What If a Publisher Steals Your Book Idea? The Stupidest Advice I’ve Heard This Year…

November 13, 2013

A new author came to me recently saying she’d been advised not to pitch her brilliant book idea to Hay House “in case….” drum roll… “they STEAL your idea.”

Well that certainly made me choke and splutter on my fruit smoothie first thing in the morning. The thought of publishing icon, Louise Hay, STEALING someone else’s idea. Crikey, did I hear that correctly? I asked the author to repeat what she’d just told me. And yes, she was certain this was the advice that she’d been given.

I’d like to dispel a big MYTH here about publishers nicking book ideas off unsuspecting authors.

Publishers are inundated with book ideas. Some of them are receiving over 1,000 manuscripts per DAY. Do they really need to pinch your book idea when they can barely cope with what they’re being sent already?

Just supposing that an editor did this in a moment of madness, would they get away with it? In this Internet age, when blogging and social media are prevalent, how on earth would they keep this secret? Wouldn’t we all know about it via viral media? They might get away with it once. But twice, a dozen times, a hundred times? How would the publishing house stay in business when authors stopped sending them their manuscripts?

I’ve been working in publishing for over 20 years now. I’ve yet to witness anything that convinces me that this actually happens. What I do see though – and regularly – is opportunists taking advantage of authors’ anxiety that this might happen. Because guess what? It just so happens that the ‘experts’ who share such nuggets of wisdom have their own publishing presses which can… wait for it… publish your book at a price. Gee, thanks!

Cowboy publishing experts aside… if you’re really worried about your idea being copied, you can ask the other party to sign a ‘Non Disclaimer Agreement’ (NDA) or simply trademark your book title. Be warned though that NDAs are off-putting to most publishers and literary agents, unless for example, you have good reason to hide your identity like Belle de Jour. It is also difficult to completely trademark a title, as it’s still relatively easy to mimic a brand. Take for example, my event, The Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors which was recently ‘copied’ by one of the speakers who attended it under the title of The Millionaire Summit for Authors. But imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?

Many authors are understandably anxious that their book idea might be used by someone else. You may worry if: another writer has the same book title; if they launch a book with a similar plot or topic; or, if they have a writing style like yours. When you discover a book with the same idea, you may worry that “someone else got there first” or “there’s no point in me writing my book now”.

But here’s the good news. No one else is ever going to write with your unique voice, your passion, your dedication, your amazing experience. Another book may have the same title or plot. But it’s impossible to replicate YOU.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – and sometimes it’s a great advantage to ‘piggy-back’ off someone else’s fantastic book idea. You only need to consider ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Westside Story’, or ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, to realise this.

Some literature experts argue that there’s only a limited number of archetypal plots in all books, whether fiction or non-fiction. The generally accepted point of view is that there is only ‘one’ basic plot. Ie. There is a problem – the problem is explored – the problem is resolved. This problem is usually dealt with in a sequence that typically follows the pattern of: Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Denouement. This pattern can be repeated once or many times throughout a book.

With over 2 million books already published worldwide this year, it’s unlikely anyone will come up with a totally fresh and original idea. But your wisdom, your enthusiasm, your vision, will always be as unique as your fingerprint.

And no one can EVER steal that from you.

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Can “I Use 50 Shades Of…” in My Book Title?

June 25, 2013

Here’s a question I am frequently asked:

“If I decided to write a book inspired by ’50 Shades of Grey’, and called it ’50 Shades of X’ – the only similiarity being a similiar sounding title – is that possible without a big law suit, or would it be better to write ’69 shades of Y’?”

The answer to this applies to all ‘spin-off’ books you may wish to allude to.

First of all check if the phrase is trademarked. If it is, then the answer is clearly: “No, you can’t”.

If it isn’t then, yes, you can go ahead.

Perhaps more important though is the next step. Check to see how many OTHER people have also thought of your idea.

