Selling in America

I’m involved at the moment with a non-fiction project for a Writers’ Workshop client. We’ve helped this person write a book that deals with the financial crisis – not just the one that exploded in 2008-09, but the one which is unfolding now.

We helped write a proposal just before the summer holidays. We got an agent in London more or less instantly. He went out to the market immediately. We got several good offers and are currently concluding an excellent deal with a first rate publisher.

We’re now (via another first rate agent) getting ready to out to the American market. At this point we have about 50,000 words of the manuscript ready for inspection. (It’ll be about 100,000 words long by the time it’s complete.) Because we have a little more time than we did for the UK sale, we’re preparing very carefully – and also preparing for the slightly different requirements of the US market.

In particular, our package will bring together the following elements:

  • An American author. Obviously not essential, but in this case I’d say our chances of securing a sale would be substantially lower if we didn’t have an American author.
  • A genuine expert. One of the things we’ve worked particularly hard on is the author bio. Our client has had an impressive career – but explaining that to non-financiers takes some care.
  • A clear argument. Obviously the book itself delivers a strong, controversial argument that will be excellent fodder for discussion, but we’re also preparing a short one page summary which gives the book instant grab.
  • Some jaw-dropping facts. Everyone likes the shock value of a stunning fact, so we’re also putting together a one page sheet that’ll be called something like “8 facts you didn’t know but really, really need to.” The idea is to put together material that will arrest people instantly.
  • A ‘Why the world needs this book’ sheet. Obviously this isn’t the first book to have been written on the financial crisis, so we need to establish – in short sharp text – why this book is essential.

The entire introductory package will probably be no more than 3-4 pages long, so it’s necessary to keep it very lean. It’s also worth noting what we’re not doing. We won’t:

  • prepare any material on attempting to quantify the market. We won’t list the sales of possible rival titles, or quantify the possible demographic, or list major possible markets for the title. The fact is that we know less about all these things than publishers do. We need to explain the book to them and let them figure out its sales
  • Suggest any book cover. That would look unbelievably amateur – even though in this case we already have the UK cover design more or less finalised. They can take care of the cover themselves.
  • Write any book blurb. Again, that’s a publisher’s decision and a publisher’s job to get it right.

Finally, the author will be available to travel to New York to meet publishers. That’s not essential. It’s perfectly possible to sell a book without any face-to-face meeting. (INdeed, I’ve never met my US editor, Kate Miciak, though I’m sure I’ll find an excuse to get out there one of these days.) Nevertheless, it’s easier to buy a book (especially a big, controversial, argumentative one) from someone you’ve met. So our client has duly blocked out space in his diary.

Finally, in terms of timing, we’ve avoided the late July / August period, because it’s an almost impossible time to make a sale. But we’re keen to get pitching soon. Labor Day is a week from today, and we’re ready to let rip as soon as editors have got back to their desks. I’m wishing us luck!

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