Why We Need a Book Proposal for Every Book We Write

Book ProposalI’ve never met an author who likes to write book proposals, yet if we hope to sign with a traditional publisher, we need a book proposal—a really good book proposal. Aside from being tedious and time-consuming, parts of a book proposal are challenging, such as researching competitive titles, selling ourselves as the ideal person to write the book, and talking about our platform (a.k.a. how we can move books). If we hope to sign with a traditional publisher, we need a book proposal. Click To Tweet

To further complicate things, there is no standard format for the ideal proposal. True, there are some common expectations, but the list varies. Even the order is a matter of preference. To further frustrate matters, some people advise including items that other equally knowledgeable folks say to ignore.

Writing Book Proposals Is a Chore

This all conspires to make writing a book proposal a chore. Thankfully we only have to write book proposals if we’re going the traditional publishing route, right? No. The gurus say to do a proposal if we’re going to self-publish too. Yeah, like I’m going to do that.

However, I gained some insight into this when attending a book proposal workshop by Andrew Rogers at the Jot Conference. In addition to giving the most helpful information I’ve ever encountered on the subject, the act of writing parts of a proposal in class was insightful.

For the purpose of the exercise, I used my then current WIP (work in progress, which I’ve since published) Women of the Biblefor which I did not have a written proposal. Noting the title and subtitle was easy, since I already knew that. A synopsis paragraph affirmed my vision for the book, while describing the target audience was insightful. Though we didn’t have time for it, writing the hook—a compelling one to two sentences to sum up the book—would provide additional clarity. Last is the table of contents, which effectively is an outline to guide the writing. (I realized that to self-publish I could skip the other items of a typical proposal, including a detailed outline, platform information, author bio, and sample chapters. Yea!)

A Mini Book Proposal for Self-Published Books

Having these five key items established would help me write and hone any book I want to self-publish. Plus, they wouldn’t take too long or be burdensome to develop. Armed with this insight, I intend to write a mini book proposal for all my future self-published books to guide my writing and clarify my vision.

The items for a mini book proposal when self-publishing are:

  1. Title and subtitle
  2. Hook
  3. Synopsis paragraph
  4. Target audience
  5. Table of contents

This is not an overwhelming list and won’t take much time to pull together. Remember, this will make our book easier to write and the finished product, better.

What’s your experience writing book proposals? Do you see yourself writing a mini book proposal for your next self-published book?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Identifying Speakers in Dialogue: A Writing Q&A

Question: What is the best way to identify speakers in dialogue?Writing Q and A: Identifying Speakers

Answer: Many writers ask about this. I think the answer lies with your writing voice (style).

Here are some options:

1. Tag your dialogue with any descriptive word other than said, such as exclaimed, interjected, sputtered, yelled, and so forth. I learned this in Middle School and followed it for many years. Now the recommendation is to avoid doing this, as it singles lazy writing. I prefer to show the speaker’s emotion instead of stating it. For example:

Bruce narrowed his gaze and pursed his lips. “I can’t believe you did that,” he said.

I far prefer that to “I can’t believe you did that,” Bruce snarled.

I only use a descriptive tag if I feel it will make the passage stronger.

2. Only use said. While we need to identify the speaker, most readers skip the connecting word—or so I hear. Some people feel that using anything other than said is an annoying speed bump. Some people even recommend doing this for questions, as in: Then Gene said, “How long will you be gone?”

I generally use said when I need a dialogue tag, but I still use asked for questions.

3. My preference, however, is to use context to identify the speaker. In this way I minimize the use of dialogue tags and let the surrounding text show who the reader is, as in this exchange:

Ben stared at the book in his trembling hands. “You mean I get to keep this?”

Sue’s eyes danced. “Yes, it’s a gift.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“How about thank you?”

“I so appreciate this.” Ben blinked three times, fighting to hold back tears. “Thank you. This is wonderful.”

