Who is Reading Your E-Book: Trace Its DNA

When a book interests you, what compels you - its genre, theme, cover art, protagonist? If you read more than the first 50 pages, why? What pulls you forward?

What is the optimal length of a novel in the e-book format?

When you finish a book, do you know what it was in the story that drew you on, turning hundreds of pages to the last scene, the concluding paragraph, the cathartic final sentence?

If you are a woman reader, are your answers to these questions different from those answers a man might give?

HipType created this infographic based upon some of the data it gathers from e-readers for authors.  It analyses a wide range of book types and genres.


DNA of Successful Books


Storyselling: The Query

It is time to shake off the writing routine of the last year, and turn to marketing. Storytelling to Storyselling

The discipline, focus, and skills that were so essential while writing the novel must now make way for business demands and professional responsibilities. Characters that have been present in every waking thought for so long now have competition for my attention. And so it is with sharpened senses; heightened awareness of current events, business trends, cultural tremors; and unflinching focus on the mission that I turn my attention to the all-important query.

A good query letter is a blend of copywriting, letter writing, business writing, and the finest creative brief writing, all balanced for clarity and purpose. A great query letter rises above to the level of message that ignites the imagination. This hybrid of writing craft and style is an Everest of a challenge. It must inform, establish credibility, entertain, and entice. The craft part can be fun. It is energizing to chisel away at the non-essential content in my drafts, like Michelangelo did with his block of Carrara marble 500 years ago until David stood naked in the piazza, as if he’d only been waiting for release from the stone. The art exists inside the clutter, and each bit of unnecessary verbiage that is cut away sharpens focus.

The first draft usually has a kernel of the desired power in it. There is a sense of the story's marketing potential, yet this aspect requires different intellectual tools and skills that often feel foreign to the author who has for the past year been so immersed in research, experimentation, and passionate story-weaving. My letter may have have excellence within in it, yet seen from this new perspective, more work is needed to separate the wheat from the non-essential chaff.

My approach is to aim for three paragraphs:

Hook - the unique value proposition my book offers expressed in a succinct and engaging statement that captures the big idea in a way that resonates immediately;

Core elements - my book described in three talking points; and

Credits - a relevant professional credential to reinforce the confidence instilled in the preceding two paragraphs.

The goal is to spare the reader any of the process of the book’s creation.  It should be lean and purposeful, a clarion call to the reader to engage in the book.

No one knows the winning formula for the perfect query letter.  Like any relationship, the successful query is a happy mystery. A convergence of desire, hope, stagecraft, sincerity, belief, facts, fiction, charm, shared aspiration, willing suspension of disbelief, drama, humor, strength, vulnerability, intellect, nerve, sensory awareness, risk, hunger, selflessness, selfishness, and luck. It is ethereal and elemental. Ephemera and permanence. The editor dearly wants to be surprised and yet, to open themselves to surprise, first they must trust. If the letter arrived in a quality paper envelope, the address legible, the letter intact, and the single page inside emerges into the rarefied light of their office not too dense with gray type, you have metaphorically caught your correspondent’s eye and made it across the miles to stand before them.

Now what?

Who are you?

If this is my initial contact, I go for an arresting statement of fact that captures the essence of the book. If this is my response to their request for an outline or sample chapters, I remind him/her that I am responding to his/her request. Next, a spark of light on my credits. Something about why he/she can trust my work.

Then, that lean, mean, irresistible pitch in an understated, to-the-heart-of-it flow about secrets this book reveals, and where it takes the adventurous reader.

If I feel up to risking my reader’s patience with an extra paragraph, I’ll explain how my proposed book stands apart. I’m on thin ice here, but if I have the right stuff – a reference to one of his/her client’s works to which my work has a meaningful connection, for example – I may attract enough interest to inspire a second reading, and a sense of me that resonates a day or two later.

Finally, a simple and sincere request to send them a few sample chapters. Perhaps the entire manuscript? (This alerts the reader that the manuscript is complete.) Thank you, (editor’s name HERE). I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours, (judge for yourself whether sincerely is on pitch). Have you established an authentic connection for which sincerely is appropriate and reinforcing? If so, then sign off sincerely. If not, leave well enough alone and end with Thank You.



Publish or Perish

Ken Auletta offers a short course on the agency business model and the ever-evolving history of publishing.  This article also includes a situational analysis about the stakes for authors, publishers, bookstores, and device makers in the current competition between the printed page and the panel of pixels known as the e-Reader (Kindle, iPad, Nook and others coming online). The writer, journalist and media critic at The New Yorker has been a keen observer of media trends.  His Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way put the failing big three television network model in stark context for us in 1991. Now, he has once again captured a dynamic period in media history on the page. His recent article, Publish or Perish Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business? (The New Yorker, 30 April 2010), is similarly timely and incisive. A 'must read' for authors, agents, publishers and readers.


On Negotiation for Writers

Close the Deal

Anyone who has dealt with an agent, a publisher, or a producer knows that negotiation is part of what makes the writing life possible.  As organizing principles go, this is pretty straightforward. While we have plenty to think about in negotiating representation, publication, and (hopefully) production, one goal should remain clearly in focus: close the deal.