A quick bit of market research reveals:

50 Shades of Nylon
50 Shades of Dash Diet
50 Shades of Green
50 Shades of Gravy
50 Shades of Classical
50 Shades of Red Riding Hood
etc etc etc

These titles cover everything from books to DVDs to MP3s. The topics range from Irish songs, to dieting, to social media marketing, to cookery. So there is very little scope here to establish your own special brand or unique selling point.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ‘piggy back’ off another author’s great idea – especially if you can put your own unique spin on the subject. In fact, imitation of an already successful brand is in many ways an incredibly smart move. Someone else has already tested the market before you and proved a formula to be successful. There is a clear readership and a clear target market – a publisher’s dream. So in many ways, it makes sense to mimic what other successful authors have done before you.

If you’re the very first person past the post, or you have something new or original to add, then I take my hat off to you and so will everyone else. Such a step may also prove incredibly lucrative.

However, when too many others have trodden the path before you and the market is already overcrowded, then you are veering into the territory of cliche – the world of outworn words and phrases which lose their impact. In this case, it may be time to rethink.

Sign up for my FREE report ‘How to Write a Six-Figure Book and Why Most Writers Get This Wrong’ at: http://www.MillionaireAuthorsBootcamp.com/report

‘How Can I Write My Book Faster?’ – A Quick and Easy Guide

June 24, 2013

Words I often hear from clients are these: “I’m slow at writing and frequently get stuck. I wish I had a magic want to enable me to concentrate on writing and improving and work faster!”

This is an incredibly common problem – slow writing and getting stuck – even for experienced authors. This is because self-doubt creeps in for so many writers and they start wondering if they are writing a ‘good enough’ book.

The trick is to set aside thinking time and to plan out your book out before you start writing. I strongly recommend you do this for any type of book. This is because it’s so much easier to alter a one-page outline than a 300-page book if you suddenly decide your hero should be a heroine or that your book should be written in first person rather than third person!

Jeffrey Archer, for example, lays down on his bed for a while before starting his writing each day. This helps separate from his daily life and allows him to submerge in his fictional world.

It might feel slightly uncomfortable setting aside ‘thinking time’ as you may feel like you’re doing ‘nothing’ or may be keen to get cracking with writing your book. But it really is worth setting aside time for planning before you get started and even when your book is underway.

You can plan out your book in a simple way using post-it notes and a series of bullet points. Or you can do it more comprehensively. Barbara Taylor Bradford wrote a 100-page outline before she event started ‘A Woman of Substance’ for example. John Gray (author of ‘Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), on the other hand, always tries out his ideas for at least a year on his clients before putting them in his books.

Conflict is the motor that drives any plot. So, if at any point, you are wondering why your story has ground to a halt, just think of a fresh challenge for your characters to get the story rolling again. This can be a small internal challenge, such as conflict in a character’s mind, or it can be a much more dramatic external conflict.

The same applies to non-fiction books. If your plot grinds to a standstill, ask yourself if there are enough challenges, problems or conflicts to be overcome.

Also try to set yourself a writing target each day if you can – such as 1000 words or 3000 words. A standard book is approximately 70,000 words in length. So by setting yourself a target of say, 1500 words, you will reach your goal in under 28 days. This will give you a solid first draft that you can then edit and re-edit to your satisfaction.

I have a number of clients who have written their entire books in two to five days using this approach. However, one of the wonderful things about breaking down a book into a 28-day writing plan is that the ‘impossible’ suddenly seems much more achievable. You’re not trying to tackle the mountain in one go which would be exhausting. You have a clear strategy – with achievable daily goals – that will get you to where you want to be.

+++

Do get my FREE guide ‘How to Write A Six Figure Book and Why Most Writers Get This Wrong’ at http://www.millionaireauthorsbootcamp.com/report

I’ll also be uploading my new FREE guide ‘How To Sell a Million Copies of Your Book: 7 Strategies You Can Use Today’ in the next couple of weeks.

 

Can I Quote Someone Else’s Work In My Book Without Permission?

May 17, 2013

Authors often ask me whether they can use other people’s copyrighted work within their own books – and whether they need to ask permission to include it.