In this passage, there are no dialogue tags at all, but the context shows us Ben is the first speaker and Sue, the second. Since this is a rapid exchange, readers understand that Ben then replies to Sue, and she responds in the fourth line. Then to make sure readers don’t get confused, the fifth line confirms Ben is talking.

This takes more work to write, but it seems this is the current trend and strikes me as powerful writing.

What Do Readers Care About?

What do book readers care about?When book readers consider our book, few will bother to look to see who published it. They won’t care if a major publisher, let alone any traditional publisher, produced it. When it comes to publishers, there is little brand loyalty, let alone much brand recognition. The imprint is of no consequence. How the printed book gets into their hands or the e-book gets into their reader doesn’t matter to them.

Here’s what does matter:

Book Readers Care about the Cover

What they will look at is the cover. They will, in fact, judge our book by its cover. First impressions matter a great deal.

Book Readers Care about the Title

The title is critical, too. Depending on how they discovered our book, whether they see the title first or the cover first, the other element will seal the deal—or not. If the cover is great but the title, lame, they will dismiss it. Similarly, if they see the title first, a great cover will move them towards a purchase, while a bad cover will move them to a different book.

Book Readers Care about the Formatting

Next, they will look at the insides, whether thumbing through the actual pages or clicking online. If the layout looks “normal,” they will proceed. If it looks odd—even though they won’t know why—a red flag pops up.

Book Readers Care about the Content

If our book passes these first three screens, they may actually read a section or two. Great writing beckons them; bad writing or editing—even average writing or editing—sends them packing.

Only when they get this far will they consider buying it.

What is your experience when buying a book? What do you care about? Click To Tweet

Readers don’t care if our book is traditionally published or self-published; they care if our book is professional looking, well written, and interesting.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What Type of Book Will Yours Be?

My books are overflowing my shelvesA couple years ago, I wrote about “Six Types of Books in My Library.” In summary, this is how I view my books on my book shelves:

  1. Books Worth Keeping: I enjoyed them once, and I’ll read them again.
  2. Reference Materials: Books with information I want to keep.
  3. Books I Plan to Read: I really do intend to read them—someday.
  4. One Reading Was Enough: I enjoyed these books, but once was sufficient.
  5. Books I Started But Never Finished: Despite initial promise, I gave up on them.
  6. Books That Seemed Like a Good Idea: I’ll never get around to reading them.

Running out of space and wanting to downsize, I gave away all my books in the last three categories. Some of those books will be read, many will be thrown away, and the rest will be dismissed—again. At some point, my books in category 3 will likely go, too.

With self-publishing options so prevalent today, anyone can publish a book. The question is, what category will these books end up in? Too many will fall into category 5 and 6. Some may not even rate that high. That’s because too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work. Too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work. Click To Tweet

While we can’t guarantee that the books we write will end up in the “worth keeping” category, we can increase the likelihood through:

  • Careful writing and rewriting
  • Listening to feedback from critique partners and beta-readers
  • Hiring a copy-editor
  • Paying for professional cover design and interior layout

May your next book be one that people actually read and then keep to read again.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

How Do You Get an ISBN For Your Book?

How to get an ISBN for your bookISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a globally accepted standard for identifying books. Your book needs an ISBN if it is to be viable: most retailers require it, and it helps people find your book.

Probably the only reason not to have an ISBN is if you aren’t going to sell your book and don’t care if people read it. But if that’s the case, why write or publish it in the first place?

If you go with a traditional publisher, they will provide it. Easy peasy.

If You Self-Publish, You Must Get Your ISBN

Though you may be able to buy it from the various organizations that help writers self-publish, all ISBNs originate from Bowker. I suggest going directly to them.

Don’t be shocked, but a single ISBN costs $125, while a block of ten currently runs $275. Each version of your book needs its own ISBN, so you could quickly burn through five: hardcover, paperback, EPUB, MOBI, and PDF. Each version of your book needs its own ISBN. Click To Tweet

Some companies that support self-publishing buy ISBNs in bulk and then provide them to clients at a discounted rate. However, before you go that route, carefully investigate the details to make sure you are aware of any limitations. This isn’t to imply there are dangers with this option but simply a warning to check before buying.

