Welcome to penultimate post in the series that is: The BubbleCow Guide to Academic Book Pitching. Let’s review where we’re at.
In Part I we looked at what a book pitch needs to do and why, and did a bit of homework. Then, in Part II we learnt how to write the query or covering letter as preview of what we’ve got to offer. In Part III we focused on how to write a synopsis of the book, and in Part IV we tackled the marketing section by identifying our book’s buyers and the books that have established its market.
A guide like this can never be comprehensive, but if you’ve worked through all the tasks, you should be well on your way to writing your proposal and query letter and getting it right. Again, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to be clear, spell everything correctly and READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES CAREFULLY FOR EVERY PITCH YOU MAKE AND STICK TO THEM LIKE GLUE!
The other components of your pitch might be sample chapters. If it doesn’t specify exactly what to send in terms of a sample, make sure you include the book’s introduction and the first chapter. If there’s scope to send more, then include either the second chapter, so the editor can see a pattern forming, or one that is pivotal to the argument as a whole.
To help you polish these up and make sure they are looking their best, here are some other bits advice we at BubbleCow like to offer all writers:
1. Be consistent
Writing a book is a long process that often spans over years. During this period it is easy for writers to lose track of some of the minor threads of the argument. However, it is vital that a writer makes every effort to maintain consistency throughout the writing process. The problem is that readers will notice mistakes.
2. Use simple grammar
Not all academic writers are grammar experts. In fact the reality is that many struggle with grammar. Our tip is to keep it simple. The correct use of the full stop and comma will get you out of most tough spots. Learning the rules of the correct use of the apostrophe is also crucial, as is the grammar of speech. However, beyond this you are getting onto dangerous ground. If you are unsure of the correct usage of the semi-colon, then don’t use it (even if Microsoft Word insists otherwise).
Consistent formatting is an important, but often overlooked, part of editing. By this we are talking about titles, subtitles, indenting, text font etc. In fact you need to pay attention to anything that appears on the page. One way to get around inconsistencies is to use the ‘style’ function of your word processing package. Another way is to simply pay attention each time you start a new section, type in a header or change font. Being aware is half the battle.
4. Read it aloud
This is a tip that I think every editor worth their salt will pass onto writers. Once your work is completed read it aloud. Personally I use a software program called TextAloud. This allows me to follow the text as the computer reads it out (in a robot voice). Reading your work aloud will help you to spot silly mistakes and the sentences that don’t flow. Another tip is to print your work out and read it from paper. I am not sure why (something to do with screen resolution?) but this seems to help spot mistakes.
5. Let a ‘trusted’ third party look at your book
The emphasis here is on the word trusted. The key is to find someone who will give you constructive feedback. You don’t want someone who will simply say the book is good or bad; you need critical and detailed feedback from a fellow academic who won’t steal your idea. It is also important that you tell the reader that you want critical feedback. Make it clear that you can take the rough with the smooth. Give them guidance in what to look for when reading. They are looking for mistakes and inconsistency.
6. Using critical feedback
This follows on from the point above. As a writer you must learn to implement the correct feedback. Typos and grammar errors should be corrected without any real questioning. However, big issues need to be considered carefully. Sometimes a reader will not like a certain section or suggest changes that go beyond simple sentence structure. In these cases you need to consider the feedback carefully and only make changes that you feel improve the book.
7. Be harsh – cut the dead wood
All of our editors agreed that this is one area that many writers find difficult. Cutting back is a vital and very powerful skill for writers to develop. The foundation to the exercise should be for the writer to look at each section and ask ‘do I need this?’ Over wordy sentences, extended paragraphs and repetition should all be removed. In addition, any section that fails to move the plot forward should be cut. Cutting back the work is painful but if done correctly will improve your book tenfold.
8. Read each line as a line, then a paragraph, then a section, then a chapter…
If you have carried out all the steps above, and you are happy with your book, then it’s time to start again. This time you need to go through the book on a line by line basis. You may find it helps to wait for a couple of weeks before you try to re-edit. This time around you need to scrutinise each sentence in turn, fine tuning as you go. Then, when finished, go back and look at the manuscript paragraph by paragraph. Be critical. Next examine each section, then chapter and so on….