7 Reasons To Consider a Study Group for Your Next Book Project

Image/karen jordan.net

In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. (John Steinbeck)

 

Need help writing your next book proposal? Try this.

To help me with the research of my most recent nonfiction book proposal, I recruited a group of ladies at my church to walk through each chapter as I developed it. Since it’s been surprisingly helpful, I thought I’d share a few reasons to consider it.

  1. Helps with book launch. This group started meeting during my first book launch. I had just taken them through a study of my book, Words That Change Everything, this past fall. Each week they read a chapter of the book, downloading a copy of my RESTNotes as a guide for our weekly discussions. This meant I added every member to my mailing list, an important step in the platform-building process.
  2. Offers encouragement for book projects. After we finished the book study, the ladies asked me to lead them in another. I told them that I wanted to use material for a book that I’m currently working on. They happily agreed. In fact, they were excited to be part of the writing process with me.
  3. Produces insights from primary audience. Want to understand how to meet the needs of your audience? What better way to do this than to invite them into your writing process? I’ve learned invaluable insights from these wonderful ladies as we brainstormed questions and issues pertinent to my project.
  4. Keeps you on task and organized. Not only has the weekly agenda kept me on task with my book project, this study has been one of the most productive ideas I’ve ever employed as a writer. Each week, I prepared our session using a template that I developed for each chapter. And I did my outside research for each chapter with this class in mind.
  5. Supplies ongoing research in your absence. During the weeks I’ve been out of town for a speaking event or to help my grandkids, I recruited one of the class members to facilitate a discussion of some of the questions that we may have skipped in an earlier class.
  6. Meets fellowship needs of the group. When I returned from a recent speaking event, the group shared what an engaging experience they had getting to know each other even better, as they focused specifically on the questions I had prepared for them. I’ve also created a private Facebook group for our class to help us stay in touch and share insights on our topic with each other between meetings.
  7. Provides potential help with future projects. We still have a few weeks before we complete our current study. But several of the ladies have already asked me which book project we will use next. And I have several to choose from, since I’m working on a few personal and collaborative projects.

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser observed, “Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable.”

Right now, while I’m researching my next book proposal, using the help of a study group works for me. So, I want to offer this idea to you, because I love to share lessons I’ve learned and the stories that matter most to me.

Have you ever recruited a study group for one of your works in progress? If so, what did you glean from that experience? Any tips?

 

The Joy of Categories

From actual query letters…

“I’ve got a novel that’s sort of a historical fantasy magical realism.”

GregsBooks“My new nonfiction is for everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. There’s nothing as good or like it on the market. It should be stocked at the front of the store in the ‘bestseller’ section.”

“The graduation gift book I’m proposing will be the kind of book retail will stock all year around.”

One thing new (and sometimes veteran) authors don’t understand is that every book must have a recognizable category. The queries for books listed above have none. The moment you go outside of a known category, retail doesn’t know what to do with it. They don’t know where to stock it; they don’t know how to describe it to their customers. In short, they won’t know how to sell it. And that’s the point of writing books you’d like people to read . . . to sell them.

It starts with what is known as a BISAC code. It’s those few words on the back of the book that give retail and consumer a clue as to what the book is about. Every book gets a maximum of three. Here are the categories from the Book Industry Study Group:

ANTIQUES/COLLECTIBLES
ARCHITECTURE
ART
BIBLES
BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY
BODY, MIND & SPIRIT
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS
COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
COMPUTERS
COOKING
CRAFTS & HOBBIES
DESIGN
DRAMA
EDUCATION
FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS
FICTION
FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
GAMES
GARDENING
HEALTH & FITNESS
HISTORY
HOUSE & HOME
HUMOR
JUVENILE FICTION
JUVENILE NONFICTION
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES
LAW
LITERARY COLLECTIONS
LITERARY CRITICISM
MATHEMATICS
MEDICAL
MUSIC
NATURE
PERFORMING ARTS
PETS
PHILOSOPHY
PHOTOGRAPHY
POETRY
POLITICAL SCIENCE
PSYCHOLOGY
REFERENCE
RELIGION
SCIENCE
SELF-HELP
SOCIAL SCIENCE
SPORTS & RECREATION
STUDY AIDS
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING
TRANSPORTATION
TRAVEL
TRUE CRIME

Handy dandy, but did you notice there are only TWO categories for fiction: Fiction and Juvenile fiction.

