publishing advice


Whether you self-publish or work with a publisher, it’s important to know how to create copy for your book cover that is compelling and will inspire and entice your reader to take action. There isn’t a lot of room on the back of a book, especially when you add publishing information such as an ISBN, an author bio, or testimonials from other authors, so the copy has to be tightly written without excess verbiage. I highly recommend you read or reread The Elements of Style, a short and brilliant book by Strunk and White, which shows on how to prevent yourself from using three words when one will do. If your book will be a hardcover original, you’ll have more space for text than if it’s a paperback original: You’ll actually have two panels that the reader accesses when opening the cover as well as the back of the jacket (sometimes called the back panel). However, most books today are paperback originals, and hardcovers often use the back of the book for an author photo and/or testimonials for the book or the author, so you might be stuck with just the two vertical panels for text.

 

Here are some tips for writing copy for book jackets or covers that will sell your book to readers:

 

Research. Before you start to write, read ten book descriptions on the back of books that would appeal to your intended audience. Get a feel for the amount of detail and how the writer avoids spoilers in winding up the description and weaves in the themes. Look at the kinds of promises made in the copy. Can your book make similar promises?

 

Sell it, baby. This is advertising copy, not editorial copy. Don’t go into too many details about plot or concepts. Use strong, compelling verbs and nouns. Some of the books I have on my desk use language such as “embark,” “initiate,” “embrace,” “address,” and “achieve.”

 

Highlight your key ideas with a bullet point list. If yours is a work of nonfiction, think about using bullet points in your description. Start each bullet with strong words, whether verbs or nouns, pay attention to parallelism. If you have a list of nouns, be consistent and don’t mix a verb into your list: “practical solutions,” “advice on,” and “7 strategies” should not be mixed with a bullet point that starts with a verb, such as “Learn ways to…” If your bullet points are incomplete sentences, rewrite the others to make them all incomplete for consistency. Notice the parallelism in this article: I start every tip with a strong verb phrase in boldface, and use full sentences.

 

Watch the hype. Don’t gush about your book or yourself to a degree that might turn off readers. The rule is “know your audience.” Maybe your followers will be excited by terms such as “earth-shattering” or “truly unique” but maybe you are better off with “groundbreaking” and “original” and “fresh approach.” Remember, too, that you can’t qualify “unique,” which means one of a kind. Nothing’s “very one of a kind” or “more one of a kind,” so don’t use “very unique” or “more unique.”

 

Work your expertise into the description. Don’t just give your name and any degrees you have. You might write something like “Joe Smith, a lifelong spelunker and founder of CaveExplorers.com, the #1 spelunker’s site on the internet…”

 

Grab ’em up front! Consider asking a question in the first line or setting up a very short example that will grab your reader’s attention instantly—or, make a starting statement. You want the reader to have an energetic response rather than a lukewarm one.

 

Follow a “Wow! Okay… Wow!” structure. Structure your description by grabbing the reader, then explaining what’s in the book and who you are, and ending with oomph. Of course, you want your description to be engaging and energetic, too, as I’ve explained, but the energy of the reader naturally dips when you’re listing the facts about what’s in the book. Think about how a musical performance will start with an energetic song, include quieter ones in the middle, and end on an energetic note.

 

Check your spelling and usage. Don’t rely on the eye, I like to say. Actually use spellchecker software, and if you really want to be picky, consult Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition (the standard dictionary in book publishing) to make sure you’ve styled every word correctly (groundbreaking not ground-breaking, for example). Be consistent throughout your text (for example, don’t mix “soundboard” and “sound board,” both of which are acceptable—choose one and stick with it). Don’t use terms people might not know unless you define them (for example, people often confuse “i.e.” and “e.g.” so it’s better to use “for example”). Have someone else who is good with grammar, spelling, and mechanics proofread your copy and look over it yourself several times to catch usage errors (such as “effect” for “affect,” which spellchecker software will overlook). Be as nitpicky as you can.

 

I hope these tips will help you make your book jacket copy sing!

 The dog days of August can be the most frustrating for a writer because it’s next to impossible to get the attention of an agent or, if a proposal is on submission, an editor. Rather than drive yourself crazy waiting for a response to your e-mail or snail mail, here’s what to keep yourself from feeling frustrated:

1.   Consciously choose to be patient and not to nudge. If you push an agent or editor for a response, you predispose that person to look for reasons to reject it. Agents and editors hate feeling pressured, and it’s always easier to say no than it is to say yes. Don’t prejudice them against your project. Focus instead on getting someone else’s interest and making your book an even hotter property. Light a fire under the pokey agent by sending it to other agents, or have your agent submit it to other editors. That way, you may be able to send them the message, “I have interest from someone else so please let me know whether you are interested as well.” That is much more likely to get them excited than the message a nudge note really sends: “Can you please get back to me? I’m feeling sad and anxious because no one has expressed interest in my project yet”!

 

2.   Build your platform. You could twiddle your thumbs, agonize, vent to your fellow writers, your partner, and your pet, or call a psychic to get her take on your proposal’s prospects, but here are some more practical ways to spend your time right now. All will improve your chances of getting an agent and book deal:

 

–Offer to be a guest blogger on a popular blog.

