Writing Nonfiction 5- Selling your Nonfiction Book- Whatsitabout

If you’ve been following these posts about writing nonfiction, you should have gathered some pointers on why to do it, how to select a topic, how to research it, and how to organize it. You would think that the next step is to actually write the thing but this is about selling, because you should start to think about the selling before you write a word. If you keep selling and marketing in mind while you write, it will help shape the final product to appeal to readers.

There are all sorts of webpages that talk about marketing techniques, using social media, and various publicity schemes. This is all fine, but there are some more basic things that surprisingly few authors think of, things that can keep people from ignoring you.

Whether you know it or not, you are always selling your book, even before you are finished writing it. You should always be ready to make a mini pitch whenever the opportunity presents itself. I don’t mean you should become an obnoxious, self congratulatory windbag, like the guy who tries to sell you insurance at a party, but you have  to be prepared to sell the idea of your book and do it in a way that makes people interested. Every person you talk to is a potential reader.

First of all, you must prepare and have ready a Whatsitabout? response, a brief, concise, statement of what the book is about that will arouse their curiosity.

The next thing you need is a Tag line. Pretend it’s a movie and come up with a quick snappy slogan. The Tag line doesn’t really tell you what the book is about, it captures the tone,  the emotion of the book. It’s the sizzle that sells the steak. Everybody remembers the movie Alien. The Tag line was “In space, no one can hear you scream.” What a great line! How about Apollo 13- “Houston, we have a problem.”, or Poltergiest 2- “They’re baaaaak!” Or Jaws 2- “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

Use the Tag line as a quick followup to the Whatsitabout line, sort of a one-two punch. Let’s use my book Master Detective as an example. Here is what you don’t want:

Innocent bystander: “So I hear you’re working/just wrote a book. What’s it about?”

Me: “Oh, it’s a sort of a study of…Well, it goes back to the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932. And, there was this detective in New Jersey, Ellis Parker, who had this great record and he wanted to get in on the investigation, but then the police arrested Bruno Hauptmann…”

Innocent bystander: “Uh-huh…”

Me: “…so he does his own investigation and decides the police got it wrong, so he sets out to find the real kidnapper. Well, he zeroes in on this Trenton attorney, and, well by this time Hauptmann had been convicted, so…”

Innocent bystander (looking at his watch): “Gee, look at the time.”

You see the problem? Remember, if you can’t explain what the book is about, why should anyone else want to read it? So now let’s try it with a Whatsitabout line followed up by the Tag line:

Innocent bystander: “So I hear you’re working/just wrote a book. What’s it about?”

Me: “The true story of a detective who investigated the Lindbergh kidnapping and obtained a signed confession from his suspect…after someone else had been convicted.”

Innocent bystander: “Hmmm.”

Me: “It’s the other solution to the Lindbergh kidnapping.”

Innocent bystander:  “Wow.”

Better? Here are a few Whatsitabout lines and Tag lines for some of my books. These are examples.  I don’t claim they are perfect, but that’s the point; they don’t have to be.








In addition to whetting people’s interest, keeping the Whatsitabout line and the Tag line in mind while you are writing will help you stay focused on the heart of the book and the tone you want to set. Remember, it’s never too soon to start selling and promoting.

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