jeudi 14 décembre 2006

The book


looking at the most obvious part
of a publisher’s decision-making process and how
you can maximise the saleability of your product.
Only a quarter of the publishing decision will
be based on your book proposal. Publishers are
often faced with many equally well-written
manuscripts from which they must choose one
to sign up – that’s when the other three-quarters
of the decision-making process kick in. But in
order to get into that position of being considered
against all the other submissions, your book must
first satisfy the following criteria: high quality of
writing; fresh ideas and a new angle; appropriate
format; great title and subtitle.
1. Quality of writing
There is no excuse for submitting a poorly
written manuscript. If you send a publisher a first
draft of your book without bothering to work
on it again and again until it’s so polished that
the publisher needs sunglasses to look at it, then
I’m afraid you deserve to be rejected. In my book
How to be a Writer I explain the ten drafts that a
fiction writer must work through in order to be
confident that their manuscript is as polished as
it can be. Here’s a summary of the drafts a novel
should go through:
Draft 1
Type out a rough version of the whole book
Draft 2
Tighten the structure, fill in holes
Draft 3
Develop the characters
Draft 4
Improve the dialogue
Draft 5
Work on the language and imagery
Draft 6
Restructure parts of the work
Draft 7
Add layers of conflict
Draft 8
Improve the crucial opening pages
Draft 9
More work on the character development
Draft 10
Proofread for mistakes
A non fiction book such as this one needs to be
tackled differently – something like this:
Draft 1
Type out a rough version of the whole book
Draft 2
Tighten the structure, fill in holes
Draft 3
Improve the vocabulary and rewrite awkward phrases
Draft 4
Check the facts, add references, websites, and footnotes
Draft 5
Read through noting problems, then fix them
Draft 6
Restructure parts of the work to fit the desired format
and word count
Draft 7
Improve the crucial opening pages
Draft 8
Proofread for mistakes
Writers frequently make the mistake of thinking
that publishers will accept a manuscript despite
it being poorly structured, inconsistent, clichéd
or rambling. Fixing that is the editor’s job, right?
Surely the editors can see the potential in their
work and fix it for them? But publishers don’t
have enough time to deal with writers who take
this attitude. They would have to be really excited
about a book idea to be prepared to work with an
author who apparently cannot write to a
professional standard.
So don’t rely only on the strength of your
book’s central concept to get you a deal. The
quality of your writing must also be as high as
you can possibly raise it prior to submitting it to
an editor. Would you try to sell your car without
washing it, or your house without tidying it? Your
manuscript or proposal is a product that you are
trying to sell to a publisher, so make it a quality
product. It will earn you respect, it will make the
editor see you are talented, and it will increase
your chances of acceptance.
The quality of your writing extends beyond
your book itself. It’s crucial that you spell
correctly the name of the editor to whom
you are submitting the work, that the text
of your covering letter is succinct and
accurate, and that your synopsis and list
of chapters won’t let you down with silly
errors and awkward phrases.
2. Fresh ideas and a new angle
There are thousands of subjects about which
books can be written. The problem is that most
of them have already been done, so if you want
to cover ground where others have been before
then it helps to be able to introduce fresh ideas.
Saying something new will encourage readers of
similar books to pick up yours too. Publishers
won’t mind releasing books on subjects that have
been written about before provided they can
convince the booksellers and the public that you
have something new to say.
I published a book of cheap and simple recipes
called Student Grub back when there was strong
competition in that sector consisting of three or
four similarly titled books. But because this book
was fresh, witty and more relevant to students
than the others that were already out there, I felt
confident it would hold its own in the bookshops.
Even though its subject was not original, Student
Grub succeeded due to the freshness of its
approach. It is still selling in an updated form
fourteen years later, and has gone from being the
underdog to the market leader.
I’m clearly using the word ‘subject’ here in a
very narrow sense to mean something more
specific than just the genre. Student Grub is a
cookery book, which is its genre. Its subject is
recipes for students. Publishers of cookery books
would not object to another cookery book being
submitted to them, but they would need to be
given good reasons why they should sign up a
particular kind of cookery book that covers the
same subjects as their other titles.
Having fresh ideas in a book enables you to
present the subject from a new angle. There were
already several books written about the ideas
behind Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code when I
wrote The Key to The Da Vinci Code, but my book
tackled the subject from a fresh angle which
