lack of clutter should be your goal.

2. Create an uncluttered title page. The title page should contain the lines: “A Proposal for…”; title of book; your name. These lines should be centered about 1/3 of the way down the page. Then, with all lines flush left at the bottom, include all of your contact information: mailing address, email address, phone number, web or blog site address. No more or less than this on the cover.

3. Begin a new page for each section. Starting with the title page, be sure that each section begins on its own page: Table of Contents, About the Authors, Competitive Books, Marketing Plan, Sample Chapters, and so forth. Then when you’ve finished, make sure the Table of Contents pages match up with each of your sections.

4. Include headers. Add your last name, book title (shorten it if it’s lengthy), and page number to each header.

Submitting a professional package:

1. Include published clips. If you’re writing a nonfiction book and you have published clips, especially relevant articles on your book’s topic, including them would give the editor an opportunity to review some of your already published work. Don’t overdo it though; 2-3 is usually plenty.

2. Write a strong cover letter. Your cover letter to a proposal is like a resume to an interview: one will typically invite–or deter–the other. Make your cover letter engaging, opening with a great hook, and closing with the reasons why the editor absolutely has to read your proposal–NOW! If your cover letter is really good, the editor won’t be able to wait to read your proposal. If it’s not so good, it may end up back in the slush pile.

3. Do not bind the proposal. If you’re sending your proposal snail mail, do not staple, paper clip, or in any other way bind the proposal. The only exception to this is if you want to place it inside a portfolio folder. Otherwise, simply put it in a sturdy envelope in loose sheets and send it registered mail.

4. Don’t get cute with your proposal! Having worked with many editors, I’ve heard dozens of stories about proposals that have arrived in cute or unusual packaging, or have included some gimmick inside the package. As a rule, editors really are not impressed with this. There may be exceptions depending on the type of book you’re writing, but my guess is that these exceptions are few and far between. When in doubt, always choose professional over cutesy! Much of this is moot anyway, since most publishers prefer email over snail mail nowadays, but just in case…

5. Proofread thoroughly. Proofread your proposal at least twice then have someone else proof it. Trust me, you’ll never catch all of your own mistakes yourself. Read through slowly and carefully, reviewing formatting, consistency in headings and subheads, checking for redundancies and “pet” words, as well as general spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Click here for a guide to proofing your own work.

6. Follow guidelines precisely. Sometimes I think editors ask to have proposals submitted a particular way just so they can see who follow directions! Every publisher will ask for something different when sending a proposal. Take their requests seriously, and follow every guideline and direction they give. Don’t give them any reason to say no before they even read your proposal.

Reasons to write your manuscript first:

Let me clarify that when I talk about writing your manuscript, I’m referring to having it in a completed draft format, not necessarily having every word proofread and all formatting to perfection. I will also say that some writers, such as those who already have books published and those who are writing a more reference-based nonfiction book, will not need to write their manuscript first.

For novelists and children’s book writers in particular, but also for nonfiction writers who might be a new name to publishers, writing your manuscript first affords you many advantages.

1. If the editor is interested in seeing more, all you’ll need to do is minor revisions and proofing, and the completed manuscript is in her hands. This could mean the difference between sending it within a month or sending it in another six months. It’s always good to strike while the iron of interest is hot.

2. It will help you in constructing your proposal’s outline and sample chapters. By having a full draft of your manuscript, you’ll be able to send a more complete outline and the best chapters you have.

3. You can use your manuscript draft to shop around for endorsements, marketing partners, and general feedback. You can’t successfully receive any of these without a near-complete manuscript (unless you are a known author).

4. By telling the editor in your proposal that you already have a completed manuscript, you’ll be able to prove that you have enough material for a full-length book and that you are actually able to write the book you are proposing.

The opposing argument to writing your manuscript first, of course, is “Why spend all the time writing it if it may never sell?” But in my experience, you will have a better chance of selling it if it’s already complete. Not only are there benefits to you as you try to write your proposal, but there are benefits when the proposal gets into the editor’s hands.

Thank you for bearing with me throughout all 11 posts on the “How to Write a Book Proposal” topic. I hope you’ve found this information beneficial, and I wish you all the best with your proposal writing!

As I close in on my final post in this series of how to write a book proposal (next week), I’d like to focus on what will be the main event of your proposal: the sample chapters. Thus far I’ve talked about some very important pieces to the proposal–from your book hook to your marketing plan to your outline and more.

The sample chapters, however, are what constitute the bulk of your proposal, both in scope and in content. This is the place where you can really allow the editor to see how good of a writer you are and how interesting your book is. Let’s talk about 5 different aspects of sample chapters.

1. The goal of the sample chapters: The main goal for your sample chapters is really two-fold: to highlight your writing skill and to prove to the editor that you have a book that readers will not be able to put down.  Your sample chapters need to convey as complete a picture of your finished manuscript as possible, proving to the editor that your ideas are able to be totally flushed out into an enjoyable piece of  reading, and that you are able to deliver on all the promises you just made in the rest of your proposal. If your proposal promises humor, make sure your sample chapters are funny. If you promise suspense, your chapters need to leave the editor hanging in anticipation.

2. How many sample chapters to include: This answer will vary depending on how long your chapters are. Most publishers will want to see approximately 25-30 pages of sample chapter writing, so you can work from there based on the length of your chapters to determine how many to include. Some publishers will specify how many to include, but not all do. If a publisher does specify, that number is usually 2-3.