–Write more blog pieces. Tease them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

–Write a free “service” article (how to do such-and-such, 7 tips for such-and-such) and submit it to a free articles Web site.

–Comment on major blogs and include your URL.

–Do some Tweets or Facebook posts. Drive people to your Web site and make sure your site encourages them to give you their e-mail address so you can someday send them notice of your book’s publication.

–Get bookings on radio shows (traditional or online shows are always looking for guests). Doing live radio is an art so you might as well start practicing it now. Again, drive people to your site and/or Facebook page or Twitter account.

–Set up some speaking engagements.

–Make some informational videos and post them online and on your website.  Tweet about them and feature them on your Facebook page, and announce them on LinkedIn.

–Learn more about other forms of social media that are becoming more popular and start thinking about whether you might benefit from investing time in using them.

–Do a social media campaign to boost your number of followers.

Remember, if you get a publicity break, or suddenly have a big uptick in followers, you can send a nice note to the agent or editor saying, “I just thought I’d let you know that I’ll be on MSNBC tomorrow/have a blog piece on Psychology Today this week/got 2000 new Twitter followers/stripped for Playboy magazine to build my “healthy body” brand.” Think of all the many ways you can draw attention to your brand at this critical point. (I’m not kidding about the centerfold: When I was an in-house editor, one of my authors, who wrote guides to improving intimacy, appeared in a major men’s magazine half-clothed, the month of our annual sales conference. That certainly woke up the sales force! My authors with similar books in the pipeline were intrigued by this bold move, but decided on other means for self-promotion!)
Envision the sale. Imagine that you have gotten the call from the agent or editor saying, “This is the greatest thing EVER!” Visualize every moment of that call…yourself on a major national television show talking about it as the host stares at you, enraptured…your book’s title on the top of the New York Times bestseller list…you speaking to an audience of aspiring authors, telling your story about how you, too, thought at one point that there was no hope but then the call came and now look at you. Don’t feel embarrassed by this exercise. Many successful authors have envisioned their success and infused their fantasy with the emotions so that it felt real, only to have that success play out in reality.

Many aspiring authors contact me about help with writing a book based on what they’ve learned as a result of their experiences. They want to help others by sharing their story, wisdom, and advice in a book but don’t know how to start to write a memoir, novelization, or self-help book based on their experiences. I help them by consulting and coaching them (learn more HERE), ghostwriting their book (learn more HERE), or doing developmental editing on their manuscript (details HERE). The work often starts with a one-hour consultation call.

Now, I am all for writing your book solely for the sake of catharsis and self-expression. I think more people who are in a healing process should write about their experiences, as an act of self-empowerment. That said, writing for an audience that has its own needs is different from writing for yourself. Don’t confuse the two. Your needs and desires have value, but they are not always the same as a reader’s needs and desires.

Maybe you already are certain that you want to write a self-help book and weave your story, and other stories, into the book and use it as a sort of credibility card for your work but also as a key tool for your clients and followers. Maybe you feel strongly that a memoir is the best way to get your story out there and inspire and educate others.  If you’d rather not use real names, or you would like to explore what might have happened instead of just what did happen, you can think about turning your story into a novel. You can also consider writing a book of life lessons, with advice based on your story, and don’t offer any specific advice to readers.

If you’re struggling to conceptualize your book, here is how to get started.

* Write. Notice I didn’t say “write your book.” Some people free write until they reach hundreds of pages of material and there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s easy to get attached to what you’ve written, and what’s on the page may not work as the basis of your book. Start small. Write a blog piece, a scene, or a chapter. Play around with it: Write it in first person, then second, then third. Write it as fiction or as a memoir, or as an anecdote illustrating a point, like you would find in a self-help book. Explore your story and your message from various angles to get a feel for how you want to tell it.

* Look at your goals. What audience would you like to reach, and why? What other types of books are they reading? Where do they hear about those books? Do they buy books based on advertisements, word-of-mouth recommendations, Facebook posts, bookstore displays–what is the main way of reaching them? Why do they trust the authors of those books? Are they drawn in by the power of the author’s personal story? Are they impressed by the author’s work as a therapist or coach? These are the kinds of questions that will help you to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader and know how to write for that individual and how to get him or her to know about your book. You’ve thought about what you want to write. Now think about who wants to read it.

* Look at comparative books. Know what other books and information are out there. What is your fresh idea, take, or spin? If you know you want to write a self-help book on a particular topic, be aware that your idea probably isn’t completely unique but that’s okay. Give it your own take.

* Check in with your gut. Does it feel right to do a memoir, or even a novelization, of your story? Do you want to share life lessons, or give advice? Do you want to create exercises that will help the reader to learn what you learned, only in a more pleasant way? Get in touch with your instincts about the book you are meant to write–and think about whether you might be meant to write more than one book!

How do you get started writing your story?