When you toddle over to Barnes and Noble, here are the categories you’ll find as you browse the aisles:

Fiction Books & Literature
Graphic Novels
Horror
Mystery & Crime
Poetry
Romance Books
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Thrillers
Westerns

Children
Ages 0-2
Ages 3-5
Ages 6-8
Ages 9-12
Teens

Non-fiction
African Americans
Antiques & Collectibles
Art, Architecture & Photography
Bibles & Bible Studies
Biography
Business Books
Christianity
Christian Fiction
Computer & Technology Books
Cookbooks, Food & Wine
Crafts & Hobbies Books
Education & Teaching
Engineering
Foreign Languages
Game Books
Gay & Lesbian
Health & Fitness
History
Home & Garden
Humor Books
Judaism & Judaica
Law
Medical & Nursing Books
Music/Film/TV/Theater
New Age & Spirituality
Parenting & Family
Pets
Philosophy
Politics & Current Affairs
Psychology & Psychotherapy
Reference
Relationships
Religion Books
Science & Nature
Self Help & Self Improvement
Social Sciences
Sports & Adventure
Study Guides & Test Prep
Travel
True Crime
Weddings
Women’s Studies

Not bad. A little bit more descriptive in fiction, which is helpful, but if you wanted to find “historical fiction,” for example, you have to browse a few thousand books and hope you bump into a title that screams “historical” from the spine.

How about at a Christian bookstore? At a local Mardel, here is what we found:

Bible Reference
Bible Studies
Biography
Christian Living
Commentaries
Counseling
Devotional
Fiction
General Interest
Gift Books
Health
Marriage & Family
Men
Prayer
Seasonal
Software
Spanish
Spirit-Filled Life
Teen Interest
Women

Again, ONE designation for fiction. (Really? Do they really NOT want to sell novels?)

And then there are award categories. Here are the categories for the “Christy Awards,” the yearly fiction awards:

Contemporary Romance
Contemporary Series (sequels and novella)
Contemporary Stand Alones
First Novel
Historical
Historical Romance
Suspense
Visionary
Young Adult

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has their own set of categories for determining the “Carol Awards”:

Debut
Long Contemporary
Long Contemporary Romance
Long Historical
Long Historical Romance
Mystery
Novella
Romantic Suspense
Short Contemporary
Short Contemporary Suspense
Speculative Fiction
Suspense/Thriller
Women’s Fiction
Young Adult

The INSPYs (Bloggers Awards of Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature) has yet another set of categories:

Romance
Literature for Young People
General Fiction
Speculative Fiction
Mystery & Thriller

The ECPA has their Gold Medallion Awards in these categories:

Book of the Year
Bibles
Bible Reference
Children
Fiction
Inspiration
New Author
Non-fiction

If all of this seems confusing, well, I suppose it is. When in doubt take comfort that you don’t have to pick from the Amazon.com categories. Just try to find three categories to mention!

The point is, each book gets three known categories on the back. Choose wisely in your proposals, but also try to choose broad categories so your book will get the most amount of exposure. And please, for the love Ernest Hemingway, don’t make up a category and call yourself a “pioneer.” Don’t implore the agent to think “outside the box.” Don’t call publishers “short-sighted non-creatives.” Just pick some categories and color inside the lines. We’ll all be happier.

Have you ever been confused about categories? How did you solve your dilemma?

5 Ways to Break Up a Writing Iceberg: The Book Proposal

I remember the day well.

After four years, hours and hours of writing, time away from my kids, countless books read on craft, writing classes Spring TX, and two professional edits, I finally finished my 260 page memoir.

“Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.”- Tom Clancy

Mr. Clancy’s quote, once my eyes stumbled upon it, coaxed a satisfied sigh from my gut. I closed my eyes, imagining myself at the helm of a ship, arms stretched out like Rose and Jack from The Titanic.

Jack-And-Rose-jack-and-rose-dawson-24253023-1000-710

But seriously, like the next day, my excitement and feelings of great accomplishment hit an iceberg when I forced myself to pay attention to two words that had floated around my mind throughout the project:

BOOK PROPOSAL.

If my manuscript is the Titanic, then the book proposal is the iceberg.

A book proposal is a thorough description of a manuscript, the market it would serve, and a sample of the story, usually the first two or three chapters.

And something I had no idea about until my manuscript was nearly completed.

Once my manuscript was finished, I assumed I could change the sail on my writing ship, pound out a quick proposal, and venture into new waters of querying agents.

Not so.

I had no idea about the painstaking amount of work a thorough, well-written, well-representing book proposal entailed. It took time and several confusing revisions to write an acceptable book proposal.

