Getting Ready to Pitch
So just to sort of orient you where we are in the class at this point, kinda the halfway mark. We spent the first half really talking about all the different kinds of book ideas and ways of working on books that exist. Brainstorming, coming up with ideas, sort of seeing yourself as an author and all the different ways that might happen. Now, in the second half of the class, we're gonna get into the nitty-gritty of basically pitching a book to a publisher. How to write a book proposal and much much more all on the idea of like, from here on out, we're assuming you know what your book idea is and how you plan to make it on your end and now it's a question of finding a publisher. So, here we go on that journey. The very first thing you do, when you got your book idea and you're getting ready to pitch it to publishers is to research the competition. Publishers really care about what we refer to as comps. This is a little bit confusing because comps can mean two different things. Comp can s...
tand for competitive title, which is other books from other publishers, that are on a similar topic or from the same author even, or same subject whatever, some way competitive and similar. It can also be short for comparable titles, which means books that I have in-house at my publisher, that might be similar. The existence of comps is not a bad thing. Sometimes people think, "Oh no, someone else has "written a book on swimming, that means "I cannot write a book on swimming, it's already been done". No, in fact it's almost the opposite. Publishers want comps, both in-house ones and from other publishing houses so that we can get a sense of the market. So that we can see how previous books on this subject have done. It's easy for us to obviously see our own sales numbers on and our track record on previous publishing that's similar within our own publishing house. We also have access, there are publishing industry tools where we can get a rough snapshot of how other books have done, that we didn't publish. So we're using both competitive and comparable titles all the time, to help us make decisions about what to publish to help us make decisions once we are publishing something about how many copies to print out-front, all kinds of things. We look at this stuff all the time so it really behooves you, in that same way that if you're interviewing for a job, you wanna research the company that you're going into and make sure you understand what they do and what they're about. Knowing the publishing landscape that you're trying to enter, knowing that there's only one other book on this topic, there are zero books on this topic, there's 20 but your is gonna be a million times better and here's why. It's not a bad thing that other books exist. In fact, often publishers will wanna be able to point to one that has done well and say, "Hey, that one did well, maybe we wanna book "on that subject" of course, it can be negative if there's a subject that hasn't done well, but it behooves you to know that as well. Like, oh look, I'm sort of seeing these books exist but, and you can do some of this organically yourself, you're not seeing them in the bookstore, ever. You can find them on Amazon, but they're way down on like the seventh page of the results or something like that. If it seems like yes there's a book, but it hasn't done well, then really think hard, is that a gap, that you can fill to do a better book on that subject or is this something that isn't resonating with people? This is all stuff to think about in competition. You really wanna know every book that exists in your immediate category and I mean narrow, not every book on art instruction that ever was written 'cause that's insane, but if you're Jon Burgerman and you're doing really fun, playful projects, you wanna find other books of fun, playful art projects that give you a lot of projects. You wanna know all the books that are like that out there. We talked about, the importance of comps in the publishing industry and using both online and brick-and-mortar resources to do your research. Amazon is great for this because you can get all the sort of like, oh there are books like this! And you can kind of go down those rabbit holes of, people who bought this also bought that, and you can find out all of these sort of webs of connections between books and other online book sellers have similar features as well. But in another way, nothing really beats going into a bookstore going into a museum store, going into whatever kind of store it is you envision your book selling in and poking around on the shelves and seeing what you can find. So then your job at that point, once you know everything else that's out there and you have sort of a list of title is what distinguishes your project from the other publishing that's out there on this same topic? Sometimes it's a unique value proposition, something like, Oh it's a craft book and all the other books give 15 projects, but my book is gonna give 30 projects and it's gonna cost the same amount so why wouldn't you buy mine? It's better value for money. That might be one, if you're gonna offer a lot of content. Pros and cons, thinking an honest analysis, well that one might be better because of x, but mine is gonna be better because of y, doing a pro and con list in your mind. Specially if you find a book that's really close. You really wanna drill down into that. What is going to make people pick it up? We talked about that a little bit with my book. Is it the title, is it the cover, is it the tactility? The reason that books, contrary to gloom and doom assessments that people were making a few years ago, didn't go away with the advent of the ebook is that people like to hold them in their hands. People like physical objects, so thinking about the physical object, what's gonna make people want it and what's gonna make people buy it? Because there is a phenomenon where you're walking in a store, you pick up