MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Sunday, March 7, 2010

GUEST POST: Winning Book Proposal

Linda Sivertsen








Are you avoiding your Competition section?

Maybe it’s because I’m an ex-athlete, but I love a good, healthy, vigorous competition. That’s not to say I don’t get insecure in life (cuz I do!), but give me a challenge, and I usually relish the opportunity to give it my all.

That’s probably why I’ve always had a bit of a sweet spot in my heart for the Competition section of any Book Proposal. It’s fun for me to compare and contrast existing best-selling titles to whichever one I’m selling. It’s like a puzzle, figuring out what made the masses fall in love with the former, and what I have to offer the marketplace that adds to what’s already out there. When I find the compelling, fresh, or cutting-edge ways to position my book, I get that much more excited about writing it!

This past weekend I learned that one of my most intelligent, hardworking, driven, and successful clients absolutely HATES this section! I was floored.

We were on the phone; I’d just read her proposal, and it was fantastic. Except around page 25, I hit the Competition section and the energy fell off a cliff. “Dead to bones,” as my son used to say in kindergarten. The summaries were dry and dull and in need of a total competition makeover.

It took me a second, but I gathered the courage to ask her why it felt so lifeless. “Oh. I have to admit that I didn’t write that section,” she said. “I hired someone else to do it. I didn’t even read those books!” I started laughing, relieved. “I thought this sounded different,” I said.

Turns out, she was over-the-top intimidated by this section for a few reasons (maybe you relate):

1. She didn’t want to criticize other titles (which, she didn’t realize, isn’t a good idea anyway)

2. She didn’t want reading the other books to cloud her “take” on her topic

3. She worried that she could even accidentally plagiarize thoughts or portions without meaning to

4. With both an agent and editor excited to see her pages, she didn’t feel she had the time to read those books anyway (a high quality problem).

While it’s IMPORTANT that you intimately know your competition (editors are BUSY and depend upon you doing this research for them), you may want to see what other people are saying about these titles, especially if you haven’t read the book(s) in a while. One suggestion that helped ease this client’s stress was to look at the readers’ comments for each title on Amazon. NOT to cheat or replace actually reading the titles herself (which she promised to at least skim). But many of the comments are well structured and insightful, and can highlight things you’ve missed.

Just be sure to run any comments by your own experience and intuition. You know, in case those “reviewers” didn’t read the book either!

To learn more, click here. www.WinningBookProposals.com/teleseminars

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