I am delighted to announce the founding of my new company, Jeffrey Krames Literary Services, Inc. Earlier this month, Portfolio—which I have had the privilege to work with full-time for three years—and I altered our relationship (no longer full-time) so that I could still do the occasional big project for them while pursuing my dream: starting and running my own publishing business.
Jeffrey Krames Literary Services has a singular aim: to help authors, aspiring authors, and publishers bring the best possible books to market. We will choose to work with individuals who bring the same level of passion to the written word that we do. We will accomplish this worthwhile goal by providing three types of services:
* A Literary Agency
* Writing and Ghostwriting
* Publishing Consulting
You can read more about this by linking to the home page of my site—jeffreykrames.com—and clicking on each of the three services.
We do not plan to sign up scores of authors or take on a dozen writing assignments at a time. Ours will be more of a family-run business that always puts authors and publishers first. Our focus will always be on quality over quantity—and we will doggedly search for those passionate authors who write a book to make a difference—not a buck (although there is nothing wrong with a buck).
If you want to contact me you can do so easily through my website at jeffreykrames.com. I will provide updates from time to time on the state of the business book publishing industry. But most of my future blog postings for the next few months will provide tips, secrets, and inspiration to help authors achieve their dreams of getting published by first rate publishers.
No matter what topic you are writing about, your book must have at least one thing going for it—and that is a USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. It must have information or prescriptive advice that can’t be found in any other book, or website, blog, etc. That’s because when your business book is published it will be up against some of the real category killers in the field, including Good to Great by Jim Collins (management/leadership) and Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan (personal finance).
Half a century ago, the business book industry was built on a model of information scarcity. That’s when business books were in their infancy. Today, we live in a world where information proliferates and overwhelms us. On any given day, we can’t even manage to get through our email in-basket. However, most first time business authors, who are among the most passionate about their favorite topics and books, expect tens of thousands of book buyers to rush out and buy their book as soon as it hits the bookstore shelf. While that happens every seventh blue moon or so, the reality is that the average business book sells fewer than 2,500 copies in its first year (especially in these turbulent times).
So make sure that your book has a USP and that you can deliver it in an “elevator pitch” (say, no more than three sentences—and one or two is better). That’s what publishers will want to hear when you pitch them your one best idea.
When it comes to sending proposals to publishers, the title you assign to your work can make a world of difference to an editor. This is true even though the title on a book proposal almost never ends up being the final title of the book. However, the title and subtitle set the tone for everything that follows. As an editor, I can’t tell you how many books I have dismissed out of hand as a result of a bad or pedestrian title that sounded like every other title or worse.
But, you may ask, isn’t that judging a book by its cover? Indeed it is, and it is the way the publishing world works. Editors judge proposals on titles, publisher’s book reps do the same, as do booksellers and eventually the consumer of the book. A great “package” (e.g. title, subtitle, jacket design, etc.) is one of the real keys to getting your book published.
One other question I often get is this: if the title on the proposal is not going to be the final title on the book, why does it matter? It matters in the same way a resume helps one to get a job. A resume gets a job candidate an interview, not a job. The same is true with the title and subtitle. They must be good enough to get your foot in the door. After that, the quality of the idea, credentials of the author (i.e. platform), a market analysis, etc. must carry the day.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some people write great books but come up with awful titles. A good literary agent can really help here. And do not put much stock in what your mother-in-law, barber or gardener thinks. There is really an art to titling that almost always involves consulting with someone who has many years of experience in the field.
Business book publishers seldom receive complete drafts of manuscripts. And when we do, they are almost never viable projects. That’s because in these hyper-competitive times, it is very difficult for an author to write a whole book without help from an industry insider and have it come out good enough to publish. The reality is that authors need the help of a good literary agent and/or a talented editor in order to produce a viable work with a strong probability of success. And it is the author’s book proposal that must convince publishers of the strength of the project— right from the start. That’s where a good literary agent comes in—he or she can help an author position and frame the project and cast it in the best possible light.
The key to a good business book proposal lies in its ability to capture—and hold— the attention of a book editor. That is, unless you are a genuine superstar of the book industry. Let’s take the leadership category, which is one of the most evergreen of all business categories. Books like Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan and Winning by Jack Welch are two examples of leadership books that led their categories for long periods of time. These are compelling, original books that tell managers how to do something better. (Most business books have that “how-to” characteristic in common).
