By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent
This is a continuation of an earlier column that I wrote on mistakes that even the greatest writers make. If you’d like to check out that post, please click here: What Good Writers Do Badly, Part I
#4: They Don’t Understand Their Book’s Place in the Marketplace
Do your research! Look at other books in your genre and ask yourself what those authors did right and what they didn’t do so hot with. What makes your book better? In a nonfiction book proposal, there is a section that is titled the Competitive Analysis. This is where an author will list five or so books that are similar to theirs and say what each book does well and what they don’t do as well as the author’s. This demonstrates that people are currently buying books like yours and that yours provides something better than what is already out there.
#5: They Don’t Offer Something N.D.B.M.
N.D.B.M. is an acronym created by my colleague Wendy Keller. It very simply stands for New, Different Better, or More. This is another way of zeroing in on your book’s uniqueness in the world. Has there been a book like yours before? Does your book touch on previously written about material, but from a different angle (perhaps Gone with the Wind from Rhett Butler’s point of view)? Is your book clearly better than what is currently out there (maybe you have greater expertise in the subject matter)? Does your book provide the reader with something more than they have had before (perhaps your book educates readers about the new miracle diet AND includes a workbook)? Fiction or nonfiction, this is one of the first things that any agent or editor looks for.
#6: They Have Difficulty Focusing
What is your book about? That sounds like a very basic question, but it is the most important one that you will need to ask yourself during the writing process. You need to choose the main thesis or storyline and then structure your book or book proposal around that. You are (hopefully!) extremely passionate about your book and its’ subject matter. You want to share your wisdom or your intricately drawn characters with the world. You want to inspire or inform or entertain. Your excitement is, more often than not, a strength. However, if you start doing too many things with your book (too many subplots, trying to please too many people, not knowing which direction you are going in), this can become a major weakness. Your book’s momentum will suffer, and you risk the chance of confusing your readers. Readers need to know what they are getting and be pleasantly surprised when they get it – don’t lose them along the way.