covered areas ignored by the competition. My
book was also of a different size and price to any
of the others, which helped it immediately to find
its niche. This brings us onto the next factor:
3. Format of the book
The format of a book is its size, binding (hardback
or paperback), price, number of pages,
illustrations (whether colour, black and white,
drawings, cartoons, paintings, photos or
diagrams). It’s all too easy to assume these
decisions have nothing to do with the author. You
write the book and it’s up to the publisher to
squeeze your book into whatever format they
choose, right? To some extent that’s true, but a
publisher’s options are limited by what you as
the author provide for them.
The most significant variable is the number
of words in your manuscript. You should always
aim for a word count that matches (to within a
reasonable amount – perhaps plus or minus 10%)
the word counts of similar books already on sale
by your target publisher.
Counting the words of a book in print isn’t all that
hard: just find a page that looks typical in terms of
its page coverage and count the words on that
page then multiply it by the number of pages in
the book.
If it’s a novel, choose a page that has mostly
description and a little dialogue because that will
provide a more realistic average than a page of
staccato dialogue. If the book is illustrated the
calculation becomes a little more complicated: first
add up the approximate number of pages of
illustrations and deduct them from the page count
before multiplying the pages by the average
number of words on a page.
4. Title and subtitle of book
How many books have you enthusiastically
picked up on the basis of the title alone? The title
and subtitle of a book can form the most powerful
selling tool available to a publisher. It’s a kind of
advertising message. The title shouts out what
the book is about, and the subtitle tells you why
you should buy it. ‘How to Get Published’ is the
title of this book, but a major reason to buy it is
that it contains ‘Secrets from the Inside’. The
subtitle explains enough about the book to help
customers make their buying decisions in a
couple of seconds. Most customers will then read
the third selling tool, the blurb on the back cover
or inside flap, and this will confirm or confound
the view that they had already formed that this is
the book for them.
If the title and
subtitle have a strong
impact on potential
customers in a
bookshop, then they
have the same effect
on editors who receive your proposal. Publishers
have been known to issue announcements to the
trade that they will publish a book of a certain
title and subtitle even though the book hasn’t
been written. How to Get Published, in fact, existed
only as a title and subtitle plus a short blurb when
it was entered into Summersdale’s catalogue and
pre-sold into the bookshops. Not a single word
of the text had been written until after the shops
had already placed their orders (this doesn’t
usually happen for new authors, by the way.)
This is the power of the title/subtitle
combination. Get them right and your book will
stand out from the others in the dreaded slushpile
– that teetering mountain of manuscripts that
blocks the light on every editor’s desk. But what
is the right title for your book? How can you
know if it’s correct? The first thing to do is to
look at the titles of competing books. Do they
use wordplay? Do they contain double entendres
or use a vocabulary that is unique to that genre?
If your book is a light-hearted account of your
experiences living abroad, for instance, you may
notice a distinct fruit theme among recent rival
titles: Snowball Oranges; Driving Over Lemons; The
Olive Farm. Publishers on the lookout for more
successes like these may pay more attention to
your book if it has the same kind of title.
The title should be as brief as possible. Two or
three words is ideal. Of course there are plenty of
examples of popular books with long titles: The
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; The No.1
Ladies’ Detective Agency; Harry Potter and the Half-
Blood Prince. But short titles are easier to remember
and can have a stronger impact. There is always
room to explain more with a subtitle. Snowball
Oranges, for instance, doesn’t tell you much about
the book, but when the subtitle One Mallorcan
Winteris added the subject is much more obvious.
The hit book from Lynne Truss Eats, Shoots &
Leaves is another example of a snappy, clever title
that doesn’t mean much until combined with its
subtitle:The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
Then you realise the title is a play on words to
demonstrate the difference a comma can make
to the meaning of a phrase.
If your book is fiction then normally a subtitle isn’t
needed, but instead a ‘tag line’ can help illuminate
the potential reader as to what they might be
letting themselves in for. The tag line wouldn’t
necessarily make it onto the cover of the printed
book, so think of it as a way of whetting the editor’s
For inspiration look at film posters. The movie
industry is very good at encapsulating the theme
of a film in one short sentence: Jurassic Park – ‘An
adventure 65 million years in the making’; Bridget
Jones’s Diary – ‘It’s Monday morning, Bridget has
woken up with a headache, a hangover and her

Aucun commentaire: