October 8, 2011

I've moved my newsletter to Wordpress

Hello and thank you for visiting. Warner Coaching's new Wordpress site launched in October 2011 and I'm now posting my newsletter there. Read the latest HERE.

Thanks so much.

Brooke Warner
Warner Coaching Inc.

August 12, 2011

How to Hire a Proofreader, Part 3 of a 3-Part Series

This month’s newsletter is the final in the series about editors—and we’re talking proofreaders, the people you hire in the final stages of your project. You may have already employed the services of a developmental editor and a copyeditor by the time you hire a proofreader, or you may have even worked with several editors. This shouldn’t dissuade you from hiring a proofreader. Writers—and readers, too—are under the mistaken impression that editors catch every single error, and that if a book has been copyedited then it’s finished and ready for publication. Wrong.

What is Proofreading, Anyway?
Proofreading is a final pass on a document, manuscript, or piece of content. It’s different from line editing because a proofread shouldn’t entail substantive changes. A proofreader will note strange or wrong word choices. They will note redundancies (i.e., “This deep-felt experience resonated deeply.”) Now, it’s true that a copyeditor should have/might have caught something like this in the copyediting phase, but a proofreader is wearing a wholly different lens when they’re looking at your work. They are not reading for structure or logic like a copyeditor is. They’re looking for dropped words, and if a book is already formatted and/or designed, for mistakes a manuscript might contain as a result of being designed—things like bad breaks, inconsistent fonts, or wrongly formatted headings.

Why Do I Need a Proofreader?
I said in last month’s newsletter that if you only hire one editor, hire a copyeditor. It’s absolutely possible to take your manuscript to an agent or to shop your book without being proofread. I often see proposals and manuscripts that contain errors and it doesn’t make me want to write those authors off. However, if I’m looking at something that’s unsolicited, and the query letter and proposal are riddled with small errors, that’s a whole other story. Obviously good punctuation, spelling, and grammar make a good impression. If you’re unagented and trying to sell your manuscript directly to a publisher, it’s worth having a proofreader go over your work. If you’re self-publishing, do not skip the proofreading step. Most books, even after their proofread, STILL contain a handful of mistakes. You will be surprised and horrified by how many small things your proofreader catches, so be thorough and consider the value of that final few hundred dollars. After all, some agents and acquisitions editors are much more unforgiving than I am.

How Do I Work with a Proofreader?
Most proofreaders still mark up hardcopy pages. There are ways to proof online, and I still don’t like them as much as a good old-fashioned red pen on paper. So you can send your proofreader your content in the mail and they can mark it up and send it back to you, or you can consider an online method if it appeals to you. What’s important is what you do after you get your corrections back. If you do not know proofreading marks and you’re not editorially inclined, then you might want to consider working with your proofreader, copyeditor, or designer to implement the changes the proofreader made. All too often I see writers implementing perfectly good changes and introducing new errors because they don’t know any better. So be careful. Establish a process or this entire step might be for naught.

A Friendly Word of Advice
Be careful about hiring your best friend who’s a “pretty good proofreader” or your daughter who “passed the AP English test.” Unless they are trained proofreaders, they’re not proofreaders. They might be very skilled and have good instincts. They’ll probably even catch some errors. And, yes, if you’re not going to hire anyone then certainly have someone you know look over your pages for you. But understand that a good proofreader is someone who's going to go over your pages with a fine-tooth comb. And they will, I promise you, blow your mind.

Until next month,



July 21, 2011

How to Hire a Copyeditor, Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

Last month I wrote about what a developmental editor does. This month we’re talking about copyeditors (and next month will be about proofreaders). The decision to have your final manuscript edited is a big deal---and an important step.

What is Copyediting, Anyway?
Copyediting, also called line editing, is mostly about consistency, word choice, good grammar, and accurate punctuation. A good copyeditor will notice repetition in your work. They may also help you with any timeline issues or chronology lapses, and inconsistencies caused by things like changing people's names late in the game. They will generally do a base-level fact-check as well. They’ll make your word and punctuation choices consistent. In a well-copyedited manuscript, for instance, you’ll never see make-up and makeup. You’ll never see some sentences with series commas (I write, I edit, and I rewrite) and others without (I write, I edit and I rewrite). Copyeditors usually won’t point out issues in the story or plot unless you ask them to, or unless the issues are so glaring that they must. More generally, they’ll clean up your grammar and catch things you wouldn’t be able to catch even if you took a month away from your work and came back with fresh eyes. Why is this so? It seems to be physiological! People stop seeing the errors in their own writing after having spent so much time with it. (I've experienced this enough times myself to know it’s true!)