There is more to learn about this topic, but this will get you started.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Balancing the Pure Artist with the Entrepreneur: Why Book Publishing Requires Both

The pure artist and the pure businessperson cannot survive apart from each otherLast week I shared that the three parts of publishing a book were writing it, producing it, and marketing it. Each of these aspects has a creative element and a business element. Balance the pure artist and the pure entrepreneur in a respectable tension.

The pure artist says, “Let me create without interference. I don’t care about commercial viability. Just let me be me.” The pure artist will likely starve or need to get a day job.

The pure entrepreneur says, “I will only do things that will make money, the more the better. I’ll follow trends and jump on any bandwagon moving in the right direction.” The pure entrepreneur may put food on the table, but he will sacrifice his soul in the process, and her writing will have no heart.

The pure entrepreneur doesn’t like the pure artist. But…

The pure artist and the pure entrepreneur cannot survive apart from each other

They must embrace the skills of each if there’s any hope for success —however they choose to measure it.

  • Writing the book is where the artist flourishes, yet the entrepreneur cannot be excluded from this phase. The art of organizing words must be guided by a knowledge of what is able to be reproduced and of potential interest to the buying public.
  • Producing the book has a creative element, but the entrepreneur should direct it. Yet the entrepreneur must not remove the artist at the risk of producing a bland, boring book.
  • Marketing the book requires mostly the entrepreneur, though the artist needs to add his or her flare, embracing activities that produce energy and avoiding those that are draining. Yes, the author must market, but the entrepreneur needs to guide activities to what the artist can reasonably handle. If marketing kills the artist, there will be no more art. Publishing a book requires we be an artist and an entrepreneur, embracing both and ignoring neither. Click To Tweet

Publishing a book requires we be an artist and an entrepreneur, embracing both and ignoring neither. May your artist side hear your entrepreneur’s voice, and may your entrepreneur side listen to your artist’s heart. That’s how to publish a book.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

The Three Parts of Book Publishing

Book PublishingThis blog focuses writing and book publishing. There are three aspects of publishing a book. They are:

1. Write the Book

First we need content, not just good content, but really great content. We write the best we possibly can, and then we seek help from others to make it better: critique groups, beta readers, and editors. While it’s critical to ask for input about our book, it’s also critical to not implement every suggestion made. It is our book, and we need to discern which advice to take and which to skip.

2. Produce the Book

Producing the book is simply putting it a form for distribution, such as an e-book (which formats?) or print book (hardcover or soft?). Other considerations are cover design, which is critical, interior design, back cover copy, and other supporting elements, such as an ISBN number.

3. Market the Book

The final step is promoting the book. Whether we self-publish or traditional publish, it is largely up to us to market our book. While others may put forth some effort to help. The success or failure of our book sales hinges on our ability to market it. Click To Tweet

The success or failure of our book sales hinges on our ability to market it. Having a platform from which to promote our book is essential and something most writers lack—while all writers wish for a larger platform.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What Are Some of Your Editing Pet Peeves? A Writing Q & A

Question: I know that in your work you edit a lot of content. What are some of your editing pet peeves?

Writing Q & A: Editing Pet Peeves

Answer: I like this question. It gives me a chance to vent a bit.

Here are some things writers do that really irk me. They are my editing pet peeves:

  • Writers who don’t spell check their work. This is so easy to do. Why do they skip it?
  • Writers who use “creative formatting” of their text, with bold, italics, underlines, and combinations thereof. Along with this are UPPER CASE phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs. I need to undo all this before I can start working on their submission.
  • Writers who use multiple exclamation points and question marks, sometimes in combination, to end a sentence. Use just one but only when it’s appropriate. And before adding an exclamation point, consider whether it belongs or if a period is correct. Most people over use exclamation points. When in doubt, use a period instead.
  • Writers who slap something together and assume I’ll fix all their mistakes. That’s lazy, and sometimes it’s more work than I’m willing to do.
  • Writers who send a draft and ask me to let them know what changes they should make. It’s their job to send me their best work and not expect me to do it for them. And if they really have doubts about their work, then they’re not ready to be submitting their writing.
  • Writers who request feedback on their writing. While I understand their desire for feedback, so they can improve (we all want that), it should come from other sources, and not a person who expects to read a finished piece. (From a practical sense, whenever I’ve tried to give feedback, it’s never gone well. So even when I want to help someone who asks for feedback, I know from experience to not try.)
  • Writers who miss deadlines. Sometimes we can’t help asking for more time, but usually it’s a result of poor planning and a lack of priority. Besides, it’s disrespectful. Without deadlines, nothing would ever be published.

