Friday, October 30, 2009

The Who, What, When, & Why of Book Proposals

When I teach classes in how to write a nonfiction book I always stress the importance of developing a book proposal first. I usually get the same reaction: “Is that really necessary?” The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes.” And here are all the reasons why.

What is it?
A book proposal is the most important and most difficult step in the book-writing process. It is your road map on what can be a long and complicated journey. A book proposal is a work in progress. It grows and changes until the moment you send it off to an agent or publisher or you decide it is as good as you can make it.

Why is it important?
If you are interested in conventional publishing or are looking for an agent to represent you, you must have a book proposal. It may range in length from a tight cover letter to a 25-page document, but it will contain the same information and is a nonnegotiable step in the process. A proposal answers the most important question: Do you really have a book, or should you just write an article and let it go at that? A proposal organizes your thoughts, helps you think through every aspect of your book, and provides the foundation for everything else you will write.

When should you write it?
Since this is a planning document, the proposal should be written, at least in part, before you write a word of the book. But there are authors who insist on constructing it after the book is finished, when they realize they are going to need the information it will contain. So, whether you write it first or last, eventually, you will have to write some version of a proposal.

Who should you send it to?
If you are planning to self-publish, you won’t send to anyone, though you will keep it and refer to it many, many times. If you want your book published by a conventional publisher of any size, you will send the proposal to a literary agent, an acquisition editor, or directly to the potential publisher. To find an agent or publisher who is interested in your subject matter or genre requires research. Sending it out to “the world” is a waste of time, energy, and postage.

What should it contain?
The form of your proposal may vary; sections may be in a different order; but no matter what its length or organization, an effective book proposal must answer these questions:
  1. Why are you writing this book? What do you hope to achieve?
  2. What is your book about (in one or two sentences)?
  3. What are your qualifications for writing this book? What is your specific knowledge, experience, or expertise in relation to your subject?
  4. Why is this an appropriate and timely topic? What’s the big picture, the context? The political or social environment? In other words, why this book, now?
  5. Who are your target readers? What do you know about them? What do they read, do, watch on TV? Where do they surf on the Web?
  6. How will your audience benefit? What problem will your book solve or questions will it answer? What will readers learn?
  7. How will you reach them? Where are they likely to buy this book?
  8. How big is the market? How many potential readers are there? How many books can you sell? How do you know?
  9. What else is out there on this subject? How is this book unique/special/important?
  10. How will you help to promote your book? Publishers need to know; you need a plan. What connections in the world will help you get the word out?
Those are the reasons you should think through and write a book proposal, no matter how you are planning to publish and promote your book. Everything you write will be used in the book. Nothing will be wasted. Nothing is more worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To subscribe or to follow? That is the question.

Every blog in the blogosphere (including mine) has a little button that allows people to subscribe. That means you will get every new blog post in your e-mail. I follow several blogs, but I learned the hard way that following is not the same as subscribing. First of all, when you follow a blog, there is the assumption that you will click on it, from your own blog, and read it with some regularity. I am really bad at that. So, when I became enamored with CopyBlogger, I just clicked on subscribe. Immediately, I was deluged with blog posts—as in drowning in them.

CopyBlogger is one of the best blogs out there on the subject of blogging. I never knew there was that much to say about the subject, but apparently, there is endless material. At first, I could picture Brian Clark, founder of CopyBlogger, slaving away night and day, churning out long, expert, information-packed missives on everything from “Don’t Let Your Blog Readers Touch that Remote” to “How to Be the Cool Kid (Even if You Weren’t One in High School).”

Pretty awesome, if you ask me. But, wait … the author of “Don’t Let Your Blog Readers
Touch that Remote” is not Brian Clark; it's Melissa Karnaze. And “How to Be the Cool Kid (Even if You Weren’t One in High School)” was written by James Chartrand. Therein lies the secret of how Brian Clark can drown me and 38,152 other people who follow CopyBlogger on Twitter. He has
other people—really good people—help him. They are either staff members or guest bloggers, but man, they are terrific!

After this little exercise, I was overcome with guilt at all the blogs I follow but neglect; I decided to visit a few. One of my favorites is Remarkablogger, a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is site, post after post. The latest one is called “Why you are not a service provider,” which of course, I stopped to read. What was interesting was that it opened by crediting Chris Brogan with the idea for this particular post. “Chris is so damn productive, I have given him a nickname,” wrote Remarkablogger founder, Michael Martine. “Henceforth, he is “The Broganator.” High praise from someone who is listed on as the blogosphere’s leading blog consultant. Before I went back to my list, I had to check out Chris Brogan. Wow. He’s good. No surprise there. I immediately added him to blogs I am following.

Next stop, writetodone by Leo Babauta, who also writes Zen Habits, which I do subscribe to. There he is, sitting in his favorite coffee shop with his a MacBook, writing “15 Basics of Insanely Useful Blogwriting.” Wait … I have to read it.

OK, that’s all pretty serious stuff, I know. So, I checked my other blog, which, in case you missed it, is called PRISM: Reflections on the many colors of life. There, I follow bloggers who are not writing about blogging but are reflecting on everything else. One is Engel’s Ensights by a former St. Louisan and a guy I truly admire. Marcus Engel is funny, profound, and positively inspirational. I never leave his posts without some new take on life.