Be sure to include entire chapters in your proposal. So, if 2 chapters causes your total page count to fall under 25, but 3 chapters pushes it over 30, include 3 (unless the publisher states an absolute maximum page count). With sample chapters, more is usually better than less in order to showcase your writing, unless it’s a lot more or it’s too much of the same thing. For example, if your book has similarly organized and structured chapters that also include the same type of information, just different versions of it, you can probably get by with just one chapter–just make sure it’s your strongest.

3. Which sample chapters to include: You’ll want to include those chapters that do the best job in accomplishing your goals from point #1.  Choose those samples that demonstrate your writing skills and provide the best sample of what your overall book will be like. Your chapters don’t have to be in the same order they will appear in your book, unless your book is organized chronologically, or you’re sending fiction chapters, then it may be beneficial to keep your samples in order. Otherwise, put your best foot forward, and make sure you lead off your samples with your absolute best work.  If you have a nonfiction book, it’s sometimes a good idea to include chapters from the beginning, the middle, and the end of your book if you can stay under the 25-30 page maximum.

4. When to include the entire manuscript instead of chapters:  There will be times when a publisher will ask to see the finished manuscript instead of sample chapters. (In my next and final post, I will discuss reasons why you should go ahead and finish your manuscript before your proposal, regardless.) Some of these situations include:

–when writing a picture book or early reader book

–if your book includes numerous illustrations integral to your book

–any kind of fiction book (YA, adult, or children’s). The exception here is if you are a known published author who has already proven that you can develop characters, conflict, plot line, etc. In this case, you can typically get away with a solid outline and a couple of sample chapters.

–a memoir or similar book

–any kind of book that will rely on suspense or emotional impact, in which case sample chapters won’t be enough for an editor to attain the full impact of your book

5. Where the sample chapters appear in the proposal: The sample chapter section is the very final section of your book proposal. Everything you have included in your proposal thus far is intended to get the editor excited about actually reading your work. Think of your samples as the grand finale to your story with all preceding paths of your proposal pointing toward them. This is why they have to represent your absolute best work. The last thing you want to do is let down the editor with sub-par sample chapters!

Next time, I’ll conclude this series on writing book proposals by looking at how to format, package, and submit the proposal for maximum impact.

The final two sections of a book proposal should be the book’s outline then the sample chapters. In this post, I’ll take a look at the outline–how to structure it, how long it should be, and what it should accomplish.

Chances are, if you’ve already written your book, you’ll have at least a partial outline written as well. So this part of your proposal should, in many ways, be redundant. Keep in mind when writing your book proposal outline that you are essentially writing the skeleton for your book to show how it is organized and how it will flow together.

For a nonfiction book, create a List of Chapters, where you give each chapter a catchy title (possibly also a subtitle) and the page on which the sample chapter can be found later in your proposal. You may also want to organize your book further into sections or parts. For my Grandparenting through Obstacles proposal, which is a book of compiled stories from other writers, the book was separated into four parts–each part representing a different obstacle that the writers in those sections had to tackle. For your nonfiction outline, include all your chapters as well as your introduction, but omit any back matter you’ll have in your book.

For a fiction book, create a similar List of Chapters. You may or may not have these chapters titled. If not, simply write the chapter number and the page the sample chapter can be found on. Again, you may want to break your book into sections.

Some books, like picture books, will obviously not lend themselves to being outlined. But any book that will be broken into chapters should have an outline to show the editor how your book will be structured. This may include everything from memoirs to how-to books, to YA novels to research books.

Content for chapter outlines: For nonfiction books, the outline will contain one or two brief opening lines that describe the goal of the chapter–what will the chapter accomplish? Use wording such as, “This chapter will provide…” Then, anywhere from one paragraph to a page can be written on the subtopics of the chapter, how it will be structured or organized, and if there will be accompanying charts, graphs, sidebars, etc.

Move your reader through your chapters with wording such as, “The next part of the chapter will show…” or “The chapter will conclude with…” which gives the reader a visual of how each chapter is organized. Each new chapter should begin on its own page, unless the outlines are very short, like maybe one paragraph.

For fiction books, each chapter outline will serve as a synopsis of what will occur in that particular chapter. Characters are introduced, the plot progression is shown, and the areas of conflict and climax are revealed. Although fiction chapter outlines only provide a brief summary of each chapter, they need to be compelling and attention getting if you want the editor to continue reading into your sample chapters. If the outline is boring, why would an editor want to read even more of the same boring story? Use descriptive verbs and catchy lines to hook your reader with each chapter summary.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the goal of your chapter outlines should be the same: enticing the reader to want to read your sample chapters. You also want to prove through your outline that you have enough material to actually produce an entire book. If each of your chapters looks too bare bones and could possibly be combined with other chapters, resulting in a book with only five chapters total, then the editor may not be convinced that you truly have a book-length manuscript ready for publishing.

After you’ve written your outline, spend adequate time revising it, making sure that you didn’t overuse certain words or phrases, that the chapters flow into one another with smooth transitions, that your organization is clear, and that each chapter is outlined concisely, yet interestingly.

Next time I’ll discuss the final section of writing a book proposal, which is the sample chapters.

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