I’m more than willing to overlook a few of these mistakes and be extra tolerant of new writers, but when these things occur too often, it’s often easier to just reject the submission.

I hope this helps.

Whew, I feel better having gotten editing pet peeves off my chest. Thanks for asking.

Lessons From a Published Author: It’s Never a Sure Thing

A published author has no guarantee of selling their next bookA couple years ago I blogged about a young adult (YA) book from a published author that I really, really, really liked—and the author honored me by leaving a comment to my post. Since then we’ve shared a few online interactions, with her offering careful communication and me trying hard not to come across as a creepy fan who is cyber-stalking her.

Ever since reading her first book, I’ve clamored for her next YA one.

Since then she published three junior (mid-grade) titles—all were on my Christmas wish list—and a fourth book in the series had a release date. She also has a children’s picture book scheduled for publication.

Being a Published Author Carries No Guarantees

The long awaited YA follow-up was written and waiting.

Despite success with her junior titles, her publisher declined the new book, citing too low of sales on her first YA title. Her agent showed the book to other publishers, but none were willing to move forward with it.

To my dismay, the book I long to read was languishing on her computer hard drive. Understandably discouraged, she was considering self-publishing it as an e-book.

I think her publisher was making a huge mistake. In a few years the fans of her junior series will move on to YA books. Though she currently had one title waiting for them, two (or more) would be better.

Low sales on just one book can hurt our chances of another one being published. Click To Tweet

Aside from my distress over not being able to read this book, I see two lessons in this.

1. Low Sales Hurt

First, low sales on just one book can hurt our chances of another one being published. That’s a sobering thought. Today’s publishing world is increasingly risk adverse, and it doesn’t take much for them to say “no.”

2. Be a Hybrid Author

Second, I think every author—even a published author—should pursue a dual track of traditional publishing and indie-publishing, that is, to be a hybrid author. If one option doesn’t work, perhaps the other will. If both options bear fruit, all the better.

I encouraged my writer friend to self-publish her YA book. I was hoping she would.

[Update: Robin Mellom did indeed self-publish her YA book. It’s Perfect Timing.]

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Long-Lasting Books: How Long Will Your Writing Last?

Write long-lasting books

Will Your Writing be Around in One Hundred Years?

Four years ago, my mom found an old book in her basement. My great grandfather’s name was written on the inside cover, along with his address in Chicago. The book was published in 1914. Yes, that’s right, 1914—over one hundred years ago. That’s a long-lasting book.

We need to make the words we write today count, words that will last, words that will inspire future generations. Click To Tweet

My mom had never seen the book before. We don’t know why my father kept it, or the motivation of his mother before him. Yet we have the writing of J Hudson Taylor (a missionary to China, if you’re interested) passed down as a family heirloom. The book, by the way, is Union and Communion. Amazingly, it’s available today from Amazon as a Kindle download or used paperback. The copy I hold is a third edition hardcover (the only option back then).

Write Long-Lasting Books

This begs a thought-provoking question: How long will our writing last? Will the book we write today be around in one hundred years? Will we writing long-lasting books?

I think every writer hopes their work will outlive them. I know I do.  That’s why we need to make the words we write today count, words that will last, words that will inspire future generations.

Then maybe, in one hundred years, people will still be talking about, selling, and reading our books, out long-lasting books.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Discussing the art of writing and the business of publishing

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