There's no doubt
about it: the biggest market in publishing today
by D. J. Herda
When I decided to write a nonfiction book about building ponds and other water features, I figured I was onto a pretty good thing. I'd had experience in building water features, and God knows I've written my share of nonfiction, both books and articles. So I drafted an outline, whipped up a sample chapter or two, and sent the proposal off to my agent for pitching. It was called Building Ponds, Waterfalls, and Streams.
Imagine my chagrin when, two years later, we hadn't gotten a single nibble. Worse still, a couple of editorial responses along the lines of "Sorry, but the market is glutted with garden and pond books, so I'll pass" seemed to doom my idea to the dead letters file. It wasn't until I decided to change the title to something more catchy, From Desert to Oasis--Zen and the Art of Pond Building, that we began getting requests for a closer look.
Well, to make a long story short, we recently inked the contract, and the book is well on its way toward completion.
What makes this story interesting is something I call the Wow! Factor. You see, in the nonfiction marketplace, books brimming with information cross editors' desks all the time. But something new and different is genuinely rare. To quote the great bard, "There's nothing new under the sun.."
That being the case, if you want to sell an editor on your own nonfiction book proposal, come up with a Wow! Factor to help lighten your load. To wit:
You want to write a book on baking. It's going to be competing with several thousand other baking book proposals currently making the rounds; but, adding a little Wow! Factor gives you something like this: Baking in the Nude--Turning Up the Heat in Your Kitchen.
See what I mean? The Wow! Factor.
Let's take another example, this one a travel guide on Alaska. You could call it Alaska--The Last Frontier and virtually guarantee yourself a roomful of rejection slips. Or you could add a little Wow! Factor and end up with something like this: There's Nome Place Like Home: Surviving the Wife, the Kids, and the New Alaskan Experience.
Of course, to go along with a catchy title, you're going to have to do something equally catchy inside the book. Your cookbook, for example, could offer a checklist of how to increase the "sex rating" of your baked items. Or you might break it down into Low, Medium, and High Intensity Goodies--depending upon the chef's mood.
The Alaska book could open up with a central look at Nome, from its history and people to its museums, restaurants, and cultural events, and then branch off from there in concentric circles. Alaska sites within 50 miles of Nome, within 100 miles, within 150 miles, etc. It could further offer checklists of places and events that might appeal to men, to women, and to children.
Besides attracting more attention along Publisher's Row, a good nonfiction book with a lot of Wow! Factor is going to sell better than just another ho-hum property once it's published. That's because people, including those all-important book reviewers, are going to notice it and instinctively want to read it. It's a win-win situation!
So, the next time you sit down to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, spend some time asking yourself what kind of Wow! Factor you can work into the title and the content, and then go for broke. You just might be amazed at the results.