Since few of us have the profile of a Jack Welch, aspiring and other authors must make up for it with the quality of the book idea and the strength of the author’s proposal. Books with great ideas can still sell in huge numbers, even if the author isn’t a household name at the time of publication.
For example, Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week was a genuine “phenomenon book” (my term for a book that defies all to make it to #1 in its category) that sold because of its incredible promise. It’s a book that emerged from a “wildly popular” course the author taught at Princeton.
Come back later in the week when the elements of a good book proposal will be examined and discussed at length.
Many years back, after editing other people’s works for so long, I decided I wanted to become a published author, too. I figured if I could rewrite other people’s books, maybe I had the stuff to write at least one of my own.
This was the early 1990s and I had just moved from the upper east side of Manhattan to the suburbs of Chicago. I was single then and other than my full time job as editor, I had the time to put into a book project. I knew myself well enough to know that I do my best work at the crack of dawn (around 5 a.m.), but also knew I could put in an hour or two at night as well.
I intuitively knew that the key to ever getting published—and becoming a successful business book author—would depend on my ability to write every day. It was that self-imposed discipline, I figured, which would make the difference. And, as luck would have it, I was right. For more than a decade I wrote every day. Even on vacations. If it wasn’t a book I was working on, it would be an Op Ed for The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Keep in mind, however, that book writing requires its own unique skill set. An article is not a book. That is why so many talented magazine authors struggle with their first book or two.
How did my daily writings work out? I now have written seven books in all, including a “private printing” biography of a mogul-esque figure, written exclusively for his family and employees (not for outside sales). I know for a fact that without the discipline to face that blank page every day I would still be working on book number one.
In the last posting I recommended that authors write the first part of their books last. I was delighted to learn that the post drew an enormous amount of interest. As a result, I am going to allocate the next couple of weeks’ blogs to similar writing topics.
In the nearly three decades I have spent in publishing, I have worked with twice as many first timers as veteran authors. Today I will use that knowledge and focus on certain inescapable truisms that may help the new or aspiring author plan his or her book:
1. The first book is almost always the hardest to get on paper: Research shows that it takes ten years or 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to perform at “genius levels” at anything (e.g. athletes, musicians, and yes, writers). At the other end of the genius spectrum is the novice, inexperienced performer. That explains, in part, why the first book is always the toughest to write.
2. It will always take you longer than you thought to finish it: Most first time authors, when asked, will say they can complete their first book in six months (of course the length of the book, plus other factors like the amount of research required, are huge variables). The reality is that most first books of average length, say 224 pages, will take authors more like ten months to write than six.
3. You won’t be happy with your first draft: Or your second either, especially if you are a perfectionist. I don’t know if I have met anyone who has really been happy with his first draft. I know I hated the first six or so drafts of my first book, and that is hardly an exaggeration. Be prepared to prepare several drafts of your manuscript. I also suggest that you write all the chapters so that you can get a first draft quickly rather than getting stuck rewriting chapter one over and over before moving on.
Keep logging on to get more tips and advice for the less experienced writer and those of you planning your next book project.
Since so many people that read this blog are authors and aspiring authors, I plan to continue to enlarge the scope of the blog to include some quick writing tips.
Many first time authors tell me that they often get stuck right from the outset, or just a few days into starting a book. That’s why I recommend authors do two things: one, always have at least a rough outline or table of contents to work from. I can’t stress this enough. Writing a book sans outline is like building a house without a blueprint. In either case, you are unlikely to be happy with the results.
The other important item is to write the introduction or prologue last, particularly if you are writing a compelling narrative or a complex “how-to” business book. This is key because no part of a book is more important than its very first words. They set the tone for the rest of the book, and most people who buy books in bookstores read the first few paragraph or two before they decide to buy a book.
There is one more reason for you to hold off on that first section: books are often transformed by the writing process. They seldom turn out precisely as the author intends them. Put another way, you will find it a much easier task once the book has taken its final form. If you feel you need to write something at the beginning, I would write a very rough draft or detailed outline of the introduction. That way, you will have something on paper but won’t have invested so heavily in something that will need to be rewritten later.