a book, you flip through it. This can happen with things that are funny, you're like, "Oh, ha ha that's is funny" and then you put it down and keep going. What takes the person from a momentary enjoyment to, I'm willing to put down my hard earned money to actually own this thing, either as a gift or for myself? And how are they just better than the competition? This is one of those places where, you gotta kinda own your confidence. You kinda gotta look and something and go, "No, I can do this better and here's why. "Here's how I can break down for you, publisher, "why yes there's another book on the subject, but mine "is going to be superior and here are all the reasons why". I'm a big fan of getting feedback. Sometimes people feel like they should keep everything top top secret, until the book is done and in your hands, but it's a little bit like what Lisa was talking about just now. Actually, sharing the right amount and getting the right amount of feedback can be both really helpful for you and your development process and it can get people excited about the project upfront. I would say, people that get feedback from our, first and foremost, people in real life, who you trust and who we would consider to be part of the audience. Say I have a book coming out in the spring, that I wrote, that's about being a parent and the people that I ran a lot of that content past were other parents. I wasn't gonna show it to someone who wasn't a parent 'cause they wouldn't care probably. Getting feedback from your real-life friends and family and connections who might be your readers, is sort of a first pass, and that's a nice safe space. 'Cause you show something to your mom, no one else needs to see it. It's private between you guys and you can get the feedback. If she's the audience for your book, perfect. Then next phase is with your online followers sharing a few images, engaging the level of interest and engagement in what you're seeing. Before you even say, this is gonna be a book project, just, putting out some feelers. Putting out like, here's, I posted three or four of the images that I'm thinking of in my mind as part of this book project on Instagram and, did they get a lot of comments? Did they get a lot of likes? Did they get way less interest than most of what I post tends to get? Not to say that that means you can't do the project. The last thing I wanna talk about is how much to weigh feedback in your creative decisions. I don't think we should be sort of slavishly tied to our phones in our pockets and saying, "Oh god "this got fewer likes therefore I can't do it". No, but I think using all of that information that we do have access to about what's resonating what's interesting to people, what's not interesting to people can sort of help us think about, alright I really care about doing this book about pancakes. No one else seems interested in pancakes yet, how can I get them as exited about pancakes as I am? Maybe I need to workshop it and tweak it and work on it a little more to convey my enthusiasm and get other people jazzed up the way I am. We got 'em all now both in real life and online, have access to these sort of focus groups that we can use. Okay, so here's another one of these pause moments. This is part one of a two part exercise. What I recommend doing here is, I'll give the instructions in just a second 'cause these instructions are, perhaps, a tiny bit vague. Once I've given the instructions, I recommend pausing the class, sitting down with your piece of paper, your computer, whatever. Doing this little exercise and then setting it aside and resuming the class and then in a little while we're gonna get to, part two of the same exercise. Save your work, 'cause we're gonna come back to it. For this part of the exercise, step one is to come up with a book idea. It does not have to be your baby. It does not have to be the end-all, be-all book that you're like, "If I could write one book "in my whole life, this is the one!" It can be, if you want it to be, that's fine, but it can also just be something that you thought of today, that as I've been talking, sort of crossed your mind, "Oh wouldn't it be fun to do a book about bluebirds?" sure, great, your bluebird book. Just use that, this is relatively like low pressure concepting exercise and we just wanna thaw something out and see how it goes. So get your idea and come up with a working title. Again, as I talked about with my book, that is probably not the title that you're gonna end up with at the end of the day, but a good working title that sums up what this book is. Write that down, come up with a subtitle. Most books, let's see if I can come up with an example here. Most books of this visual sort have a subtitle. This book is called the Wing Reader, the subtitle is An Illustrated Poem. I'm just gonna get one more example, just to make sure I'm clear about what a subtitle is. This one is called, Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk, the subtitle is And Other Truths About Being Creative. The subtitle gives a little more information because often the title of creative books can be a little bit like, huh, now what does that mean? So the subtitle clarifies, fills you in. So create a title, a subtitle and then I say do this as a Tweet, which is a little bit like, Oh come on, are we in 2013? Like, let's get over ourselves. But I think it's really useful. The old Tweets the 140 characters. Lock that in, describe your book. Describe your book idea in 140 characters or fewer. The reason I think that really tight word limit constraint is useful is it forces you to be concise. It forces you to clarify your own thinking so you're not sort of like, "Oh it's this book "and it's about this and that and the other thing "and some things and then I'd have this and da-ra-ra-ra-ra", really boil it down, what is the point? If you could only tell somebody 140 characters worth of information about your book, what would you want them to know?