Why Do I Need a Copyeditor?
You must be copyedited. If you have to choose between a developmental editor, copyeditor, or proofreader, choose the copyeditor. You will be stunned by what comes back. The things copyeditors catch delight me to no end. It’s amazing to see that EVERYTHING contains errors, and it gives you a whole new appreciation for accuracy. If you’re already a perfectionist, knowing that you will have your work copyedited at the end of your process can be a weight off your shoulders. It can allow you to focus on the creative process of writing rather than worrying so much about sentence construction. If you’re not a perfectionist and don’t even know what a conjunction or series comma is, then by god, get your work copyedited!

How Do I Work with a Copyeditor?
Recently I was struck by something one of my clients said about her manuscript being out with a copyeditor: “I just figured I had to sit back and wait,” she told me. Well, not exactly. The most important thing to know about working with a copyeditor is that you can and should give them notes and establish boundaries around your own expectations. There are a couple reasons to do so:

(1) Many copyeditors can slip into becoming developmental editors in a snap. If you do not want to be developmentally edited, then you need to be clear that all you’re looking for is a line edit. There are plenty of copyeditors out there who will over-edit and take liberties if you don’t tell them that you want some parameters. I’ve worked with a fair number of authors who have been shocked (and upset) when they got their copyedits back. This happens most often with people who are writing humor, or writers who specifically are not striving for perfect grammar because their work is intentionally conversational. If this is the case with your manuscript, you MUST tell your copyeditor so that he or she doesn't edit out the funny, or edit out your conversational tone. Ask your copyeditor to edit a sample chapter, or at least a few pages. (Pay for this if you have to---it won't cost too much.) Make sure the editor’s marks make sense to you and that you agree with the changes they’re making.

(2) It can get expensive. A line edit is less time-consuming than a developmental edit, and you can further clarify the level of edit you want by asking for a bid (see calculator below). Ask the editor if they’ll read some chapters and offer an assessment before you get started. Yes, you will most likely have to pay for this, too, but it’s better to throw away $60-$80 than to spend hundreds, even thousands, on something you’re not happy with.

Heavy edit: Word count divided by 310 divided by 5
Medium edit: Word count divided by 310 divided by 6
Light edit: Word count divided by 310 divided by 7

This calculator can give you a rough estimate of how much time each level (heavy, medium, light) should take so at least you will know whether your copyeditor’s bid is in the right ballpark.

Finally, make sure you have good rapport with your editor. Talk to them. Again, pay them to read some or all of your manuscript and give you notes. In today’s publishing climate you can’t afford to submit unedited material to an agent or a publishing house. It can mean the difference between getting picked up or not---and as I said last month, if you’re self-publishing, being thoroughly and professionally edited matters even more.

Until next month,



June 18, 2011

How to Hire an Editor, Part 1 of a 3-Part Series

I know, apparently I’m into series this year. But as I started to write about how to hire an editor, I quickly began to see how many things writers have to consider before taking the plunge. So this month’s newsletter will cover hiring a developmental editor, and then in July and August we’ll talk about copyeditors and proofreaders.

What Is Developmental Editing, Anyway?
Developmental editing is about the big picture. It’s about structure and theme and content. It’s about understanding what your eventual Table of Contents is going to look like (or your plot, if you're writing fiction) and making sure that everything is consistent and actually makes sense. A lot of the coaching I do is developmental editing in that I walk authors through what’s working and not working with their manuscript. If I start working with someone early on in their process, I work with them to develop their Shitty First Drafts (SFDs) and to get their content on the page. It’s a process and it involves a lot of refining. For those writers who decide that they need a developmental editor later in the game, like after they've written their entire manuscript, the process is a little different in that it can involve an overhaul. A developmental edit can get a little messy at this stage, and a good editor is more important than ever because there are so many moving parts to hold. If you find yourself in this situation, knowing that your manuscript is a bit of a mess and needs more help than you ever anticipated, don't fret. There are good people out there who can fix almost anything!

Why Do I Need a Developmental Editor?
A developmental editor should be your collaborative partner. You can bring them on board at any stage of your writing process, but in my opinion, the earlier you have them reading along with you, the better off you’re going to be in the long-run. A developmental editor is looking for the big picture. Because they're removed, they can see things you can’t because you’re too close to the story. They can also help guide you in a direction you might not have considered. Your developmental editor should be someone who defers to your choices, but also someone you can trust, and who hopefully occasionally pushes back and has an opinion about your work.

How Do I Work with a Developmental Editor?
There are any number of ways to work, and many editors will have strong feelings about how they want to work, but I will throw out some food for thought here since you do have a say in your process---no matter what. If you are just getting started on a new book project and you know you do well with feedback and partnership, consider hiring someone upfront who can read pages as you write them and talk you through decisions about the arc of the work or your plot. Ideally, your editor will ask you to create a chapter summary document that the two of you can use as your roadmap in the process of completing your book. This is my preferred way to work with clients, and it ultimately saves both time and money as pitfalls and inconsistencies are averted along the way. If you already have a complete manuscript and realize that you need or want a developmental editor, you will probably need to pay someone to read your entire manuscript and give you notes. This is kind of like paying for a home inspection before you buy a house. You might not end up buying the house, but you aren't going to regret having paid a little bit upfront to know what you were getting yourself into. If you’re going to pay someone to read, make sure you get good notes. Make sure you agree with the editor's direction and ideas. Make sure you have good rapport with the editor and that you like the way they talk and/or advise you. This is going to be an important relationship, and you want to feel like you’re being heard, that the editor understands your story, and that everything they’re saying actually makes sense to you.

Is This Going to Cost an Arm and a Leg?
A developmental edit can get expensive. When we outsource developmental edits at Seal Press, we generally expect that it will take between 60-100 hours. Editors are charging anywhere from $25-50 an hour for this kind of work. This is why I advise getting started working with an editor early on in your process. Spreading out that kind of expense over the year or more that you’re writing the book is much easier to swallow than spending it all at once because you’re desperate and you need someone to save or fix your book. That said, you never want to shop your book to an agent or editor without having some sort of professional assessment. So if the price tag here freaks you out, consider at least getting your manuscript copyedited. I’ve met many smart people who felt that the fact that their best friend and mother read and loved their book was evidence enough that it was going to be a bestseller. The best piece of advice I can give you is: Don’t be naive. If you want to get published by a traditional publisher, you need to have your work edited. If you want to self-publish, it matters even more.

Until next month,



May 27, 2011

Going Shopping---for an Agent or Publishing House

Shopping for an agent or an editor is an important step on the journey to getting published. For a lot of writers, it’s the first time they’re getting outside feedback from professionals about their work; for many, it means that countless hours spent in silence, toiling away in solitude, is coming to an end. But when do you shop for an agent? How do you decide whether to shop for an agent or to go directly to an editor at a publishing house? What do you need to have complete before you approach an agent or an editor? And once you know you’re really ready, what are some best practices to keep in mind for keeping track of whom you’re pitching to? This month’s newsletter answers all of these questions and more.

When Should I Shop My Manuscript?

Novelists: If you’re writing a novel (adult or YA), do not shop until you are completely finished with your manuscript. Many agents only require a query letter in addition to your manuscript, but I highly recommend creating a chapter-by-chapter summary of your entire book to send along with your first fifty pages when an agent expresses interest in your work. This helps the agent get a sense of the arc of your narrative without having to read the entire manuscript. If the summary holds together well, they will be more likely to request your full manuscript.

Nonfiction writers: If you’re writing creative nonfiction, a memoir, or self-help, you can shop with a proposal and sample chapters, though some agents prefer a complete manuscript. Critical to shopping your nonfiction manuscript is a proposal. You must have a complete book proposal that includes some variation of the following elements: Overview, About the Author, Competitive Titles, Target Audience, Marketing/Publicity, Chapter-by-Chapter Summaries, Sample Chapters.

Tip: Don’t feel pressured to go out with your work before it’s ready. I have worked with writers who are so anxious to land an agent that they have gone out too soon---before their concept was completely secure, or before the proposal had been thoroughly edited or proofread. Agents are flooded with mediocre proposals. Don’t be one of them!

How do I decide whether to shop for an agent or go directly to a publishing house?

The answer to this question has everything to do with your expectations. If you think your work is commercial and you expect a good advance, you must get an agent. If you think you have a fairly niche project and money doesn’t matter that much to you, then you might consider shopping directly to a publisher. Some publishing houses simply do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, making the decision of whether you need to be agented an easy one. If you want to publish on Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or any number of bigger houses, you have to be agented. If you know that you would like to publish with a small house, and you absolutely feel an alignment to a particular house or editor, consider pitching to them directly.

Tip: Never pitch agents and publishing houses simultaneously. If you pitch to a publishing house and get a rejection, your agent will not be able to circle back around to that house to pitch on your behalf. You never want to be in the position of telling an agent who’s just agreed to represent you that you’ve stacked up a list of rejections from various publishing houses you approached before you approached them.

What do I need to have complete before I approach an agent or a publisher?

Novelists: First, you must have a finished manuscript. As I mentioned above, I also recommend completing a chapter-by-chapter summary of your book. Ideally, this is a three- to four-sentence summary of each of your chapters, which you save in a single document called ChxChSummary.doc. Additionally, you must create a query letter. The query letter is sometimes called a pitch letter, and it’s what you send to an agent or publisher when you want to ask them to take a look at your work. A good resource for query letters is Query Shark.

Nonfiction writers: First, you must have a complete proposal. In addition to this, you may opt to complete your manuscript. There are pros and cons to shopping a whole manuscript versus shopping on sample chapters, and some agents and editors have strong feels about which they prefer---and it varies from person to person. Like novelists, you also need to create a query letter, which you send to an agent or publishing house for the purpose of getting them interested in your work.

Tip: Do your research and find out the names of the agents and editors you want to approach. If you are a more casual person, feel free to address them by their first name; if you’re more old-school, address them as Mr. or Ms. Never address a query letter to “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir.” (I have been known to immediately trash letters addressed to “Dear Sir.”) Note that Publishers Marketplace gives you access to agents’ and editors’ full names, titles, and email addresses on their homepage. (Scroll down to the "Quick contact search," which gives you the option of entering name and/or company to find who you're looking for.)

What’s the best way to pitch my work to an agent or editor?

When you’re ready to pitch your work, choose ten agents you want to approach. Researching an agent is an important part of this process, so take your time. I recommend spending the $20/month it takes to be a member on Publishers Marketplace. Look at the deals and see who’s buying and selling what. Spend time on The Guide to Literary Agents and zero in on agents whose websites, mission statements, personal statements, and interviews you like. There’s a wealth of information about agents and editors online.

Start your pitching process by pasting your query letter into the body of your email. At the end of your query, you will ask the question: “May I send you the first fifty pages of my novel?” (if you are a novelist), or, “May I send you my complete proposal?” (if you are a nonfiction writer). Then you wait to get an affirmative response.

Once you get a “Yes, you may send me your first fifty pages,” or, “Yes, you may send me your proposal,” you follow up by saying, “Thank you for agreeing to take a look at my chapters,” or “Thank you for agreeing to take a look at my proposal,” and you attach the work as an email attachment. If you are a novelist, this is when you attach your chapter summaries document as well, and make sure to note that you are taking the liberty of attaching a chapter summary document in addition to the first fifty pages of your novel.

Tip: Name your document appropriately. If I wrote a novel called Book Blazer, I would call my document BookBlazer_1st50.doc or BookBlazer_Warner.doc. Or if my memoir were titled, Confessions of a Booklover, I would title my document Confessions Booklover_Proposal.doc or Warner_finalproposal.doc. Avoid sending your proposal to Agent Frank Gage and titling it FrankGage.doc.

What’s the best way to keep track of the agents and editors I’m pitching to?

I mentioned above starting with just ten agents or ten publishing houses. The reason for this is because this process gets very messy very fast. It may seem like it’s not a big deal to pitch to twenty agents, but what if they all get back to you right away?