* Consider collaborating or procuring a foreword. I knew I wanted to write a practical guide for parents whose children had sensory processing disorder because it was incredibly difficult to access that information back when my son who has SPD was two years old and newly diagnosed. There were NO practical books that could help me figure out how to brush his teeth or calm him when he was having a sudden tantrum. I teamed up with my son’s occupational therapist, who was not only treating him for SPD but who had also done some writing herself, to create Raising a Sensory Smart Child, a book that offered two valuable perspectives and appealed to parents and professionals. If you’re thinking you don’t have the right credentials to write your self-help book, find someone to team up with as a collaborator, or ask this person to write a valuable foreword for your book. I ended up with both a collaborator and a foreword writer with an important name in the special needs community (Temple Grandin).

* Start your outreach now. Begin building your author platform. Get a Facebook page and a blog if you’re going to create a memoir or a nonfiction book. If you want to write a novel, start writing regularly and working with a writer’s group to receive and give feedback and support (your fellow writers may well become your loyal readers!). If you’re blogging or on Facebook, ask your followers for feedback. Ask them questions to get them involved in a conversation, and respond to their answers. Encourage them to subscribe to your blog, like your page, and give you their email addresses so you can contact them in the future (you should offer a free gift, or a just a promise to send them information but never to sell their email address to anyone). Think about building a community of followers who talk among themselves and to you about your topic. These followers will not only buy your book when it’s ready, but they will also spread the word about the book or any other products or services you want to promote–not because you pay them but because they believe in you and your work and message. You can learn more details about starting to build your author platform on Facebook in my new eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.

* Make a habit of learning a little more every week. Notice I didn’t say make this a goal: I said make this a habit! Every week, schedule time to learn more about your topic and your audience and more about using social media, creating webinars and teleseminars, marketing, doing workshops and lectures, and getting the word out about your work and your message. If you don’t make time to do it, you will become overwhelmed by all there is to learn once your book is actually written. Set some boundaries so you don’t get sucked in to using social media so often that you don’t get any writing done–it can be addictive!

* Talk to a book publishing consultant or developmental editor early on in the process. It can be invaluable to toss ideas around with a knowledgeable publishing insider. It’s energizing to have a clear picture of your overall strategy and clarity about what you can do write now to get started creating your book. If you are going to contact me, do give me some details about your book project and whether you’re leaning toward self-publishing or building your platform then aiming to get a book deal. We can schedule a brainstorming session and focus in on your brand, your plan, and your action steps for getting closer to your goal right now. Email me at Nancy at nancypeske dot com and check out the services page on my website, www.nancypeske.com.

Did you miss Let’s Talk About Books today? I addressed:

–getting over the perfectionism that keeps you futzing endlessly, and why this will trip you up

–why you should NOT try to get instant feedback on what you’ve written

–the stages of book production in a traditional publisher: How many changes can you make before “it’s a wrap”?

–using YouTube in your publicity efforts and to sell yourself to TV producers

–why you don’t have to be a celebrity or have a huge platform to sell a book these days

And more!

You can listen to the archive at LET’S TALK ABOUT BOOKS on Blogtalk Radio at any time; it runs 30 min.

Last night’s American Idol was a wonderful example of what happens when an aspiring artist looking to achieve success takes the risk of saying “no” to the so-called experts and trusting in his inner vision.  Both Casey Adams and James Durbin rejected the well-meaning, “play it safe” advice of musical consultant Will I. Am and music producer Jimmy Iovine and performed songs they felt were right for them regardless of how big of a risk they were taking in the competition. The results? Check out the reactions of the audience and the judges (click on their names above to reach their April 13, 2011 performances of Nature Boy and Heavy Metal respectively).

As a writer, you have to accept that staying true to your vision may mean saying no to a potential book publishing deal. It may mean that a literary agent will drop you from her roster.

Let me tell you just one more encouraging story. On request from an in-house editor who knew our work, my coauthor and I wrote a proposal for a book called Mood Movies, which was a guide to something called “cinema therapy.” The editor loved it but later informed us that his in-house colleagues discovered that “cinematherapy” is a genuine form of therapy so therefore, in their opinion, they couldn’t possibly publish a humorous book about cinematherapy by two women who were not clinical psychologists. Our literary agent at the time felt the proposal was unsalable too, although he did say that as a favor to us, he’d send it to a few houses just in case he was wrong. We stuck with our proposal, found a new agent, found an in-house editor whose book publishing house loved it, and the rest is history. Cinematherapy has sold over 340,000 copies in all editions through out the world and we sold TV rights to Women’s Entertainment (formerly Romance Classics) which turned it into a prime time television show.

We could have been wrong. It’s possible that no agent would have agreed to represent the book project. And it’s possible that no publishing house would have bought it—in fact, we were turned down by every house but one. My coauthor and I could have avoided the terrific term “cinema therapy” (or “cinematherapy”), which we’d mistakenly believed was something we coined, in order to avoid confusion with actual cinematherapy—but we didn’t. We stuck with our vision, to great success. And wouldn’t you know that actual therapists ended up using and recommending our book to their patients?

So if you have a strong vision and your gut instincts tell you to stick with it despite the very well-meaning advice or feedback from professionals who supposedly know better than you do—go with your gut.

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show

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