I’d like to give some clarity on ‘permission’ and copyright in this blog. ‘Permission’ means seeking permission to use someone else’s copyrighted work in your own. In other words, you contact the copyright owner of the writing and ask permission to use the work. If the work is self-published, the copyright owner is the author. If the work is published by a publishing house, newspaper or magazine, then they will own the copyright rather than the writer.

Most publishers have a ‘permissions department’ you can approach. They also have formal paperwork for you to sign that will detail the territories in which you have permission to use the copyrighted work. This will contain clauses detailing the conditions and any exceptions to the permission.

Sometimes, this permission is given for free as you are promoting and publicising the other work. Often though, a fee is charged, which can range anywhere from a few dollars upwards to thousands of dollars.

When Permission Is NOT Needed:

  • Work in the public domain. It can sometimes be hard to determine whether a work is in the public domain. But as a rule of thumb, any work published before 1923 is considered to be in the public domain. There are also some works published after 1923 that are also in the public domain. (More information below).
  • When mentioning the title or author. If you are just mentioning the title of a work, you do not need permission. This is just like stating a fact.
  • ‘Fair Use’ guidelines. If you only want to quote a few lines from a book, you are probably within fair use guidelines. You therefore won’t need permission. See below for more information).
  • Creative Commons. If a work is licensed under Creative Commons, no permission is required. This is usually prominently stated on the work itself, as an alternative to the copyright symbol. Many books, sites and blogs are licensed under Creative Commons.

It is important to remember that crediting the source of a work does NOT take away your obligation to seek permission. In fact, it is expected you should acknowledge your source regardless of fair use.

Fair Use in a Nutshell
There are four criteria for Fair Use. These criteria are a little vague and therefore open to interpretation. Ultimately, it is up to the courts to make a final decision over what constitutes ‘fair use’ when there is a disagreement.

The four criteria are:

  • The purpose and character of the use. Is the purpose of your work educational or for charity; or is it a commercial venture? If the main purpose of your work is to make money, this makes your case less sympathetic if you’re borrowing a lot of someone else’s copyrighted work.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work. Creative or imaginative works get the strongest protection. It is impossible to copyright a fact.
  • The amount of the portion used compared to the entire quoted work. There is no percentage or word count suggested as a guideline by the courts. This is because some portions of a work my be considered to be the most valuable part/s.
  • The effect on the potential market for or value of the quoted work. If using the original work damages the chances of people buying the original work, then you are violating fair use.

Copyright on websites, blogs, etc

The same rules technically apply to copyrighted work online, but attitudes tend to be more relaxed. When bloggers use excerpts of copyrighted work (both from offline and online sources), it’s more likely to be considered as “sharing” or “publicity” rather than as a violation of copyright. So you are bending the rules, but owners of the copyrighted work are less likely to pursue legal action.

Song Titles, TV Titles and Movie Titles
You do not need permission to include any kind of title in your work. It is ok to use: song titles, TV show titles, and movie titles without permission. You don’t need permission to include the names of people, events, and places in your work.

Song Lyrics and Poems

Because songs and poetry can be so short, it is best not to even include one line without asking for permission. This applies even if you think this could be considered Fair Use. It is ok to use the titles of songs or poems, and the names of bands or artists.

How To Sell Millions of Books (Alternatively Titled: My Reckless Gambling Streak!)

April 16, 2013

I was wondering how to motivate one of my clients to finish his book, as life and work seemed to keep getting in his way. So I recklessly said: “Let’s have a bet: let’s see if you can finish your book before I finish mine.”

Before I knew it, we’d agreed that I would roll up my sleeves and hand-wash his car if he finishes first.

And so, ‘Millionaire Authors: The Secret To Selling Over A Million Books’ was conceived.

I set myself the goal of finishing it within 4 weeks and launching it in the autumn to coincide with this year’s Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors from 1st to 3rd November.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly at the start. ‘This bet is going to be a doddle,’ I thought. Never mind that my client owns a dog that sheds fur and drools, and leaves muddy footprints on his car upholstery. I only have about 10 hours of interviews to do, and maybe another 2 hours writing the introduction. And my car could do with a good clean after so many school runs with my kids.