You’ll want to create a spreadsheet that keeps track of each agent’s name, email address, and the date you sent the query. Then keep track of whether they respond yes or no to receiving your work. If they respond yes, note what date you sent them your material (attachments). The normal amount of time to wait before hearing back is four to six weeks. Once you hit the six-week mark, it’s completely acceptable to send a follow-up email.

Once you receive five or more rejections, send out to five more agents at a time, never having more than ten open queries at a given time. Once you receive notice that an agent is interested in representing you, consider the Five Questions You Should Ask Your Would-Be Agent.

Tip: Use your spreadsheet to keep track of what you like about the agents you’re pitching. If they represent an author you admire, write that down. If something they said on their website resonates with you, take note. It’s very easy to lose track of who’s who when you’re juggling multiple agents, so get organized early!

Good luck in this process. It’s exciting and terrifying, and hopefully somewhat comforting to know that everyone who’s ever gotten published before you has been subjected to this process.

Until next month.



April 28, 2011

Book Marketing, Part 3 of a 3-Part Series: Marketing/Publicity

This month we’ll be covering the third and final part of this three-part series, which to date has covered the Competitive Titles and About the Author components of the book proposal. With these two aspects behind us, we can now turn to “Marketing/Publicity,” arguably the most time-consuming and elusive part of the proposal. Marketing/Publicity, as I’m referring to it throughout this post, is a component of your book proposal, and it requires you to get comfortable using a little smoke and mirrors.

I’m not suggesting that you lie, but I am absolutely suggesting that you’re not required to deliver on everything you include in your Marketing/Publicity plan. This section of your proposal exists as a marketing tool, and its sole purpose is to make a case to your would-be agent or editor that you understand how to reach your readers. This is not the place to make a case for the fact that there’s an audience. You do that in another section of the proposal called “Target Audience.” This is the place to talk about where your readers hang out. It’s the place to make long lists of TV shows, radio stations, and magazines that might want to feature your work. If you have connections to any particular outlets, that’s wonderful, but again, it’s not required. The point of this section is to show the person reading the proposal that you get that you have to cast your net wide, and the more information you can pack in there, the better.

Tools to Drive It Home

1. Statistics: Use stats wherever possible to talk about your target demographic. Remember, it’s important to differentiate the Marketing/Publicity section from the Target Audience section. Here you’re using stats to say things like, “14% of family caregivers care for a special needs child—an estimated 16.8 million care for special needs children under 18 years old (National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP, 2009)” or “According to a 2005 article by Pew Internet & American Life Project, some 55% of adult internet users have looked for "how-to," "do-it-yourself," or repair information online, and roughly 1 in 20 internet users—about 7 million people—search for repair help on a typical day.” These are called “marketing points” in the industry because they make the case that there are real numbers to support your claim that there are people out there who will want to read your book.

2. Lists: I mentioned compiling lists of TV shows, radio shows, and magazines, but this also includes organizations, blogs, and ezines. Use any and all of these outlets as subheads in your Marketing/Publicity section to make an impression. If I were writing a spiritual memoir, for example, I might include a subsection that reads something like this:

Women’s interest magazines regularly cover stories about women’s personal journeys. Warner’s story will appeal to mainstream readers of the following magazines:

Ladies’ Home Journal
Ms. magazine
Woman’s Day
O, The Oprah Magazine
Women Today

You might wonder about the point of including this kind of research in your proposal, but again, it’s a marketing tool. Agents and editors need all the ammunition they can get to make a case for your book. Agents are selling to editors and editors are selling to their Editorial Boards and ultimately to the reps who in turn sell your book to book-buyers who sell your book to consumers. The more robust your Marketing/Publicity section, the better equipped your agent or editor will be to make the case that you’re worth taking a risk on.

3. Your personal marketing plans and/or connections: The Marketing/Publicity section is also the place where you drive home any and all ideas, plans, connections, and favors you might be able and willing to pull. This may include possible speaking engagements even if they’re not yet booked. You could say you’ll approach your local JCC, for instance, even if they haven’t formally invited you to speak. As long as it’s true, you can say that you have a connection to Julia Roberts and that she may blurb your book. This is where the smoke and mirrors part comes in. You’re not necessarily having to deliver on all the things you propose, but you’re putting forth all of the things you think you can do. Don’t say you’re going to start a blog if you have no intention to do so, but do say that you’ll blog every day if you’re willing to, even if you’re not currently blogging every day.