So here’s some advice, sailor to sailor:

1) Discern the genre. Book proposals, and when to submit them, are different depending on fiction or non-fiction. Fiction and memoir manuscripts should be completed before the proposal is submitted to an agent or a publisher. Non-fiction books can and do sell on proposal with a couple of chapters to provide the flavor and quality of the writing.

2) Work on your proposal while you are writing your manuscript. I should have started researching book proposals right away. Writing the proposal while working on the manuscript would have provided needed focus. A proposal can be a great map of where you are in your project, and where you need to go.

3) Write well. Your book proposal is probably the first writing sample a prospective agent or editor will see from you. Don’t rush. Let the voice rendered in your manuscript seep onto the proposal page. Agents and editors see many proposals. Take the time and attention required to make your proposal flawless and flavorful.

4) Stick to the basic elements of a proposal. Some include a cover page, an overview of the story, the hook, a biography of the author, marketing strategies, chapter summaries, and sample chapters.

I purchased a template from a famous author. It was a great way to get me started, but once an agent was landed, she preferred I use her agency’s template. Though similar, it wasn’t quite the same. Realize that an agent or editor will probably want you to tweak your proposal.

5) A successful book proposal requires research. Learn from the best. Check out:

Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals That Sell: 21 SECRETS TO SPEED YOUR SUCCESS

Have you written a book proposal? Are you in the process of writing a book proposal? Any advice? What’s been the most challenging part of the process? Please share with your fellow sojourners.

Making Eye Contact

I survived the hottest recorded day in Phoenix—122 degrees, June of 1990.

Slogan tee-shirts celebrated our feat of endurance and brought camaraderie to Phoenicians. Strangers on the street—If we were crazy enough to be outside that particular June—shook heads and bonded without muttering a word. Normally in metropolitan Phoenix, people don’t make eye contact with strangers. But survivors bond.

 On writing island, the heat’s rising and the competition’s growing.

Passivity kills. We must seize all survival tools to inhabit, flourish, and keep our cool. There’s a handy item in the writer’s backpack that can catch the eye of tribal leaders.

A Killer Book Proposal!

I hear your groans. I groaned when the mercury hit 122.

But book proposals create eye contact with your agent or editor.

If you need a format, here’s a simplified version of the one from my backpack.

Title Page  – Title, author’s name, and literary agent’s contact information.

Proposal Overview  – This vital area creates initial eye contact. It’s the premise for a book or series. Be precise. 1-2 sentences for each book.

Synopsis – Deepen interest. About three pages of story summary (My most recent included a twist and a takeaway) After that, do a ¾ page synopsis for each sequel. Note how the books tie together. (For nonfiction proposals, this area contains chapter outline and short summaries)

Manuscript Details – Word count and date when the finished manuscripts can be available (First time authors need to have the manuscript completed)

Author’s Uniqueness – One page. Includes education, credentials, awards, and personal experiences which relate to your book, your writing style as compared to others, and genre. If you’re published, bring in quotes and snippets of reviews to describe your writing.

Marketing – Bullet style, brainstorm what will sell the book. If you write romance, are there some romantic elements that will appeal to readers? Mention them. Tell what you’re already doing to promote your platform or books. Explain what you’re willing to do. List your website and blog links. Talk about your social media outreach. List memberships and organizations.

Affinity Groups – Research what specific groups of people will read your book. If you have previous works, this is easier. You can even use Facebook or website tracking to pinpoint the age of followers. Being specific helps editors promote your idea to an acquisitions committee.

Books Under Contract (or) Previous Works– Before I had books published, I listed magazine articles and plays. In my last proposal, I only listed a series under contract because it gave a fresh representation of my readership. Include sales in units and earnings. You can get this from your agent or royalty statements.

Author Bio – Mine is about 1/2 page, with professional credentials and some personal information.

First Three ChaptersThese significant chapters allow your person of interest to look deep into your writing soul. Shine and represent your style.

On each page, a header contains the book’s title and author’s name. Single space the proposal and use 1½ spacing for sample chapters and between headings. My numbered pages usually run about 35 pages total, including sample chapters. Also, write a short summary, about 1-3 paragraphs, to accompany the cover letter or your agent’s email to publishers.

To survive writers’ island, proposals can’t be rushed. Make the most of the opportunity to create eye-contact. My format contains years of personal tweaking, but you’ll want to embellish whatever format you use with your own creativity and style.

Unlike television’s Survivor cast, the Watercooler’s a safe place for interaction.

What’s your spin on book proposals?

And just for fun . . . what’s the temp at your place?