Except that I’ve been hitting one or two unexpected snags…

So far, I’ve contacted over 60 bestselling authors and their agents, requesting interviews. And I’ve received almost as many rejections along the way.

I’d like to interview 12 millionaire authors for my book. So far, ‘in the bag’ as it were, I have:

Jeffrey Archer, ‘Kane & Abel’ – 250 million copies sold;
John Gray, ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ – 50 million copies sold;
Sir Terry Pratchett – ‘Discworld’ series – 85 million copies sold;
Eric Carle, ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ – 30 million sold;
Alexander McCall Smith, ‘No1 Ladies Detective Agency’ – £40m sold;
Joanne Harris, ‘Chocolat’, £21 million sold.

To achieve this, I’ve had to contact – and receive rejections from – a list of celebrities and authors who include:

  • J K Rowling
  • Dan Brown
  • Jacqueline Wilson
  • Danielle Steel
  • John Grisham
  • James Patterson
  • Bill Bryson
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Ian Rankin
  • Julia Donaldson
  • Francesca Simon
  • Martina Cole
  • Philip Pullman
  • Stephenie Meyer
  • Delia Smith
  • Stephen King
  • Marian Keyes
  • Josephine Cox
  • Sophie Kinsella
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Terry Deary
  • Anthony Horowitz
  • Ian McEwan
  • Wilbur Smith
  • Sebastian Faulks
  • Helen Fielding
  • Lee Child
  • Dave Pelzer
  • Mark Haddon
  • Joanna Trollope
  • Jackie Collins
  • Louis de Bernières
  • Jack Higgins
  • Anita Shreve
  • Robert Harris
  • Frank McCourt
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Robert Allen
  • Anthony Robbins
  • Louise Hay
  • Lynne Truss
  • Robert Kyosaki
  • Bob Proctor
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Brian Tracy
  • Marianne Williamson
  • Mark Victor Hansen
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • Khaled Hosseini
  • Ken Follet
  • Tim Ferris
  • Eckhart Tolle
  • Marci Schimoff
  • Joe Vitale

In other words, only 10 per cent of the people I’ve contacted have agreed to be interviewed. So it’s likely I’ll need to contact another 60+ authors to find another 6 writers who’ll agree to be interviewed!

When I was little, my mother told me the fable of ‘The Hare and The Tortoise’. If you’ve never read it before, it’s a story of how persistence and determination allows a slow tortoise to win a race – even when the competition (the hare) is a much faster sprinter. Mum told me the fable when I was a kid. She said: “What matters is that you keep plodding on right until the very end. Often it’s the plodders who are the winners!”

That lesson always stuck with me: that persistence and determination often win the day. If you want something badly enough, you just have to work for it. There’s no point whining or complaining. You just dust yourself down and get on with it.

Or, in my case, you prepare to roll up your sleeves grab a sponge, and get covered in dog hairs and soap suds.

I’ll keep you updated with how the bet is coming along in blogs that follow…

In the meantime, remember to block out the 1st to 3rd November in your diary for The Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors: I’m already lining up some fantastic speakers!

I’ll be releasing full details shortly at: http://www.millionaireauthorsbootcamp.com.

The Secrets To Selling Millions of Books

The Secrets To Selling Millions of Books

How To Write A War or Battle Scene in Your Novel

April 4, 2013

Writing about war in a novel can seem pretty daunting – especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself. War may be the main theme of your book; or war may be a just small part of your story. Even if you haven’t had direct experience on the battlefield, you can still write about war in a convincing way that moves your reader.
Here are some helpful tips that I have devised for helping first-time authors I am mentoring, which I hope will help you too.

War scenes, in some ways, are no different to other scenes in your book. The most helpful advice is to focus on small detail. Imagine you are a film director making a movie. You need wide-range camera shots to give a sense of the overall action on the battlefield. But more important than this, you also need to zoom in on individual detail to allow your audience to identify with specific characters and connect with them emotionally.

If you have a battlefield with 20,000 soldiers fighting, that’s a bit impersonal and vague. You can also end up reading about it in a very cold and detached way, a little like the experience of reading a history book. Although we can read about 20,000 men dying on a battlefield, and although these are the terrible deaths of real people, we often feel little raw emotion while we are reading.

Now, if we look at the classic novels and how they deal with war, they use a number of devices to stir our emotions, so that the book haunts us for a long time to come or we might even be moved to tears – even though the characters are invented!

Take Sebastian Faulks with ‘Birdsong’ which explores the horrors of tunnel warfare during the World War 1. Much of the action is set beneath no man’s land in a terrifying world, 80 feet underground, where soldiers lay explosives under enemy lines in the hope of helping their comrades above ground. There is a powerful scene in this novel where the tunnelers decide to rescue a small yellow canary that is used to check if the air is breathable or toxic. The hero, Stephen Wraysford, has a phobia of birds and is afraid to reach out his hand and touch it. So there is an ironic contrast between the horror of war and his fearlessness in tunneling underground so close to the enemy lines, and his terror when faced with a tiny helpless bird.

There is a contrast between his longing to help, and his inability to put the bird in his pocket or feel the feathers on his skin. He does this eventually after a few tense moments. But it is an incredibly poignant scene because above ground, men are being gunned down en masse. Yet in spite of this, the tunnelers still have the humanity left to rescue one small bird from suffocating in a collapsing tunnel.

The other thing that is memorable about this scene is the fact that it is so original and unexpected. When you read about war – or indeed, watch it on TV – you might expect blood and gore. But you certainly don’t expect small yellow canaries!

To give you another example: in ‘Catch 22′, Joseph Heller focuses on the humour and the absurdity of World War 2. To take one example: the air force pilots have been issued with first aid kits that are often empty as the morphine has been sold on the black market. The officers are then faced with the task of helping men with horrific wounds with inadequate supplies, which creates a dark kind of humour.

There is a particularly poignant moment when a gunner, Snowden, is dying in quite harrowing circumstances after being hit by a mortar. He plaintively cries out, “I’m cold, I’m cold” unaware that he is injured inside his flak jacket, while the anti-hero, Yossarian, reassures him “You’re going to be all right kid! Everything’s under control!” There are echoes here of a scene between parent and child as Yossarian repeatedly murmurs, “There, there. There, there.” We sense that Yossarian has a false optimism, and nothing can be done to save the gunner’s life as his wound is “the size of a football”. There is no morphine available to ease his pain, only two aspirin. We are left with a poignant scene which is memorable for its humanity and suffering. It is not remotely what you would expect from a war novel.

Thinking again to ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis de Bernieres, there is another memorable scene that anyone who has read the novel always seems to mention. This is when the two sides temporarily down their weapons and abandon fighting to play football together on Christmas Day. They chat, share cigarettes, and even exchange photographs of family members. They see each other as people rather than ‘the enemy’ and realise that they might have been friends. Again, a game of impromptu football is the last thing you would expect during a war.

So to summarise, here are some of the techniques you can use when writing about war:

* Focus on small detail rather than the bigger picture.
* Look for unusual and unexpected detail.
* Create a sense of atmosphere by using the five senses – vivid colours, sounds, smells, tastes.
* Allow vulnerability to come to the fore – it isn’t necessary to focus only on death and destruction, bravery and valor.
* Focus on one or two characters only, rather than large numbers of soldiers.
* Stir an emotional response in the reader.

How to Choose the Right Cover Image for Your Self-Published Book

March 25, 2013

I’ve been helping several clients to choose cover images for their books this week. These authors have either been rebranding existing books that haven’t been selling very well… or been choosing images for brand new books that are about to be launched. As research shows that 74% of a reader’s buying decision is based on a book cover alone, it’s vital to get this right.

This means paying careful attention to:

* Your book title;
* The image on the front of your book;
* The colours used;
* The font used;
* The blurb on the back of your book;
* The testimonials you use on the book cover.

It pays to spend time making your Contents page sound as compelling as possible. Your very first sentence should also grab the reader by the collar, as should the rest of page 1.

To select the right cover for the front of a book, it’s essential to do a little market research, and focus on your target readership. One of the authors I’ve been working with this week has written a fantasy book aimed at young adults.

His designer produced 18 book covers, which the author and his team all really liked. However, when I showed these same covers to my sixteen-year-old son and his friends, they said things like: “these look really boring”, “I don’t know what it’s about” and “I wouldn’t read it”.

To get an idea of what did appeal to them, I instead showed them a random sample of 10 fantasy books on Amazon. I asked which they liked most and what they would read. They opted for book covers that to me seemed a bit basic, unsophisticated and even downright ‘cheesy’ – with characters in action scenes. However, the important thing here is that my opinion and aesthetics were irrelevant. Teenagers are the target readership for this book and these were the type of cover images they preferred.

‘Crossover books’ – book designed to appeal to both adults AND children – usually have two entirely different covers. The Harry Potter books do this, for example, as do the ‘Northern Lights’ books by Philip Pullman. Most books published globally will also have different covers, as every country will have different cultural references. The colour white may be associated with weddings and innocence in the UK; but in China it is associated with death and mourning.

For this reason, I always recommend that you do your market research first before you produce a book cover. Make sure you get feedback from your target audience on every aspect of your cover and what it means to them.

When choosing a cover image, it is also vital to consider what your long-term goals are for your book. A picture paints a thousand words. Every cover image therefore gives instant subliminal messages, based on a reader’s associations.

Another of my non-fiction clients is about to publish a book to attract new clients for her pension planning business.

Here are a selection of some of the designs she has looked at:
1. A dinghy and a lifebelt image on the cover, to give a sense of drama and urgency to her message.
2. A solid oak tree with rotten roots to symbolise the state of most people’s finances.
3. An empty glass jar, with the word ‘pension’ on the side, to illustrate the fact that most people’s pension pots are empty.
4. A golden egg in a nest symbolising the notion of a golden nest egg.
5. A picture of the author on the front looking friendly and personable.

Each of these five images has its merits. However, they will each attract different types of readers. The author wishes to attract affluent middle class professionals who are already fairly financially stable, to her business. It therefore makes no sense to have images which suggest poverty or desperation such as the dinghy, the empty pension pot or the rotten tree. Instead, the golden nest egg is much more likely to appeal, as is the picture of the author on the front. However, if she wishes to sell her business in the future, or prefers to delegate consultancy to other partners in the business, then it is probably better not to have her photo on the cover.

Gold, on the other hand, always conveys a ‘success’ message to a reader. (Think about how many bestselling books have gold lettering on the cover for example.) The gold nest egg image instantly conveys that the book is ‘special’ ; the gold lettering also suggests that the book is a bestseller. This image is therefore much more likely to appeal to her target readership.

It always pays to spend time on your book cover, to do your market research, and to have your cover professionally produced. I am constantly seeing amateurish books with clip art on the front, or images that simply aren’t congruent with the target readership. That’s why book ‘make-overs’ and re-branding can work miracles for book sales. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Simply set up a split-test with your book. Keep your old version live on Amazon or Kindle. Then, set up a new version with a different cover and title. I can guarantee, you will soon notice the difference.

For more tips and tricks for producing bestselling books, do sign up for my guide, ‘How to write a six-figure book’ at: http://www.millionaireauthorsbootcamp.com/report

Or alternatively, please contact me for a consultation here at: http://www.oxfordwriters.com.

How To Find A Publisher Or Literary Agent For Your Fiction Or Non-Fiction Book

October 10, 2012

Feedback on your fiction or non-fiction manuscript can often be confusing… or even contradictory.

A complaint I often hear is that several literary agents or publishers are giving conflicting advice. Whose advice should you listen to if you want to get published?

For example, an author recently emailed me recently saying that two separate publishing houses have asked to read the entire manuscript for his crime thriller.

Publisher A rejected the manuscript saying the plot was too complex.

Publisher B said the book was too long and identified various sub-plots to be removed if they were to publish the book. The author did this, but was then told that the plot was “too thin”.

He said: “This has left me a little confused; now with two versions, and two opinions, I’m not sure how best to improve and move the novel forward, before resubmitting elsewhere?”

Here is my advice, which I hope will help any other author who is in a similar position, whether they are writing a novel or non-fiction.

First of all, to get ANY publisher or literary agent to read your manuscript is extremely encouraging and is a signal that your manuscript is marketable. This alone, is a very positive sign. Most publishers and agents receive hundreds of manuscripts per week. They certainly won’t read your book unless they think it has promise. They simply don’t have the time or resources for flattery!

Yes, responses to a book, likes and dislikes, can be very subjective. However, bear in mind that all publishers have a different ‘housetyle’. Think of this as a ‘brand’ or ‘hallmark’ that differentiates them from one another.

So first of all, check if they are actually reading your manuscript. If you are receiving a ‘generic’ rejection letter that looks like it has been xeroxed and could easily be sent to any author – then the chances are that your submission letter and pitch were not compelling enough.

If this is the case, then you need to go away and work on writing a more attention-grabbing letter and synopsis.

If, on the other hand, editors and agents are reading your submitted manuscript, then you need to assess whether they are simply asking that you adapt your book to their particular housestyle. This can make sense of what otherwise may seem like conflicting or contradictory comments.

The time to consider rewriting your book is when you are getting the same feedback consistently. For example, several editors may tell you that your first chapter is weak. Or they may say there is not enough conflict in your plot. If this is the case, it may be time to give your manuscript an overhaul.

You can do this with the help of a literary consultancy or a writers’ coach who will give you an objective opinion on your book. Critique services at Oxford Literary Consultancy, for example, include a 10-15 page report giving feedback on your manuscript, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, as well as making suggestions for improvements.

This can make an enormous different in fine-tuning your writing you before you begin submitting your manuscript again.

Your Book Deal And Publishing Contract… Red Flags To Watch Out For!

February 3, 2012

The antics of some publishers never cease to amaze me. What makes me gasp even harder is that most authors – even experienced ones – are oblivious to what they’re unwittingly signing away.

In the euphoria of finally getting a book deal, many authors overlook the fact that they are getting rather a raw deal in their publishing contract. This naivete prevents them from getting deals that are better for them and better for their books.

I was reading a publishing contract for one of my clients this week. He’s a prominent celebrity, at the top of his field, and regularly featured on TV.

Here are some of the things that I flagged up, before he signed on the dotted line:

* World Rights & Film Rights *
In one fell swoop, the author was signing away his UK rights, world rights, TV rights, digital rights, film rights, to name but a few. All for the grand sum of – wait for it – £5,000.

A decent literary agent will sell your UK rights, your German rights, your US rights, your Australian rights, etc separately. They’ll also sell your film options separately. If any publisher suggests you hand over all rights, make damn well sure you are paid a decent sum for it.

And here’s the thing, once they have these rights who says they are actually going to do anything once they have these rights? Ideally, there must be a clause committing the publisher to some sort of definite action regarding these rights – otherwise they could easily end up gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.

* Break Clause *
Now here’s something else that’s vitally important. What if there is a strong demand for your book, but your publisher decides not to reprint it? Or what if it is remaindered, but you can’t persuade them that your genre is suddenly fashionable again? Or supposing, many years after your death, one of your forebears would like to publish your out-of-print work?

A break clause allows the rights to revert to the author after a certain period – usually 3 years after a book has been remaindered or goes out-of-print. It ensures that a publisher does not retain the rights indefinitely.

* Competition Cause *
As most successful authors know, the big money is in the upsell. In other words, higher priced products – such as home study courses, CD sets, DVD sets – which are spin-off products from your book.
If you are planning to re-purpose or rewrite your content and sell other similar products, beware ‘competition’ clauses that tie your hands. This is particularly relevant when it comes to non-fiction books.

* Options On Subsequent Books *
Many times, publishers request the option to consider the author’s next book before it is shown to any other publisher. The author is so thrilled and flattered by this that they overlook that this isn’t necessarily best for them or best for their book.

Sure, if a publisher pays for this option, that’s great. But if it’s just a clause in your book contract that commits you to offering them your book, without any commitment on their part to accepting it, this just ties your hands. It’s a rather one-way deal!

* Print Run *
Ideally, your book contract will specify an exact print run for your book. Many publishers will print 3000 books and think that this is a good print run. Others will print 35,000 books. In rare instances, the number will run into millions.

Unless you know this figure, the royalties percentages in your book contract are essentially meaningless.

* Deadline *
Make sure there is a realistic deadline for your book. My client was committed to a two-month deadline to complete a 60,000-word book. He planned to take two months off to write it.
Had he ever written a book in such a short timeframe before, I asked? “No,” was the answer. This ridiculously tight deadline again favoured the publisher, but left the author little leeway for rewrites and changes of plan.

Give an estimate for the length of time it will take to write your book, then double it!

* Publication Date *
The launch date for a book is an important part of marketing. Dieting books are much more likely to sell in January when everyone is making New Year resolutions, for example. Horror books sell better around Halloween.

Ideally, your book contract will contain a specific publication date, which shows that some thought and effort has been put into the marketing of your book.

* Marketing & PR *
Ok, marketing and PR. I’ve lost count now of the number of disillusioned authors who complain to me of lousy (or complete lack of) marketing and PR for their books. It is rare indeed to find clauses in book contracts committing to specific marketing and PR strategies. However, if you can get one of these into your book contract, you know that a publisher is serious and committed – and your book will stand a much better chance of success.

This is just a brief overview of things to look out for in your book contract – especially if you are going it alone and negotiating without a literary agent. Weigh up your options and consider every clause carefully.

After working with me, my client was able to go back to his publisher and negotiate a much better deal by deleting some clauses and asking for others to be inserted.

Your book is one of your most valuable assets. After spending so much time and effort writing it, don’t be too speedy in signing it away!

 

Why Authors MUST Build A List of Fans Hungry For Their Books

May 17, 2011

Many authors are so focused on writing their books they neglect the bigger picture.

But if you genuinely want to attract a publisher or an agent, you need to go the extra mile to grab their attention.

Here’s a recent question from one of my subscribers that I’d like to share… and my answer:

How would you interpret an agent who writes three paragraphs gushing about how much she enjoyed the writer making so much effort to get her attention and then summing it up with, “However, the book is not for us.” Do you think it’s time to give up?

My reply in brief:

This means exactly what it says on the tin. They love the book, but it’s not for them.
Loosely translated, they can see you’re a great writer, but they don’t feel the passion and excitement that’s essential to represent a book.

No, you definitely should NOT give up. Agents wouldn’t give you the time of day if they didn’t think you had talent.

The current publishing environment is incredibly tough. For this reason, your pitch needs a big dose of ‘oomph!’ or uniqueness to stand out.

For this reason, I strongly recommend building yourself a ‘platform’ or ‘list’ of fans for your writing.

This can be done via social media such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.  This can often sway the case in your favour.

Here’s a different letter from one of my other subscribers which reflects the difference this can make:

My daughter is on the cusp of a book deal. She has an agent after following your advice in your ‘Get an Agent’ course. We found your advice invaluable, especially the advice about creating social networking interest.

Her agent told her that her web presence and web profile was the main factor in taking her on – something we would not have known about had we not attended your workshop.

At a time when some publishers are getting 1000+ manuscripts per week, you need strategies to make yourself and your book stand out from all the others.

If you can persuade them that you already have a following before your book is even published, they will see you are highly motivated, savvy and marketable.

All this can only reflect well on you… and help you land the book deal you deserve.