The Marketing/Publicity section of your book proposal is meant to show the ways in which you’re thinking big—bigger than you might be feeling even. It shows that you’re thinking outside of the box and that when push comes to shove you’ll step up to the plate and be a strong collaborator who’s willing to go the distance to help your publisher sell books. Publishers are increasingly relying on their authors to bring the readers, and understanding this as you’re creating your Marketing/Publicity section is key. You honestly can’t go too big. And this is intimidating to a lot of folks. I’ve seen more than a few authors balk at the idea of having to sell themselves in this way. But trust me, it’s worth it. Put in the time to create a solid presentation. Hire someone to do the research if you need to. Putting forward a flimsy Marketing/Publicity section gives agents and editors a good reason to pass on your project. And giving it all you’ve got can make the difference between getting representation and a book deal and being left wondering why you got a rejection.

Until next month.



April 20, 2011

LISTEN: A conversation with Brooke & Linda Joy Meyers about Creative Nonfiction

Last Friday I was invited to do another teleseminar with Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers.

This is a conversation about creative nonfiction and some of the points we cover include:
•What does this term mean to agents and editors?
•Does presenting your work as Creative Nonfiction give you a leg up or work against you?
•What’s problematic about Creative Nonfiction from a publishing perspective?
•Have public fallouts (like James Frey and Margaret Seltzer) changed the way publishers consider Creative Nonfiction?
•What do you need to know if you’re writing Creative Nonfiction and you want to sell it to a publishing house?

Thanks for listening.


April 1, 2011

Book Marketing, Part 2 of a 3-Part Series: Your Bio

Last month’s newsletter covered the importance of Competitive Titles in positioning your book.

I wrote that there are three marketing-related aspects to your book proposal that you need to understand and execute well if you want to sell your book in today’s publishing climate:

1. Your Competitive Titles section, which is about positioning your book
2. Your About the Author section, which is about marketing you
3. Your Marketing/Publicity section, which is about marketing your book

This month we’re covering #2, the About the Author section. This may seem like the most straightforward and easy section of the proposal, but if you’ve ever attempted to write your professional bio in this capacity you may already know that it’s actually quite hard.

The three most important things to know are:

1. Write your bio in the third person
2. Don’t leave out anything important, even if it feels like your being boastful or repetitive
3. Make sure your bio sounds like you

1. Write your bio in the third person
It’s important to know that it’s not a dealbreaker if you write your bio in the first person; it’s simply more professional to write it in the third. It also gives you some distance from the content, allowing you to list your achievements and toot your own horn with a little more recklessness.

2. Don’t leave out anything important, even if it feels like your being boastful or repetitive
There are many opportunities to promote yourself throughout your book proposal. It’s a good idea to work on self-promotional language in the query letter, the overview, the marketing section (which we’ll cover next month), and even in the Comparative Title section. But there’s no aspect of the proposal quite like the author bio section. So don’t waste it! Just because you’ve already said something in the query letter doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your author bio. Too often authors leave out important information, like their website URL, or a specific achievement, because they’ve listed it elsewhere. Remember, the book proposal is an exercise in repetition. Most editors are skimming through it looking for things that pop out. And if you’re not comfortable saying how fantastic you are, work on it slowly. Create a “What’s Fabulous About Me” document and save it on your desktop. Add to it over time and allow yourself to be outrageous. Then you can weed out what truly doesn’t belong. In this competitive market, editors are looking for people who stand out, so your author bio is not a place to be humble or modest.

3. Make sure your bio sounds like you
Whether you’re writing a prescriptive how-to, a funny memoir, or your literary masterpiece, you employ a certain tone and style in your work—and you’ve probably found your voice by the time you’re working on your proposal. Use that voice in your proposal, too, and don’t drop it when you get to the author bio. Too often I see lists of accomplishments without much personality showing through. And while I tell my clients not to lead with their hobbies, it’s completely appropriate---even advisable---to include what you love in the last graph of your bio—including where you live and who you live with (partner, animals, children).

Until next month.



