Monday, April 14, 2008

Book Smarts - A New Regular Feature at GWP!

Hi, Laura Mazer here. As Deborah mentioned, I’m a longtime editor and book consultant, and I'm very happy to be joining the crew over here in the girlwithpendom! Deborah has asked me if I’d answer some questions for her readers, and I will do my best. Starting with this first one Deborah has tossed out, which is a great one: What do editors really look for in book proposals?

Well, let's start out with the obvious: gorgeous writing, a fascinating book idea, more gorgeous writing. But of course. However, before I let those things get me invested in your book, I’m going to want to know 4 things:

1. Are you a Mac or a PC? Or, what's your authorial sensibility, your creative look and feel? Consider: Your proposal is your client deliverable. Are you going to give it to me single-spaced, Times New Roman 10, no subheads, no cover page? I get word-wall weary really, really fast, so I love when authors take it up a level—by boxing essential facts and impressive quotes, using subheads to draw attention to important sections, and writing in a voice that represents the book's narrative itself. If I see that a writer has put creative energy into the complete development of her proposal, I'll know she understands (though she may not actually celebrate—fair enough) that to succeed in our contemporary marketplace of ideas, it takes more than interesting words, or smart words, or important words, or gorgeous words.

2. Is your bio degradable? Your author profile can be even more important than your pitch and your writing sample. It tells the reader if you've been test-driven in the marketplace. Have you been published before, either with a previous book or in magazines, newspapers, or visible blogs? What's the big picture of your career: Is your book topic a whim or a cause? Can you articulate your expertise and your ideas in an accessible, reliable manner? Impress me with whatever you've got that's impressive about you—even if it's not directly tied to your subject. Show me you’re worth investing in.

3. What's your mantra? What's your "thing," your sexy sell, your elevator pitch, your conceit? Put it right there at the top of your proposal in three sentences or less, in a way that can make me think right away: "Yeah, sure, I see that! Cool." If you can nail your book description, really Ezra Pound it into the ground, you'll have a much better chance of hooking an editor's attention from the get-go. Editors—and agents, for that matter—have scary-big piles of manuscripts to review, so it's not likely they'll stick around for Vague or Complicated. And yes, go ahead and get your Hollywood on, you can definitely compare your book to others, as in, "It's like Eat Pray Love but set in Canada and drawn as a graphic novel." "It's like Rebecca Walker's Black, White, and Jewish but funny and with a sub-theme about CIA corruption." Etc.

4. Where's the ammo? We eds need big guns. In other words, some serious data points supporting your project's creative and monetary potential. Your editor is probably going to have to champion you and your book to a whole lot of people before she can offer you a contract, so give her as many selling points as possible. What comparative books have performed well, proving this is a popular topic? How big is your target readership, and how will your publicist reach those readers? Examples: If you're writing a parenting book, include a complete list of parenting magazines, websites, specialty baby stores, and other outlets that reach your audience. If your book is a sci-fi novel, include a complete list of all sci-fi conferences where your readers will congregate. Think like a marketer, and help your editor to do the same on your behalf. (Here's one more tip: Make it clear you're willing to pound the pavement to promote your book. Plenty of authors go AWOL after the book ships to the printer, and that's a drag for the marketing department, which is counting on you to be out there advocating for your work.)

On that note, I'll sign off. Readers: Send me your questions in comments! I want to hear what you're thinking about.

Cheers til next time,


Ralphie said...

That marketing thing is difficult. Is it really true that the authors of all those terrific, sensitive, gorgeous-writing-filled books I read were out there "selling themselves" to get their first book published? I guess so, but it all just seems so... sad.

LauraM said...

I entirely agree, Ralphie. Marketing CAN be hard, and luckily for all of us, there are still editors and agents in this industry who are committed to finding those terrific, sensitive, gorgeous-writing projects without needing all the buzz. But the reality of book publishing is that it's a narrow-margin enterprise. Want to guess how many books actually earn a profit for the author and publisher? It's fewer than you think, and the pressure is on editors to champion the books that will make money, not lose it. So if you can offer your editor terrific, sensitive, gorgeous writing AND a solid marketing pitch, then you’ll have a huge advantage. And take heart—these days, having a web presence is very easy, and that’s a great first start to creating a platform for yourself. Start a blog, post on others’ blogs, be active in your writing. Let the rest follow from there. —Laura

Jay said...

Great advice, thanks! It's a bit daunting to go back to my proposal and give it the overhaul you suggest but I can see how your suggestions will make it so much better.

Do you think it's worth hiring a professional look over/edit the proposal before I submit it?

Ericka said...

Hi Laura,
My problem has been Right Freeway, Wrong Lane.

I've been in the "industry" a long time, a solid midlist nonfiction writer. And, I'm good at the marketing thing -- I have website, blog, lots of PR experience and reading experience and radio and even TV -- but my career has largely been for my non-fiction.

And now I'm about to send my LITERARY NOVEL out there (in a month or so) and I fear that all that experience in the non-fiction realm won't translate to the literary world.

My "platform" has been parenting writing, and my novel is not that. (Though it is family-based.)

Suggestions for how to spin my experience? I'm afraid it will seem like Apples and Oranges.

Caroline said...

This is so helpful to read right now, Laura, and I'm sure I'll have questions for your future posts! As you know, I sold (modestly) one book, but now I'm working on something I'm hoping will have a broader audience, and your tips about presenting the proposal are perfectly timed for me. I'll keep checking in for more!

LauraM said...

Hi Caroline, I'm so happy you posted! How are you, and how is your book coming along? I'd love to hear. And do ask any questions, I promise I'll answer them if I can.

Ericka, hi! You know, I think you're underestimating the value of having had previously published books, even if they are in a different category. The trick is to use those books to show that you have a solid foundation as a publisher writer. Make sure that your bio includes any and all positive reviews, blurbs, and media coverage for anything you've published before. And keep in mind that unless it's a very high-level editor who is looking at your work, it's not likely anyone is going to expect you to have had previous bestsellers. Midlist is a good place to be ... dependable, successful. Just replace "midlist" with "backlist" (read: My books are STILL selling even after several years!), and you'll be surprised what kind of attention that can get you. —L

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