Riehl Life, founded by artist, writer, poet, and musician Janet Grace Riehl, defies description. It is just plain beautiful, international in flavor, and mind stretching. You just have to go there to understand what I mean. Janet has enough talent for 20 people and fascinating friends all over the world. All of this is reflected in Riehl Life.

My House History is a charming blog by my charming and multi-talented friend, Kim Wolterman. I have a special feeling for this one, which began as an idea in one of my classes and has matured into a great website, blog, and a soon-to-be-published book (It’s at the printer as we speak). The book and the site were designed by my favorite graphic designer, Peggy Newman, so it’s a winner all the way around.

The newest blog on my follow list is Daysteps, a project conceived by four St. Louis women who are so busy they can hardly breathe. So, they asked themselves and each other, how can we live our best day every day and help other equally busy women to do that as well? Kelly Wagner, Cecilia George, Bobette Kyle, and Laura Thake started a company and created the most unusual, practical, beautiful daily planner I’ve ever seen. I’m a Franklin-Covey girl, but I must confess: I bought Daysteps for 2010.

So, what’s the bottom line here—subscribe or follow? In not sure I have the answer yet, but I am still intrigued with the question and plan to do some research. In the meantime, check out the ones I've mentioned.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to Publish Your Book on Kindle

It’s hard to remember that before 1995, no one had ever heard of, which was about to burst on the scene as an online bookstore. According to plan, it didn’t make a profit for five years. A decade later, by selling much more than merely books, it reported revenues of $8.5 billion. The numbers continued to climb. Few would argue that Amazon has become a phenomenon on the World Wide Web.

That’s the very big picture. For the avid reader and buyer of gadgets, it’s like being in a candy store. For an author, even a self-published author, it’s a marketing bonanza, if you know how to take advantage of Amazon’s many offerings—authors’ pages, blogs, reviews, list of books we’ve written and bought, wish lists, and things I haven’t discovered yet. And did I mention Kindle?

Kindle is Amazon's wireless eBOOK reader, which makes available more than 350,000 books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. (There are others on the market making a bid to “burn the bookstore down,” in the words of GIZMODO, the gadget blog.) A quick search unearthed digital devices from Sony, Irex, Iliad, Bbook, and Cybook. As a reader, you can download books on Kindle at $9.99 apiece and carry a virtual library around with you in your briefcase.

There had been other forays into the world of digital books years ago. They failed due incompatible hardware and digital platforms and competition that did itself in, but this time it looks like the whole eBOOK industry might just take hold.

That’s good news for readers who can afford the price tag. The least expensive Kindle is $300, and they go up from there. It’s good news for authors, too, since we can digitize our books and sell them in the Kindle store. I was thrilled at that news and immediately attempted to upload my book—attempted and failed. The complexities astounded me. Nothing worked. No format I might have devised could be converted into the format Amazon had invented. No desperate e-mails I sent elicited responses I could figure out or implement. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I never understand any instructions I receive from Amazon. Never.

After much frustration, I did what any sane person would do. I called the only person I know who seems to understand Amazon: Bob Baker, author of 55 Ways to Promote & Sell Your Book on the Internet. He’s also a musician, marketer, and Amazon guru. I nagged. I cajoled. I begged. He finally agreed to help me. I will skip the glitches and give you the gold. Here is how to publish your book on Kindle:

1. First of all, whatever format your book is in, you should ideally convert it to text only and dump the content into a Microsoft Word file. With eBooks, you have to let go of your need to control fonts, sizes, pages numbers, images, etc., mainly because readers can adjust the fonts on their electronic readers (such as the Kindle). So the text flows based on the user's preferences, not yours.

2. Next, go through the file and take out most of the formatting except for very basic attributes like bold, italic, and some larger font sizes for chapter titles and subheads. Be sure to save regularly. (Note: If your book is beautifully designed, this may be hard. But bite the bullet and do it anyway.)

3. Images within Kindle eBooks are tricky. Since the book's cover is on the sales page, it really doesn’t need to be in the eBOOK, itself. But if you want it, you should be able to copy and paste it back into the file. This is true of any other graphics in the original book. (Bob only had text files uploaded to Kindle; I did a lot of cutting and pasting. For some reason, my multicolor cover showed up in black and white; but I was so relieved to finally get it there, I left it alone.)

4. Once you have the formatting to your liking, save your Word file as an HTML web page.

5. Next, go to

6. Log in with your usual email and password, or start an account if you don’t have one yet.

7. Enter your book title, and click the little + sign next to it. Add a description, select genre categories and keywords, and upload a cover image of your book.

8. Then click the + sign next to Upload & Preview Book.

9. Click the Browse button, find your newly converted HTML file, and Upload it.

10. When you've done that and it finishes processing, click the Preview button.

11. To enter or change the price, click the + sign next to Enter Price.

12. Click Save Entries.

13. Click Publish up toward the right to activate the new version and price.

That’s all there is to it. Hard to believe, but true. Just follow the bullet points, and you, too can be a Kindle author. Be sure to preview it online and on a real Kindle, if possible. It’s the surprises that will drive you to distraction.

Thank you, Bob!