February 26, 2011

Book Marketing, Part 1 of a 3-Part Series: Positioning

I’ve found that lots of aspiring authors are confused by what it means to market themselves. I often see proposals that are lackluster at best in the marketing components; or worse, proposals that claim there are no Competitive Titles (a big no-no). If you want to sell your book in today’s publishing climate, there are three aspects to your proposal that have everything to do with marketing:

1. Your Competitive Titles section, which is about positioning your book
2. Your About the Author section, which is about marketing you
3. Your Marketing/Publicity section, which is about marketing your book

For the sake of brevity, we’re only going to tackle one of these today---#1---and I’ll come back to the other two in future newsletters. I tend to choose topics based on where I’m seeing my clients struggle, and this month, in the small window I’m coaching on my maternity leave (see below for the baby photo), positioning is begging to be better understood.

What is positioning?

According to Wikipedia, “positioning has come to mean the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization.”

In book publishing, hours-long marketing meetings can be spent talking about positioning. The reason it’s tied to Competitive Titles is because those titles that are similar (note: similar does not mean the same) to your book help publishers figure out: a) whether your book belongs on their list in the first place; b) where your book belongs in the bookstore (ie, category); and c) how their publicists can pitch your book to media.

Understanding and knowing how you want to position your book before you shop it can increase your chances of getting a book deal. So, let’s look at a couple examples---one prescriptive and one memoir.

Example 1: Prescriptive Self-Help
One of my authors at Seal Press, Joan Price, came to me a couple years ago with an idea for a second book (Naked at Our Age is being published this spring). Her first book, Better Than I Ever Expected, was about senior sex, and though the book had performed well, our marketing department was reluctant to do another book solely focused on the same topic by the same author. Joan’s book, however, was equal parts sex and health, and the marketing team was very interested in a sex book that focused on health. This is where positioning came into play. It’s not that Joan had to write a different book. She, and by extension me as the editor, simply had to keep in mind that health was a key component to what she was doing. This meant more expert opinions. We floated the idea (though it ultimately didn’t happen) of getting an MD to write the book’s foreword to give it more health credentials. This small adjustment to the way we thought about and later pitched (read: positioned) Joan’s book was what allowed Seal to be able to publish it. It’s important to note that publishers don’t want replicas of books they've published in the past. They need and want fresh content. So if you’re approaching a press because they’ve done something similar to what you’re doing, help them out by being creative about your positioning. Make sure to tell them what’s unique about your book, and how it might be differently positioned from other similar titles on their backlists.

Example 2: Memoir
Memoirs are tricky because their positioning isn’t always as easy to manipulate. Although positioning has to do with how you talk about your book, the book itself does have to deliver. This example comes from one of my clients who wrote a spiritual memoir, and yet she and her agent positioned the book as both spiritual and as a Girl, Interrupted or Prozac Nation---meaning edgy, truth-telling, and raw. It was, in fact, a blend of all of these things, but in this writer's case, the positioning ended up being problematic for publishers. Many of the editors who saw it wanted the grittier, edgier book promised in the proposal, and some even suggested she lose the spiritual undertones. It’s probable that she could have reworked her book per editors’ suggestions and repositioned (and in her case cut) the book to make it work for a particular press. Or she could do what she did: decide that the spiritual aspect was integral to the work and to her story. This particular book still hasn’t sold (and the author moved on to writing another book), but I don’t think she regrets not having changed her book for other people’s vision.

When you’re in the seemingly enviable circumstance of having editors weighing in on your proposal and telling you they might be able to buy/publish it if you’d just . . . (fill in the blank), it’s important to be careful. This can be a great thing, and it can lead to being published. But it can also lead to you sacrificing the book you were meant to write. I’ve seen authors have their book hijacked by editors who were trying to make a book work. I’ve also seen authors get more closely aligned with their original visions for a book by editors who were trying to make it work. So it goes both ways.

So think about where you are with positioning, and do your homework on your Competitive Titles. Help your agent, and by extension your publisher, understand how you think about your book, and be open if they have other suggestions for you---but not to the extent that you sacrifice your original intentions or story.

Good luck, and until next month.



Postscript. There was no January newsletter in the midst of my new motherhood haze. James Lyons came into the world on December 22. Thank you for all of your well wishes. I’m back to work, as I mentioned, in a limited capacity, but I’m happy to have squeezed a February newsletter out just under the wire.

James Lyons