Remember a Few Key Points

Robin Davis Miller, General Counsel of The Authors Guild, offered some advice on contracts and the negotiation process at a seminar in Los Angeles. I have benefitted from her counsel. I hope you benefit, too. Here are a few notes:

  • Publishing is a moving target. Change is constant.
  • NEVER accept assurances for marketing of your book on the website or anywhere else.  Get it in the contract.
  • Avoid the OPTION Clause.  Agents tend to leave it in because it ensures their commission even if you leave your agent and place the book yourself.
  • As the author, you deserve to know the publisher's printing and circulation figures.  Publishers don't release this information easily.  They fight it.  Remember - by the time they make an offer, they know precisely how many copies of your book they will print.
  • Research your agent's and publisher's reputation for using sub-rights.  Has the publisher executed for others?  Has your agent executed for other clients?
  • Time is your ally.  The more time that an agent or editor or publisher invests in you and your work, the more reluctant they are to let you go.
  • Books are a business.  Think and speak from a business point of view.
  • Insert an out of print clause anywhere the publisher attempts to punish the author for underperforming sales.
  • Always insist on receiving a statement. Have them e-mail it if they are reluctant to invest in postage. How else are you to know they are doing their job?

More Advice

Ernest Bevin (1881-1951), British politician and statesmen, offered:

The first thing to decide before you walk into any negotiation is what to do if the other fellow says no.

Kindle & The Evolution of a Writer

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In the hyper-paced evolution of consumer technologies, there are few developments that equal the transformative effects of e-publishing.

Traditional publishing is now adapting to the reality of the Kindle, Sony e-reader, iPod Touch, and iPhone, which are being adopted by consumers at a rate not seen since the invention of the wheel. I wasn't present during that paradigm shift, but it is reasonable to assume that the Mesopotamians in the 5th millenium BC 'got it' and didn't look back wistfully to the old, pre-wheel, pre-personal empowerment days.  Now, once again in humankind's evolution, we have a better idea that has authors and readers leapfrogging industry.  Publishers have cultivated content and fed readers' appetites.  But they have become a little too comfortable with the perquisites of the traditional corporate model, like Detroit automakers, the Big Three television networks, and the music industry.  In each case, we the people have found our way to a better idea, a better way.

Now Amazon's Jeff Bezos is betting on the Kindle as a market maker, and if the rapidly increasing sales of the e-book tablet keep growing at the pace they have in the last year, he may be the man we credit with a Steve Jobs-like vision that changed the way we consume media content.

Heads Up: Prices Falling

Publishers see the change happening, know that their traditional print business model is struggling and have apparently decided to profit from the chaos in the book selling market by charging similar prices for hardcover and e-books. Today at Borders, I overheard a salesperson explaining e-books to a middle-aged couple at the Sony E-Reader display this way.

"E-books are coming down in price to roughly half the cost of a hardcover, from $15 to $17."

The couple were eager for the convenience offered by the E-Reader and when they heard about the cost-savings on titles, they decided to purchase the Sony.

Maybe I should have intervened and told them about $9.99 titles at Amazon.  You don't criticize someone's family when you're a guest in their living room; and I won't disrupt Borders' business when I am in theirs.  The couple are happily curled up on their couch now with Dan Brown's Lost Symbol on the E-Reader.  Everyone is happy.  As for the pricing, publishers will hang on to their profit margins and will change only when their business infrastructure collapses around them.

Meanwhile, over at Amazon, Jeff Bezos is offering e-books for download to the Kindle for $9.99.  Amazon may lose on the margin in the near term, but it is establishing the $9.99 price point for books much in the same way that Steve Jobs established .99 cents as the single unit price point on iTunes, which is now the worldwide standard. More rapid adoption by more consumers will more than make up the difference.

More significantly to me, e-publishing redefines the business model.  Suddenly, the artist and writer can, if they wish, become their own publishers.  No more expenses like printing, shipping, trucking, warehousing, distribution, freight, fuel.  It's irresistible and, as Adam Penenberg says in his article "The Evolution of Amazon" in the July/August edition of Fast Company, "it's irreversible."   Literary agent Richard Curtis, who is also founder of E-Reads, an independent book publisher, asks,

why would "anybody need a traditional book publisher when you can essentially make Amazon your buyer and your seller in one stroke?"


After years of playing by Publishing's rules - willingly, loyally, and with respect for its professionalism - the time has come to try other approaches to connect with my readers.  I am going to try posting a story or two in Amazon's Kindle Store and see if I can reconnect with former readers and meet some new readers.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Glimmer of Hope

An author-friend published in Glimmertrain.  She described it as a positive experience, the best she had had after years of publishing in newspapers and regionals.  She also credited publication of her story in Glimmertrain with helping her get a good NY agent and three years of promising work on a novel and anthology of short non-fiction. A colleague who learned that I had published a novel just shared a short story she'd written about a catastrophe averted. Her writing engages with a voice that is confident, yet doesn't take itself seriously. She set the tone in the first sentence, kept her contract with the reader, and revealed surprises along the way.  It was good getting to know this new dimension of someone I have come to know in layers, like a character in a novel.  I suggested that if she had not already done so she take a look at Glimmertrain and consider submitting her story there.

She just stopped by for coffee and said that she had visited www.glimmertrain.com and decided to submit to the sisters in Portland.  Here's hoping.

UPDATE:  31 August 2009

My story, "Robert's Rules of Order," did not win, place, or show. Neither did my friend's story. Eager to read the winning entries, discover some new writers, and learn what worked for the judges. Onward.

One Chance

Pamela Dorman, vice president and publisher, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, a division of Penguin Group, moderated a publishing seminar recently entitled, "Between Milk and Yogurt": Book Publishing Today. One of the takeaways for me was this: a writer gets one chance. Even if the editor engages and provides encouraging notes to the author about his/her manuscript, perhaps even suggesting that it could work if certain changes were made.

The fact is that no editor has time to read material twice - even if the manuscript is completely rewritten. Don't resubmit 1, 2 or 3 years later. No one has time. You get one chance.

That reads more harshly than it came across. Ms. Dorman and her panelists were unfailingly positive about their professions, yet recognized that publishing is, after all, a business.

Ms. Dorman, the publisher who successfully persuaded author Helen Fielding to entrust her with her novel, Bridget Jones's Diary, in the American market, recounts how she did it.